The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

by Brian Greene

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From Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elegant Universe, comes a grand tour of the universe that makes us look at reality in a completely different way.

Space and time form the very fabric of the cosmos. Yet they remain among the most mysterious of concepts. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Could the universe exist without space and time? Can we travel to the past? Greene has set himself a daunting task: to explain non-intuitive, mathematical concepts like String Theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Inflationary Cosmology with analogies drawn from common experience. From Newton’s unchanging realm in which space and time are absolute, to Einstein’s fluid conception of spacetime, to quantum mechanics’ entangled arena where vastly distant objects can instantaneously coordinate their behavior, Greene takes us all, regardless of our scientific backgrounds, on an irresistible and revelatory journey to the new layers of reality that modern physics has discovered lying just beneath the surface of our everyday world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307428530
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/18/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 29,547
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Brian Greene received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He joined the physics faculty at Cornell University in 1990, was appointed to a full professorship in 1995, and in 1996 joined Columbia University where he is professor of physics and mathematics. He has lectured at both a general and a technical level in more than twenty-five countries and is widely regarded for a number of ground breaking discoveries in superstring theory. He lives in Andes, New York, and New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Roads to Reality


None of the books in my father’s dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes–a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall–that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

“There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” the text began. I winced. “Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind nine or twelve categories,” it continued, “comes afterward”; such questions, the text explained, were part of the game humanity played, but they deserved attention only after the one true issue had been settled. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by the Algerian-born philosopher and Nobel laureate Albert Camus. After a moment, the iciness of his words melted under the light of comprehension. Yes, of course, I thought. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows come home, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living. That’s what it all comes down to. Everything else is detail.

My chance encounter with Camus’ book must have occurred during an especially impressionable phase because, more than anything else I’d read, his words stayed with me. Time and again I’d imagine how various people I’d met, or heard about, or had seen on television would answer this primary of all questions. In retrospect, though, it was his second assertion –regarding the role of scientific progress–that, for me, proved particularly challenging. Camus acknowledged value in understanding the structure of the universe, but as far as I could tell, he rejected the possibility that such understanding could make any difference to our assessment of life’s worth. Now, certainly, my teenage reading of existential philosophy
was about as sophisticated as Bart Simpson’s reading of Romantic poetry, but even so, Camus’ conclusion struck me as off the mark. To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life’s arena–the universe. I remember thinking that if our species dwelled in cavernous outcroppings buried deep underground and so had yet to discover the earth’s surface, brilliant sunlight, an ocean breeze, and the stars that lie beyond, or if evolution had proceeded along a different pathway and we had yet to acquire any but the sense of touch, so everything we knew came only from our tactile impressions of our immediate environment, or if human mental faculties stopped developing during early childhood so our emotional and analytical skills never progressed beyond those of a five-year-old–in short, if our experiences painted but a paltry portrait of reality–our appraisal of life would be thoroughly compromised. When we finally found our way to earth’s surface, or when we finally gained the ability to see, hear, smell, and taste, or when our minds were finally freed to develop as they ordinarily do, our collective view of life and the cosmos would, of necessity, change radically. Our previously compromised grasp of reality would have shed a very different light on that most fundamental of all philosophical questions.

But, you might ask, what of it? Surely, any sober assessment would conclude that although we might not understand everything about the universe–every aspect of how matter behaves or life functions–we are privy to the defining, broad-brush strokes gracing nature’s canvas. Surely, as Camus intimated, progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as understanding all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by
our experiences.

To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. I certainly find myself thinking this way in day-to-day life; it’s easy to be seduced by the face nature reveals directly to our senses. Yet, in the decades since first encountering Camus’ text, I’ve learned that modern science tells a very different story. The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality. Lying just beneath the surface of the everyday is a world we’d hardly recognize. Followers of the occult, devotees of astrology, and those who hold to religious principles that speak to a reality beyond experience have, from widely varying perspectives, long since arrived at a similar conclusion. But that’s not what I have in mind. I’m referring to the work of ingenious innovators and tireless researchers–the men and women of science–who have peeled back layer after layer of the cosmic onion, enigma by enigma, and revealed a universe that is at once surprising, unfamiliar, exciting, elegant, and thoroughly unlike what anyone ever expected.

These developments are anything but details. Breakthroughs in physics have forced, and continue to force, dramatic revisions to our conception of the cosmos. I remain as convinced now as I did decades ago that Camus rightly chose life’s value as the ultimate question, but the insights of modern physics have persuaded me that assessing life through the lens of everyday experience is like gazing at a van Gogh through an empty Coke bottle. Modern science has spearheaded one assault after another on evidence gathered from our rudimentary perceptions, showing that they often yield a clouded conception of the world we inhabit. And so whereas Camus separated out physical questions and labeled them secondary, I’ve become convinced that they’re primary. For me, physical reality both sets the arena and provides the illumination for grappling with Camus’ question. Assessing existence while failing to embrace the insights of modern physics would be like wrestling in the dark with an unknown opponent. By deepening our understanding of the true nature of physical reality, we profoundly reconfigure our sense of ourselves and our experience of the universe.

The central concern of this book is to explain some of the most prominent and pivotal of these revisions to our picture of reality, with an intense focus on those that affect our species’ long-term project to understand space and time. From Aristotle to Einstein, from the astrolabe to the Hubble Space Telescope, from the pyramids to mountaintop observatories,
space and time have framed thinking since thinking began. With the advent of the modern scientific age, their importance has been tremendously heightened. Over the last three centuries, developments in physics have revealed space and time as the most baffling and most compelling concepts, and as those most instrumental in our scientific analysis of the universe. Such developments have also shown that space and time top the list of age-old scientific constructs that are being fantastically revised by cutting-edge research.

To Isaac Newton, space and time simply were–they formed an inert, universal cosmic stage on which the events of the universe played themselves out. To his contemporary and frequent rival Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, “space” and “time” were merely the vocabulary of relations between where objects were and when events took place. Nothing more. But to Albert Einstein, space and time were the raw material underlying reality. Through his theories of relativity, Einstein jolted our thinking about space and time and revealed the principal part they play in the evolution of the universe. Ever since, space and time have been the sparkling jewels of physics. They are at once familiar and mystifying; fully understanding space and time has become physics’ most daunting challenge and sought-after prize.

The developments we’ll cover in this book interweave the fabric of space and time in various ways. Some ideas will challenge features of space and time so basic that for centuries, if not millennia, they’ve seemed beyond questioning. Others will seek the link between our theoretical understanding of space and time and the traits we commonly experience. Yet others will raise questions unfathomable within the limited confines of ordinary perceptions.

We will speak only minimally of philosophy (and not at all about suicide and the meaning of life). But in our scientific quest to solve the mysteries of space and time, we will be resolutely unrestrained. From the universe’s smallest speck and earliest moments to its farthest reaches and most distant future, we will examine space and time in environments familiar and far-flung, with an unflinching eye seeking their true nature. As the story of space and time has yet to be fully written, we won’t arrive at any final assessments. But we will encounter a series of developments–some intensely strange, some deeply satisfying, some experimentally verified, some thoroughly speculative–that will show how close we’ve come to wrapping our minds around the fabric of the cosmos and touching the true texture of reality.

Classical Reality

Historians differ on exactly when the modern scientific age began, but certainly by the time Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton had had their say, it was briskly under way. In those days, the new scientific mind-set was being steadily forged, as patterns found in terrestrial and astronomical data made it increasingly clear that there is an order to all the comings and goings of the cosmos, an order accessible to careful reasoning and mathematical analysis. These early pioneers of modern scientific thought argued that, when looked at the right way, the happenings in the universe not only are explicable but predictable. The power of science to foretell aspects of the future–consistently and quantitatively–had been revealed.

Early scientific study focused on the kinds of things one might see or experience in everyday life. Galileo dropped weights from a leaning tower (or so legend has it) and watched balls rolling down inclined surfaces; Newton studied falling apples (or so legend has it) and the orbit of the moon. The goal of these investigations was to attune the nascent scientific ear to nature’s harmonies. To be sure, physical reality was the stuff of experience, but the challenge was to hear the rhyme and reason behind the rhythm and regularity. Many sung and unsung heroes contributed to the rapid and impressive progress that was made, but Newton stole the show. With a handful of mathematical equations, he synthesized everything known about motion on earth and in the heavens, and in so doing, composed the score for what has come to be known as classical physics. In the decades following Newton’s work, his equations were developed into an elaborate mathematical structure that significantly extended both their reach and their practical utility. Classical physics gradually became a sophisticated and mature scientific discipline. But shining clearly through all these advances was the beacon of Newton’s original insights. Even today, more than three hundred years later, you can see Newton’s equations scrawled on introductory-physics chalkboards worldwide, printed on NASA flight plans computing spacecraft trajectories, and embedded within the complex calculations of forefront research. Newton brought a wealth of physical phenomena within a single theoretical framework.

But while formulating his laws of motion, Newton encountered a critical stumbling block, one that is of particular importance to our story (Chapter 2). Everyone knew that things could move, but what about the arena within which the motion took place? Well, that’s space, we’d all answer. But, Newton would reply, what is space? Is space a real physical entity or is it an abstract idea born of the human struggle to comprehend the cosmos? Newton realized that this key question had to be answered, because without taking a stand on the meaning of space and time, his equations describing motion would prove meaningless. Understanding requires context; insight must be anchored.

And so, with a few brief sentences in his Principia Mathematica, Newton articulated a conception of space and time, declaring them absolute and immutable entities that provided the universe with a rigid, unchangeable arena. According to Newton, space and time supplied an invisible scaffolding that gave the universe shape and structure. Not everyone agreed. Some argued persuasively that it made little sense to ascribe existence to something you can’t feel, grasp, or affect. But the explanatory and predictive power of Newton’s equations quieted the critics. For the next two hundred years, his absolute conception of space and time was dogma.

Table of Contents

Part IReality's Arena
1.Roads to Reality: Space, Time, and Why Things Are as They Are3
2.The Universe and the Bucket: Is Space a Human Abstraction or a Physical Entity?23
3.Relativity and the Absolute: Is Spacetime an Einsteinian Abstraction or a Physical Entity?39
4.Entangling Space: What Does It Mean to Be Separate in a Quantum Universe?77
Part IITime and Experience
5.The Frozen River: Does Time Flow?127
6.Chance and the Arrow: Does Time Have a Direction?143
7.Time and the Quantum: Insights into Time's Nature from the Quantum Realm177
Part IIISpacetime and Cosmology
8.Of Snowflakes and Spacetime: Symmetry and the Evolution of the Cosmos219
9.Vaporizing the Vacuum: Heat, Nothingness, and Unification251
10.Deconstructing the Bang: What Banged?272
11.Quanta in the Sky with Diamonds: Inflation, Quantum Jitters, and the Arrow of Time304
Part IVOrigins and Unification
12.The World on a String: The Fabric According to String Theory327
13.The Universe on a Brane: Speculations on Space and Time in M-Theory376
Part VReality and Imagination
14.Up in the Heavens and Down in the Earth: Experimenting with Space and Time415
15.Teleporters and Time Machines: Traveling Through Space and Time437
16.The Future of an Allusion: Prospects for Space and Time470
Suggestions for Further Reading543

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Forbidding formulas no longer stand between general readers and the latest breakthroughs in astrophysics: the imaginative gifts of one of the pioneers making these breakthroughs has now translated mathematical science into accessible analogies drawn from everyday life and popular culture. . . . Nonspecialists will relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe.” –Booklist

“This is popular science writing of the highest order. . . Greene [has an] unparalleled ability to translate higher mathematics into everyday language and images, through the adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose. . . He not only makes concepts clear, but explains why they matter.” –Publishers Weekly


A Conversation with Brian Greene
author of

The Fabric of the Cosmos:
Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they're not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try--and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it's exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we're making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn't say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for oursense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign--and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn't flow--rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time's arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn't that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn't make for a good excuse--at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane--like a bucket of spinning water--actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space--whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It's a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What's the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That's a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world's foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring--like a very, very thin rubber band--is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don't worry, I can't picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we've come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects--the branes--also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black--light can't escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein's statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that's enough to avoid conflict with Einstein's recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue--due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics--is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don't know, but what we're learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn't matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better--made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.

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Fabric of the Cosmos 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are interested in a book that discusses the universe than this is a good title to pick up and read. After reading Brian Greene, I have come to the realization that space is more vast than I ever imagined. The universe is a place that is so big and so expansive that after this book one is able to understand more completely how the universe works. Greene also mentions string theory. String theory is one of the latest theories that unify the macroscopic and the microscopic worlds of physics.
pappy1WD More than 1 year ago
I first became aware of this title watching Nova on PBS. I was enthralled to say the least...had to get the book and was not disappointed. Mr. Greene is very engaging and presents the material in an intelligent as well as entertaining way. NO MATH. I must admit that I had to work a bit on some of the material especially the quantum part but that is what I found so engaging.I am into my second reading and have also embarked on a journey to learn physics and even honing up on my algebra. Being retired I have the time. All of this in somewhat new to me and I come into it with no or little presuppositions. I just purchased the DVD of the title and I will most definitely buy his other books...can't wait.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We highly recommend this excellent introduction to theoretical physics, which is accessible to any determined reader, even those with no mathematical and little scientific background. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Brian Greene is scrupulous about clarity, and has a gift for metaphor that makes it possible for him to discuss even the most abstruse, esoteric physics with skill, clarity and wit. Readers will discover baffling wonders that flatly contradict ordinary quotidian experience, and will come to realize that what they perceive as real is anything but real. Moreover, they will learn that physicists seem to have a great deal more success at demonstrating what is not real than at discovering what is. The most commonplace things - the difference between yesterday and tomorrow, between here and there - continue to baffle the greatest minds in science. Now you can begin to understand why.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Frankly speaking, my greatest interest was not in physics. But after reading Brian Greene, I am seriously planning to graduate in physics. This book has opened my mind to the wonders of quantum mechanics and I am really thankful for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the first sentence of chap. 16 (the last chapter of Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Universe), the author srites, 'Physicists spend a large part of their lives in a state of confusion.' If such a sobering, and humorous, assessment is made of seasoned professionals, little wonder that laypersons untrained in physics and mathematics develop an Excedrin headache trying to grasp the mind-boggling theories of modern science. What is space? What is time? What is matter? What is energy? What is gravity? What is reality? In our mundane, commonsense thinking, the answers are self-evident and patently clear. The truth, however, says Greene, is otherwise. Many, if not most, of the findings of modern physics are counterintuitive; they reveal a cosmos far stranger than imagined in our wildest dreams. Greene, the author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Revised Edition, 2003), has now published a second popular work on physics in which he delves into the mysteries of space and time, or (since Einstein) spacetime. From Sir Isaac Newton's classical physics, to Albert Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, to the weird world of quantum mechanics and superstring theory, Greene is our tour guide into the macrocosmos (the world of the very large) and the microcosmos (the world of the very small). Here we encounter an ugly skeleton rattling around in the physicists' closet: 'The greatest obstacle theoretical physics has faced during the last eighty years [is the] fundamental rift between general relativity and quantum mechanics.' When the mathematical calculations of each are juxtaposed, things just don't add up. Until some grand unifying field theory is found, the two greatest theories of modern physics stand in embarrassing contradiction. Following the lead of Edward Witten, the world's most renowned string theorist, Greene believes that superstring theory is the key to such a unified field theory. Superstrings (if they exist) are conceived to be incredibly tiny loops of vibrating energy that lie deep within the heart of matter and that are able to connect with and influence, from incredible distances, objects widely separated in spacetime. M-theory, a refinement of superstring theory, envisions the existence of eleven dimensions (ten of space and one of time). In such a bizarre (and, for this reviewer, incomprehensible) cosmos, the arrow of time, which seemingly moves only in one direction (from the past to the present and on to the future), could be reversed time machines might be possible. Pass the Excedrin, please! Greene writes brilliantly about symmetry, the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), gravity, multiverses (parallel universes), the evolution and expansion of the universe, black holes, and the influence of the big bang on the arrow of time. Disappointingly, however, he says little (except implicitly) about causality, except in a footnote to chap. 3. Greene scatters nuggets of wit, wisdom, and humor through his intelligent text, and provides numerous analogies and metaphors ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous--from Nicole Kidman and Zen koans to Voodoo and the Scarecrow in the Land of Oz. Numerous drawings and line illustrations enhance the book's popular appeal. If you want to be ambitious, read the 42 pages of technical notes at the end of the volume. Caution: More than one Excedrin tablet is needed for such a venture. So what? you may ask. What does all this scientific stuff have to do with the price of tea in China? If nothing else, we gain from Greene's book a fascinating chronicle of our evolving understanding of the basic 'stuff' of the universe. For, as the philosopher Aristotle wrote, in the first sentence of his Metaphysics, 'All men by nature desire to know.' Roy E. Perry is an advertising copywriter at a Nashville publishing house. He may be reached at ABOUT THE AUTHOR
au82 More than 1 year ago
Brian Greene is a great science mind and writer. If you are interested in the basic nature of our universe, this is a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After listening to the first two chapters on CD, I bought the book. Eric Davies, the reader, put emphasis on the wrong words so often (he reads the book like it is a suspense novel) that his reading interfered with learning. Too bad Brian Greene didn't read it himself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting. The author was very concise and stuck to the subject matter. His description of Newton's bucket experiment as to how the water in a bucket is affected by the rotation of the bucket was very insightful. I was so amazed by this book, I bought his first one and am reading it now (the elegant universe). I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how the world works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perhaps the best book you can hope for this topic (in case you are not a physics graduate.). Very simple and interesting style of explaining.
divisionbyzer0 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In terms of popular science books, this one is simply extraordinary. Brian Greene's writing makes exceedingly difficult and advanced concepts fairly accessible to the lay person.In particular I like how he starts off by tipping his hat to Camus' existensialist dillema but then disagreeding with his idea that knowledge from the sciences can't in fact make a difference. I'm not sure I agree, but I think Greene's appreciation of camus, and his belief that science can make a difference helps to illustrate his passion as a scientist.While this book covers a lot of general physics the focus is on the implications for our conceptions of space and time, as the title strongly suggests.I have not yet finished this book, but by less than half way through I have been introduced to a number of topics that I have never really come across in the popular writings of other physicists like Drs Feynman, Weinberg, or Hawking. Greene goes thru special and general relativity and orthodox qm i a delightful manner, showing all the important features, and tho he notes that he agrees with the orthodoxy on philosophic points he does not do disservice to disagreeing views, which he makes note of in the book, as well as in some of the more technical notes.We also go through some more intricate matters which one does not ordinarily see outside of a philosophy of physics book such as the relational v absolutist stance on space "newtons bucket", Mach's response, and Einstein's update, following which we get an overview on block space-time, and how this is reconciled with the relativistic views of different observers as different angled cuts of the single block. I have never seen this approach or metaphor thoroughly hammered out in any work on popular physics. Green also argues eloquently using the notion of "updating now moments of different observers" that SR discrepancies can be seen over extremely wide spatial separations at even extremely low velocities.Next we get overviews of entanglement and the implications for space, including some difficult ideas on the matter from eminent researches such as John Bell, David Bohm, as well as Alain Aspects results. While the mathematical details may not be all here in their full rigor, the essence of the ideas surly is.Right now I am learning that probabilistic reasoning applied with the time reversal invariance of the laws of physics entail that entropy should be higher in the past as well as the future!This is mind numbing stuff!I also like the humor and references to pop culture (simpsons, etc).Read it and enjoy it.
chersbookitlist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
follow up to his prior book, The Elegant Universe. This one is a little more simplistic in some ways, using very imaginative analogies to explain complex theoretical physics principles. I found it very enjoyable and a nice companion book to The Elegant Universe.
wouterzzzzz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The second book on string theory by Greene, and actually much easier to read. It is probably a good idea to start with this book, and not "The Elegant Universe". Towards the end of the book, some very intriguing theries are discussed, these alone are worth reading this book. It will probably keep you wondering about the world (or rather, universe) we live in for quite a while.
TheBooknerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like the fluidity of Greene's writing, especially since he skips all the "unnecessary" details like calculations and such. However, I don't quite agree with some comments that this book is accessible to even people who have never before studied physics. Greene may have simplified, but the book is still rather academic in my opinion.
acrn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slightly worse than it's "predecessor", but then we all know that it would be hard to beat one of the best science books out there. More dense, the advances in the theories are really took into context without sounding too draconian to strangers like me.
KApplebaum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an amazing book. Brian Greene is amazing, too -- he can take incredibly complex concepts, and write about them in a way that someone who doesn't have a PhD can understand.
briandarvell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book gives a wonderful, detailed overview of the current state of thinking regarding certain areas of the theoretical physics world. Although I found much of the book extremely interesting, and I was constantly going to Wikipedia and other sources for more info, I still found much of the book extremely drawn out. It could have been much shorter.In particular, my favorite areas of the book were:- The description of Einstein's General and Special Theories of Relativity- The sections on Cosmology related to the Big Bang and Inflationary Theory- Quantum Fluctuations and elementary particles- Parts of the String Theory section and membranes- Time travel theoriesThe most laborious section in my mind was Greene's slow approach to entropy. Anyone with even some level of scientific study would have found this section to be boring and plodding. I can understand the need for covering entropy in his overall approach to "time's arrow" but it should have been seriously reduced in word count.I would recommend this book to people with more than passing interest in space, quantum mechanics and physics. It makes for an excellent overview for a general reader but perhaps with some searching, books of similar quality (and shorter) could also be found.
MaowangVater on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, and a superstring theorist explains the stuff of reality. By skillful use of diagrams and analogies he succeeds even for non-mathematicians like me. He also goes on to explain of what the world might be made. In other words, what science knows by experimental proof and what has yet to be proved by experiment. And most puzzling is the experimental fact that the rules of movement for the big things in the universe, people, planets, stars and galaxies are quite different from the laws of the very small things in the universe, atoms and sub-atomic particles, which follow the rules of quantum mechanics.Humans experience three dimensions of space and one of time, and while we can go up or down, forward or backwards, left or right in space we can only travel forward in time. But are these dimensions the real stuff of the universe as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein insisted or just a linguistic expressions of relationships as Gottfried von Leibniz argued? Following time¿s single direction Greene leads the reader back to the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang and then forward to a cosmos that may have as many as eleven dimensions. It¿s quite a trip.
mumfie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finally finished this book! It's taken me six months to read this on and off.Brian Greene writes very clearly, using imagery that is easy to understand for the armchair reader. The book does require concentration and the assimilation of one part before moving on to the next, which is why I only read it in small doses. However it is well worth the effort, providing a clear overview of 'the fabric of the cosmos' from Newtonian physics to superstring theory and beyond. It is, quite simply, a riveting read.
yonas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An unbelievable insight into the very fabric of what we consider to be "reality." This book will undoubtedly change the way you think about our "three dimensional" universe forever.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another fat book on the physics of cosmology and relativity, explaining, in some vague way, current theories and problems of grand unified theories and cosmology. Absorbing and pleasant to read, but leaves me with a curiously unfufilled feeling, as though I was window shopping rather than learning things. I read about the quantum measurement problem, about paradoxes of collapsing wave functions, and again about 11 dimensional strings as a way of unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous010 More than 1 year ago
An excellent book!! It is a great intro to theoretical physics despite the fact that it is doesn't presume any knowledge of mathematics on the part of the reader. This book is great for someone who doesn't have very much grounding in physics.
jdchuck68 More than 1 year ago
You don't have to be a genius to enjoy this excellent book that explains some of the most difficult concepts in science. Relativity, gravity, spacetime, quantum physics--some of the most mind-bending subjects--are explained using examples from everyday life. With clever and even humorous explanation, Greene makes these concepts understandable and even enjoyable. One word of warning: for me it took a bit longer to get through but not because of any severe degree of difficulty. Instead, I kept finding myself lost in thought, wrapping my brain delightfully around this stuff. Unlike some of Greene's other work, this book doesn't require any higher knowledge of math. It's not a science textbook, it's a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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