Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hidden Reality

Book Review : The Hidden Reality
Author : Brian Greene
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is "The Hidden Reality : Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos".

Brian Green is a professor of Physics at Columbia University. His first book "The Elegant Universe" was a major New York Times Bestseller and has been made into a similarly titled Nova series. And with an appearance on the hit CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory", he is one of the rare physicists that can claim a celebrity status.

His first book opened the doors to The String Theory for laymen like me. I had always heard about it, and thanks to Brian Greene, I know the basic outline of it. His second book, "The Fabric Of Cosmos", was also well received, and personally, I liked it more than the first book.

To say that the physics of 20th century is not intuitive would be an obvious understatement. Neither Einstein's Relativity Theory, nor the Quantum Mechanics sit well with our everyday life experiences. That's a limitation of our senses. The predictions of these theories are verifiable by scientific observations.

String Theory is not completely there yet. It has the potential, and far better minds than mine believe in it. So I see no need to question it, but much of the content in the second half of Brian Greene's first book felt a bit speculative. Of course, he was aiming to introduce the readers with the cutting edge research, and he succeeded in it.

Why do I mention that ? Because his latest book, "The Hidden Reality", is even more speculative. Again, he is introducing the readers to the latest thinking in physics. To untested theories, which may be proven wrong.

The core theme of the book is about the various flavors of the multiple universe theory. After the big bang, it's possible that multiple universes were created. Each having billions of galaxies. Our universe is just one of the many, or infinitely many. We may never detect those other universes, but Brian Greene outlines the logic, which indicates that, they are out there. But the very nature of the underlying idea makes me squirm - is this really science ? It's almost like, we can neither prove their existence, nor disprove it. To be fair, the author tackles such doubts head on. His justifications didn't convince me. This could very well be due to my feeble non-physicist mind. Nevertheless, this was a shortcoming of the book to me.

It could also be due to the order of presentation. The multi-verse theories are presented in first few chapters, and then their basis is questioned. A bit more effort in setting up the expectations about the speculative nature of the theories would have helped.

The tail end of the book is not as well written as the rest of the book. From a scientific point of view, he discusses questions similar to "How do we know we are not living in a Matrix ?". I am not fond of such debates. To me, these are exercises in futility. Maybe he wanted to discuss it for the sake of covering all aspects of multi-verse theories. That aside, his discussion is repetitive and tedious. Fortunately, it's a small part of the book.

If you are able to leave these complaints aside, the book is worth reading. The subject matter is really advanced, and making it accessible to general public is not an easy task. Considering what he is trying to explain, I have to applaud his effort. The previous too books did a better job, no doubt. But this book has many plus points as well. When they say, a certain star is at a certain distance from us, I had always wondered - is that the distance now, or when the light left that star or something else ? I found the explanation here very friendly. As was the explanation of Hawking Radiation of a Black Hole and its importance. Very well done.

I definitely recommend this book. You have to have the motivation and the curiosity to read books about cutting edge science. You already know if you are that type. If you want to start reading popular science books, I would rather recommend Brian Greene's first book "The Elegant Universe", or Simon Singh's "Big Bang", or even some older books by Gamow and/or Feynman.

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