- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (July 1 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375727205
- ISBN-13: 978-0375727207
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.7 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 953 g
- Average Customer Review: 81 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #15,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Paperback – Feb 8 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
String theory is a recent development in physics that, by positing that all which exists is composed of infinitesimally small vibrating loops of energy, seeks to unify Einstein's theories and those of quantum mechanics into a so-called "theory of everything." In 1999, Greene, one of the world's leading physicists, published The Elegant Universe (Norton), a popular presentation of string theory that became a major bestseller and, last fall, a highly rated PBS/Nova series. The strength of the book resided in Greene's unparalleled (among contemporary science writers) ability to translate higher mathematics (the language of physics) and its findings into everyday language and images, through adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose. The same virtues adhere to this new book, which offers a lively view of human understanding of space and time, an understanding of which string theory is an as-yet unproven advance. To do this, Greene takes a roughly chronological approach, beginning with Newton, moving through Einstein and quantum physics, and on to string theory and its hypotheses (that there are 11 dimensions, ten of space and one of time; that there may be an abundance of parallel universes; that time travel may be possible, and so on) and imminent experiments that may test some of its tenets. None of this is easy reading, mostly because the concepts are tough to grasp and Greene never seems to compromise on accuracy. Eighty-five line drawings ease the task, however, as does Greene's felicitous narration; most importantly, though, Greene not only makes concepts clear but explains why they matter. He opens the book with a discussion of Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, setting a humanistic tone that he sustains throughout. This is popular science writing of the highest order, with copious endnotes that, unlike the text, include some math.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* Forbidding formulas no longer stand between general readers and the latest breakthroughs in astrophysics: the imaginative gifts of one of the pioneers making those breakthroughs have now translated mathematical science into accessible analogies drawn from everyday life and popular culture. Using images as simple as that of Homer Simpson riding a skateboard and an ordinary earthworm crawling along a tightrope, Greene draws readers deep into revolutionary new conceptions of space and time. These conceptions transform the everyday world of 3-dimensional sense perception into the illusory surface of an 11-dimensional reality. Hidden from human view, tightly coiled loops of multidimensional string link radiant stars to mysterious black matter in a galactic space-time tapestry of sublime symmetry. Though Greene deepens his inquiries with occasional ventures into scholarly complexities (thoughtfully warning timid readers, who can skip the abstruse sections), disarmingly simple principles finally penetrate the very frontiers of cosmological research, where the random chaos of quantum mechanics begins to fit within the lucid harmonies of relativity and where the strangely one-directional arrow of time starts to yield the secrets of its flight. Nonspecialists will relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The book contains a short summary of string theory. In brief, this theory proposes that particles like quarks, electrons et al. are not dots but minute filaments of vibrating energy that produce various particle properties. Superstring Theory reconciles general relativity with quantum mechanics in a single theory, making it a strong candidate for Einstein's elusive Unified Theory.
The author explores the two most prominent concerns of modern physics: The historical development from Galileo and Newton to Einstein and Hawking, and the very latest theories that arose from this development.
Chapter 12 is basically a summary of The Elegant Universe, whilst the following two chapters explore the possibilities of experimentally testing the string theory.
A very important component of he book is the irreconcilable gap between the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. General relativity only hold valid for large objects, whilst quantum mechanics explains the subatomic composition of matter/energy. Since the two are incompatible, Greene maintains that a theory of quantum gravity must be developed, one that holds true for both small and large objects.
In the chapters Time And The Quantum and Entangling Space, the author looks at quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena of entanglement. He rejects Niels Bohr's dualistic interpretation of the world of facts and the world of probabilities, postulating a hidden reality composed of 9 spatial dimensions and 1 of time.
Fabric Of The Cosmos is a most engaging investigation of cutting edge ideas in physics and cosmology. It is highly stimulating and far more readable than Elegant Universe. I highly recommend this brilliant work.
For me, the book breaks down into two parts. The first 2/3 is an account of historical developments in physics using an excellent organizing scheme. Greene sets out two key questions. First, are space and time fundamental or do they simply arise as descriptions of relations among other fundamental entities? Second, how do we account for the unidirectional flow of time ("the arrow of time") which we experience? With these questions in mind, Greene reviews classical physics, Einstein's relativity, quantum mechanics, and recent cosmological theories.
The best part of this first section of the book for me was the review of the inflationary hypothesis. After describing the second law of thermodynamics (the only part of traditional science which has an explicit arrow of time), Greene examines theories of the history of our universe for a possible explanation of both the flow of time we experience as well as the geometry of observed space. I understood the attraction of the inflationary scenario much better after reading the book.
The second part of the book is a discussion of progress in string theory/M theory and the attempt to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics in a unified framework.
String theory's major exciting starting point was its promise to explain all of the fundamental particles and forces (including gravity) in a framework of one-dimensional units called strings. To laypeople, it is usually put forth that different vibrations in the strings describe all of the fundamental entities. However, the working out of string theory was accompanied by difficulties. First, there were several versions, not just one. More importantly (in terms of the nature of space and time), in its initial formulations string theory required an absolute backdrop of space-time, thus in a way reverting to a pre-relativity stance. Also, to work, there had to exist many more dimensions of space - a total of ten space-time dimensions. (I should note that, to his credit, Greene does a good job throughout presenting criticisms and possible shortcomings of string theory.)
In recent years, Greene tells us, it was discovered that several different versions of string theory really were one theory after all. This overarching theory (which now featured an eleventh space-time dimension) also introduced new structures beyond one-dimensional strings. These 2, 3 and higher dimensional entities became known as branes, and the theory as M-theory ("M" possibly standing for membrane, but maybe several other things as well). Given that the mathematics in which the theory is described is so far beyond the typical reader, Greene describes the theory effectively and defends it against the common criticism that its details are not provable - he outlines experiments which could make key features testable in the not-too-distant future.
Greene finishes by trying to recover the concepts of space and time (as we know them) by postulating that they emerge from a more complex foundational reality described by M-theory. I should also note that in the book he discusses a number of interesting topics that are somewhat off the track of his core narrative, such as time-travel and wormholes, and the holographic principle. As always, the descriptions are interesting and reader-friendly.
Despite the fact that I doubt string theory can be described any better than Greene does it, the second part of the book is less compelling than the first. Part of the reason is simply the benefit of hindsight which enables the author to organize and present an effective narrative of the physics of the past, in contrast to describing the messier developments of a work-in-progress. However, in reflecting on Greene's account, I think there's more to it than that. I'm struck by the fact that many of the historical examples of progress in physics featured brilliant conceptual advances which built a framework for the resulting theory, while this is less clearly the case for M-theory. The paradigm case is general relativity, where Einstein had the insight that gravitation is equivalent to acceleration, and then he found a pre-existing mathematical framework in which to formulate the specifics of the theory. In contrast, my impression is that the small army of mathematically gifted M-theory modelers steer a course somewhat un-tethered to guiding concepts, and then attempt later to go back and fix things up. For example, Greene describes current attempts to draw connections to cosmological theories like inflation and to address conceptual shortcomings like space-time background-dependency.
It may be that a new key conceptual insight will be needed to guide the advance of modern physics.
Greene, who made a number of important discoveries in superstring theory, explains about the present understanding of space and time starting from historical ideas from Newton's days and reaching the possible experimental confirmation of extra dimensions predicted by theoretical models as well as future allusions. The book is written for laypersons without using equations in the main text, but includes about 40 pages of notes for the expert reader. Thus scientists and engineers can also enjoy it very much.
The author makes good use of analogies, among which I liked the one about Bell's inequality best. Expert readers may find explanations in earlier chapters a little too lengthy, but this book has the following instructive feature: Greene's explanation often made me have a small question, but on reading ahead, I found that the author had expected the same question and had given the answer to it in the text or in a note! I believe that many of the young readers of this book would be interested in becoming a physicist or a cosmologist to study the deep mysteries of space and time.
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For me, no math formulas, a great bonus.Read more
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