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


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



Author Q & A

A Conversation with Brian Greene

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 our sense 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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irocalex, April 19, 2009 (view all comments by irocalex)
Brian Greene is a great author who can make even the most cutting edge physics seem simple with a diagram and a description. I picked up Fabric of the Cosmos because I read his other work The Elegant Universe and although I am on the fence about string theory which is where The Elegant Universe focused in on, Fabric of the Cosmos has only a few chapters where he touches on the subject. Leaving us with Quantum Mechanics and General Theory of Relativity to explain most of what is going on. I gave the book a 4 out of 5 because some of what he talked about was rehashed from his first book making him seem lazy about the subject. But it is a great book and a good read for anyone who is interested in the state of affairs in the physics community
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Product Details

Greene, Brian
Knopf Publishing Group
Smolin, Lee
Astronomy - Universe
Astronomy - General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
21 images
9 x 6 in 1.19 lb

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Related Subjects

Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » Astronomy » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Cosmology
Science and Mathematics » Physics » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Popular

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780375412882 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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 (Starred Review)
"Review" by , "Nonspecialists will relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe." (Starred Review)
"Review" by , "[Greene's] excitement for science on the threshold of vital breakthroughs is supremely contagious. The Fabric of the Cosmos is as dazzling as it is tough, and it beautifully reflects this theoretician's ardor for his work."
"Synopsis" by , In his widely anticipated new book, one of the world's foremost string theorists and the bestselling author of The Elegant Universe reveals the strange and stunning layers of reality modern physics has discovered beneath the surface of the world.
"Synopsis" by , One of our foremost thinkers and public intellectuals offers a radical new view of the nature of time, and explores its implications for everything from physics and cosmology to economics and climate change.
"Synopsis" by ,
From one of our foremost thinkers and public intellectuals, a radical new view of the nature of time and the cosmos

What is time?

This deceptively simple question is the single most important problem facing science as we probe more deeply into the fundamentals of the universe. All of the mysteries physicists and cosmologists faceand#8212;from the Big Bang to the future of the universe, from the puzzles of quantum physics to the unification of forces and particlesand#8212;come down to the nature of time.

The fact that time is real may seem obvious. You experience it passing every day when you watch clocks tick, bread toast, and children grow. But most physicists, from Newton to Einstein to todayand#8217;s quantum theorists, have seen things differently. The scientific case for time being an illusion is formidable. That is why the consequences of adopting the view that time is real are revolutionary.

Lee Smolin, author of the controversial bestseller The Trouble with Physics, argues that a limited notion of time is holding physics back. Itand#8217;s time for a major revolution in scientific thought. The reality of time could be the key to the next big breakthrough in theoretical physics.

What if the laws of physics themselves were not timeless? What if they could evolve? Time Reborn offers a radical new approach to cosmology that embraces the reality of time and opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. There are few ideas that, like our notion of time, shape our thinking about literally everything, with huge implications for physics and beyondand#8212;from climate change to the economic crisis. Smolin explains in lively and lucid prose how the true nature of time impacts our world.

"Synopsis" by , From Brian Greene, one of the worlds leading physicists, 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 uses these questions to guide us toward modern sciences new and deeper understanding of the universe. From Newtons unchanging realm in which space and time are absolute, to Einsteins fluid conception of spacetime, to quantum mechanics entangled arena where vastly distant objects can bridge their spatial separation to instantaneously coordinate their behavior or even undergo teleportation, Greene reveals our world to be very different from what common experience leads us to believe. Focusing on the enigma of time, Greene establishes that nothing in the laws of physics insists that it run in any particular direction and that “times arrow” is a relic of the universes condition at the moment of the big bang. And in explaining the big bang itself, Greene shows how recent cutting-edge developments in superstring and M-theory may reconcile the behavior of everything from the smallest particle to the largest black hole. This startling vision culminates in a vibrant eleven-dimensional “multiverse,” pulsating with ever-changing textures, where space and time themselves may dissolve into subtler, more fundamental entities.

Sparked by the trademark wit, humor, and brilliant use of analogy that have made The Elegant Universe a modern classic, Brian 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.

With 146 illustrations

Jacket photograph by DB Image/Brand X Pictures

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