November 6, 2015

Book: In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:38 pm

imageThe subject matter is at once fascinating and difficult to explain but this book does a great job of it. I would even go so far to say that this is probably one of the best science books I have read.

The book seems to go effortlessly into Quantum physics and describes fabulously what it is.

The uncertainty principle is explained well, with the aid of the electron or light beams through two slits in the card. When he explains the weird phenomenon where the electrons behave one way when observed and quite another when unobserved, you are astounded.

Also beautifully told are: what is the big bang (which is not the bang at all) the expansion of the universe (the stars are not moving away at all) and how Einstein won the Nobel prize for not his Theory of Relativity but for proving that light behaves like a particle sometimes.

Schrodinger, of the cat fame, is considered the father of Quantum Theory and even won a Nobel Prize for it. His opinion of the subject that gave him fame and fortune? “I don’t like it and wish I had nothing to do with it”. Even his famous cat – the thought process – was to demonstrate how absurd the quantum theory can be. Fascinating factoids like this abound in this book.

Gribbin does a remarkable job of explaining the complex phenomena of the Quantum Theory before moving on to the Multiverse.

If you thought what you read so far is bizarre and totally contrary to any normal expectations, wait until you read about the main subject of the book – Multiverse. What you read would seem tame by comparison.

The serious facts sound so bizarre that it feels like a joke played by scientists on unsuspecting lay public.

The concept is this: You know the Schrodinger’s Cat thought problem where a cat could be either dead or alive when the box is opened, right? It postulates that, when you open the box (and this applies to every decision branch in each person’s life – presumably each animal’s life) the entire universe splits into two identical pieces. In one, you find the cat alive and in another, you find the cat dead. No, I am not kidding. And there is no way you can contact anything/ anyone in the other universe, and by extension, there are hundreds of thousands of you in each universe with a different life pattern. Each one is as real as any other; there is no “real” universe. Sounds like any supernatural story right?

Does it not sound similar to other unprovable facts? Ghosts exists but I cannot conclusively prove it; Big Foot exists but never been captured; Loch Ness Monster was sighted… you get the idea.

If science behaves like the weirdest stuff you have ever heard of in all its dead earnest, what is the proof for such an idea? Simply the same as anything else in quantum physics. The equations predict it and it neatly solves all the unsolved puzzles of quantum mechanics! That’s it. For instance, the fact that life exists is dependent on so many coincidental things going exactly right (the exact force of gravity, the exact amount of the weak and strong gravitational forces, the exact speed of the universe expanding etc) that to some scientists, this universe “looks like a put up job”. The multiverse theory neatly solves the puzzle neatly and logically. In all possible combinations, there are multiverses and only in those where these conditions are just right is life possible, and exists.  Interesting idea, right? It is the same theory as evolution, where random mutations go on all the time and beneficial mutations survive to form new life forms and species and harmful mutations die out.

Then there is the even more bizarre concept that these worlds can in fact interact with each other and they do all the time. That is the principle behind the efforts to build a quantum computer, it seems. At this point you check to make sure that this is really a science book and not a practical joke played by someone on you.

A fantastic explanation of why the old thermodynamic equations ignore gravity and how the stars and galaxies form in the primordial soup in the first place. I will let you read the book to get a full gist of it.

When he goes into how multiverse is not “parallel” and gives the example of jumbled pages in a library full of book pieces, your mind goes into further numbing shock. This is the modern theory of science? Wow!

He covers a theory that talks about all life being a simulation inside a computer a la Matrix. In addition, he talks about string theory, which is very nice. For the first time, I understood all this talk about strings and how they come into the picture, about Branes and about the 11 dimensions that you so often hear of. (Explains why can we not see the fifth and sixth dimension etc.)

The whole thing ends with a summation of the theories back to Multiverse and Schrodinger’s Cat. Even though this is the most simplified explanation of current thinking meant for laymen like you and me, it does get heavy in some places, and gets confusing in some places simply due to the nature of the discussions involved.

Also the earlier theories of Multiverse and splitting of the worlds is quietly replaced with more probable theories; however, it is not explicitly renounced and so you finally sit back and wonder ‘How do the theories described at the end of the book tally with the ones in the beginning?’.

I guess some subjects can be made as simple as possible but no simpler, and even at the simplest version such as this one, some readers do not get the full import of the theory.

What you do understand is the surprising new theory of the Black Holes and also of the possibility of designer universes.

I would say 9/10

– – Krishna


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