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We Need to Talk About Kelvin: What everyday things tell us about the universe Paperback – Feb 9 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (Feb. 9 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571244033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571244034
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 20 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,132,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars 8 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, complex and fun to read Jan. 3 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Marcus Chown has an engaging and easy to read manner that is conducive to relaying complex topics.
This book contains an excellent level of detail, it considers both historical content as well as some very recent discoveries.
If you're a new reader of scientific literature then this is a GREAT place to start. I feel I can now take a bigger bite of the physics of the universe.
To improve readability of a difficult subject and complex ideas, the book contains comic quips and anecdotes of some of the 'giants of science' and their theories.
But that is not to belittle Chown's ability to add depth of concept, above and beyond what you'll find in most basic physics texts.
Finally this wouldn't be an honest review without some constructive criticisms, whilst Chown does a very good job of linking and putting logical proofs into the building of the theories in the book, there are quite a few leaps of faith required of the reader. Perhaps my knowledge of physics is too basic to 'get' some of these specific concepts but I felt that these leaps were definitely present in this book. Keep in mind, it may well be some of the content was condensed by editing and these passages have suffered from it.
All in all a great read. This book has enriched my palette for science factual reading and my further personal study in the subject.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The slippery slope of reality Jan. 3 2010
By Simon Laub - Published on
Format: Paperback
Barack Obama started his "Dreams from my father" with a
quote from Chronicles (29:15):" For we are strangers before them,
and sojourners, as were all our fathers".
Reading Marcus Chowns "We need to talk about Kelvin"
easily brings you to the same frame of mind.

For starters: We are ghosts! 99.999999 per cent of
matter is empty space. Not only are the atoms
we are made of, very, very tiny indeed. The atoms themselves
are mostly nothingness circling more nothingness.

And what little substance there is to matter
soon evaporates when you realize that all
of the atoms that make up 'you' are quantum things,
endowed with quantum weirdness - or madness if you like!
Take quantum entanglement: Particles
born together bahaves as though they know about each other,
no matter how far apart. Communicating with each other,
somehow, at infinite speed. With
everything born 13.7 billion years ago
in the fireball of the Big Bang - One can speculate that
everything in the universe is now bound together,
i.e. everything knows about everything else in the universe,
through some inifinite speed communication process.

When we stand on the Earth, solid ground (ha ha),
our weight compresses atoms below, squeezing electrons
in atoms closer to the nuclei. According to Heisenberg,
electrons aren't too crazy about having their position
exposed. So they resist by gaining a higher momentum.
Fighting the compression so to speak. The 'solidity'
of the ground is Heisenbergs uncertainty principle kicking in:
The more sure we are of the location of a particle,
the less we can know about its momentum.
The 'solidity' of the ground is teaching us that there are limits
to what we can know about the world so to speak.

Most things we know from our everyday world are not
identical. They may look indistinguishable, but when we
look closer, at a detailed molecular level, they are not.
Not so with electrons - everyone out there in the
universe is absolutely identical. There is no way to tell
them apart. And likewise for quarks.
It follows that they have no inner structure, which would
allow us to tell them apart.
So they are just weird to begin with, not weird due to otherwise
rational inner parts.

The (weird) parts, we are made of, have been processed
in stars before they became parts of humans. Take iron.
A massive star develops an onion like interior,
with heavier and heavier elements closer to its core.
Finally it undergoes silicon buring which creates iron.
which is bad news for the star, as burning iron doesnt
give more energy, it takes energy. Without energy
being produced there is nothing to oppose gravity from
collapsing the star. Which eventually leads
to a cataclysmic explosion of the star, that for a short time,
outshine an entire galaxy of a 100 billion stars.
Sending out the iron that will eventually end up in the bodies
of humans.

Looking out in the night sky, we can of course see many stars.
Actually, in a infinite universe, the night sky should be
completely bright with starlight, coming from stars
in all directions in an endless universe. But it
is not (Olbers paradox).
Ok, the universe is to young for stars to have had time to
fill it up with light, and actually, the stars
dont have the energy to fill up the entire universe,
no matter how powerful they appear.

The universe is a pretty big place!
It wasnt always. Way back at the Big Bang
it was small. And small tends to be synonymous with Quantum.
Yet, our everyday world doesnt seem to be
quantum weird. So, how did the world loose its
For matter there might be an answer. Here the clustering
of matter into big things like galaxies and people
might have caused the decoherence.
The quantum waves representing the particles (and allows them to
be in many places at the same time), interact
and 'decides' to be real, instead of ghostly quantum,
when particles come together in large amounts.

But space time itself - why did that decide to
be relatively smooth, instead of totally chaotic quantum? No one knows.

Marcus Chown doesn't go into (in this book) what a
quantum world actually means for our consciousness.
Are our minds being flipped around according
to 'ghostly influence' by the rest of the universe? -
or better still, are our minds flipping the rest of universe
around according to our thinking?
At the very least, surely our minds live in a quantum
world, should mean something?

However small the quantum thing is everywhere!
The universe is infinite, so it doesnt mattter that much
if the quantums effects are small. It is still
enough to make everything mind boogling.
E.g. It is very unlikely, but eventually, everything can be produced
in spacetime out of 'thin air' and random quantum process.
Lego bricks, cars, spaceships and brains.
And with an infinite amount of space-time it
is a certainty that these things will eventually
be produced. Including 'Boltzmann brains'!
Actually, 'Boltzmann brains' will outnumber other 'real' brains, like
human brains, that have been build by evolution over
billions of years.

So, Boltzmann brains will sit out there in the utter emptyness
of space - and stare out in nothingness... They are
the typical observers in our universe?!

The Boltzmann brains might not be communicating
with us. And apparently noone else is!
It might be that the galaxy is a galaxy of dolphins,
that are happy swimming around in alien seas.
Or that communication is extremely dangerous,
with killer species out there in deep space.
Or that it is just very hard to reach
a technological civilisation
(The five steps that made us - a) advent of bacteria b)
complex cells with nuclei c) multicellular life
d) intelligence e) human civilisation - each took
some 800 million years)

Or perhaps is it much better to make
your own simulation of the whole thing
at your own home planet. Complete with humans
and dinosaurs in it (as Stephen Wolfram
has suggested). Perhaps everything, everything
can be generated by a computer program!

Reality it might not be. But who knows about
reality anyway?

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, Popular Science Aug. 2 2012
By J. Smallridge - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a fun book for those of us who remember scientific principles, but have forgotten a lot of what we were taught in school. Chown does a good job of relating how science -- and bigger questions on the universe -- relate to the everyday. I would recommend this for generalists.
4.0 out of 5 stars Now I Get It! Dec 17 2014
By John Little - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you struggled with, but more or less got "Brief History of Time," you'll find this to your liking. Chown does an excellent job of relating truly abstract ideas to familiar situations. Like Hawkings', Chown's writing requires some mental gymnastics, but it's well worth the effort; not at all stodgy or pedantic. Good book!
4.0 out of 5 stars Great July 17 2015
By John Newton - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very informative, consistent and easy to read. A good way to keep up to date on current quantum and Cosmo theory.

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