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Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe by Michio Kaku
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For years I have followed the Cosmic Quest to unite the physical laws of the universe. In many ways, the story is as strange as Science Fiction for those scientists exploring the realms of electromagnetic, gravitational, the strong nuclear and the weak nuclear forces.
The difficulty for mathematicians and physics in trying to explain and unite these four forces to us lay-folk arises because there seem to be two separate universes. One governed by Newton and Einstein’s familiar laws, and another universe which is weirdly strange and unpredictable and which is explained by quantum mechanics. Because we humans like predictability, we are often baffled when our cozy world has something that doesn’t fit our experiential knowledge base. That’s what this book is all about.
Newtonian Physics and Einstein’s work explain are a predictable universe. We have mathematics describing how bodies in our predictable world are affected by gravitation and electromagnetic forces. They move, fall and exist in a macroscopic universe which we mostly see and deal with on a daily basis.
On the other hand, the more we studied the muinute particles making up the nucleus of atoms, the more evidence we found that some non-predictable forces and particles govern our universe at that sub-atomic level which we cannot see and thus must infer by rather exotic experiments. Then we have to give a pictorial explanation of what we saw to think we saw to our general public. Thus it needs to be explained how a particle can appear out of seemingly nowhere travelling at the speed of light, disappear into an invisible hole and reappear in a totally new location or two different locations at the same time. It’s not neat and tidy and disturbed Einstein for the last years of his life.
We could write all of this off as ‘poppycock’ except that is is the science that allows us to solve real-world problems and develop new technology which was previously undreamed of. We know quantum mechanics works and explains something going on in the universe because it allows us to develop atomic level machines, computers, memory chips, touch screens …. and a technology that will hopefully take us to other stars or even other universes.
Kaku and Thompson’s explanation of the flavors of string theory and dimensions beyond the four with which we daily associate allows us to begin dreaming the dreams of multi-universes that reach beyond our own with sizes that can be both immense or microscopic at the same time and may be unified through 12 dimensions in the same manner that a Mobius Strip is unified in two dimensions and a Klein Bottle is unified in three dimensions. It truly boggles the mind!
The book ends on a positive note that Super-string Theory will ultimately lead us to the Theory of Everything. Of course, when we get there, will we be prepared and able to make that jump from being upright apes to being a Class I civilization controlling the earth, and then make the jump to a Class II civilization controlling our solar system and finally make that jump pre-saged by Isaac Asimov of becoming the Class III civilization that can harness the galaxy and beyond. Will we do it in biological form or will our dreams have to enter the thinking realms of the computers we are now developing? Who will be lifted up and who will be left behind?
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This sounds really good. I was planning to read one of Kaku’s book recently, maybe it will be this one, since your review shows it’s worth going for. Did you read other physics/astrophysics themed books which you would recommend? My favourite at the moment is A Briefer History of Time.
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Yes, I’ve read A Briefer History of Time. Hawkings was always one of those people I admired for his brains, his ability to explain concepts and his guts to keep going through a disease that vanquishes most people with its ravages. I struggled a bit with the vocabulary of String Theory but there is an excellent Scientific American article that came out last year which helped. See: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-string-theory-science/
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