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Table of Contents of All Reviews
Contents of This Page
Listed in the Alphabetical Order of the Author
Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life
Includes Gems of Feynman's Words in His Last Years (14 Jun 04)
In the winter of 1981, Mlodinow became a post-doctoral fellow at Caltech, where two Nobel Prize winners, Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, had offices down the hall. The author wanted someone to help him emerge from his creative drought, and figured that it would be his idol Feynman. One day he knocked on the door to Feynman's office, and was welcome ... This is the story of the author's young days as well as Feynman, Gell-Mann and the world of the physical theory named string theory in its beginning.
In an early chapter we learn that Feynman used to say there were two kinds of physicists, the Babylonians and the Greeks. The former focused on the phenomena, and the latter, on the underlying order. Gell-Mann was a Greek, and Feynman considered himself a Babylonian. Echoing this, the author understandably writes in a later chapter, "Feynman scorned string theory, Murray championed it. That was Feynman and Murray - attracted by each other's genius, repelled by each other's philosophy."
I have found the following gems of Feynman's words told to the author: "An important part of the creative process is play." "The scientist's imagination always is different from a writer's in that it is checked." "She (Arlene, Feynman's wife in his first marriage) taught me that one has to be irrational sometimes." You might find some more you like in this book.
In the last chapter the author thinks of Feynman in this way, "If there is one thing he taught me, it is the importance of being truly committed to whatever it is we are striving for." This small and readable book would a good addition to the bookshelf of the fans of the People's Physicist Feynman. It is to be noted that "Some Time with Feynman" is not a different book by the same author but the European title of this book.
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
Highly Instructive Writing about Space and Time (7 May 04)
Before buying a newly published book, I almost always read reviews on it. However, I bought this book as soon as it was published without following the usual procedure, because the previous book by the same author, "The Elegant Universe," proved Brian Greene's high ability of clear writing on cutting-edge physics. This new book even exceeded my expectation.
Greene, who made a number of important discoveries in superstring theory, explains about the present understanding of space and time starting from historical ideas from Newton's days and reaching the possible experimental confirmation of extra dimensions predicted by theoretical models as well as future allusions. The book is written for laypersons without using equations in the main text, but includes about 40 pages of notes for the expert reader. Thus scientists and engineers can also enjoy it very much.
The author makes good use of analogies, among which I liked the one about Bell's inequality best. Expert readers may find explanations in earlier chapters a little too lengthy, but this book has the following instructive feature: Greene's explanation often made me have a small question, but on reading ahead, I found that the author had expected the same question and had given the answer to it in the text or in a note! I believe that many of the young readers of this book would be interested in becoming a physicist or a cosmologist to study the deep mysteries of space and time.
Our Cosmic Habitat
Deep Mysteries of the Cosmos Simply Told (23 Dec 03)
Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, wonderfully tells everything about cosmology in this concise book. The reader is lead to a quick tour from Big Bang to biospheres, from the beginning to the end of the universe, and from the micro-world to the cosmos. Yet the description is not superficial but very deep.
Among many of mysteries we learn from this book, let me mention only a few big ones. (1) Dark matter: This prevails over visible matter in constituting the total energy of the universe. It is the No. 1 problem in astronomy today, and ranks high as a physics problem, too. (2) Vacuum energy: This is the origin of the accelerating expansion of the universe. Its nature is a challenge to theorists; it holds important clues to the early universe and the nature of space. (3) Other universes: Our universe may be just one of them. While seeming to be in the province of metaphysics rather than physics, these already lie within the proper purview of science.
The author says that the phrases often used in popular books, "final theory" and "theory of everything," are very misleading and that some of nature's complexity may never be explained and understood. These words just made the scales fall from my eyes. I strongly recommend this book to laypersons interested in astronomy, cosmology, problems at the boundary between science and philosophy, and the deep mysteries of nature.
Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics
The Quantum Reality Einstein Could Not Suppose (3 Nov 03)
In 1935 Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky raised a serious criticism of quantum theory in the form of a paradox. The criticism meant that quantum theory brings about a "spooky action at distance" or "entanglement" between quantum subsystems. Two photons generated at a point with a correlation, for example, continue to have the correlation even after they are separated by a great distance, and a change in the state of one of them affects the other instantaneously. In 1964 John Bell proposed a mathematical theorem experimentally to test the existence of entanglement. Alain Aspect carried out such an experiment in 1982 to show that entanglement is a reality.
Even one of the greatest physicists in history, Albert Einstein, could not suppose that entanglement would be a reality. So it must be quite difficult to make ordinary person understand it. Amir Aczel tried to do this difficult task in this book, but he does not seem to have well succeeded. Just half of a total of 20 chapters is spent to describe the history of quantum mechanics, though a short mention about entanglement appears at a few places. Thus the reader who learned quantum mechanics to some extent at least would find the first half of the book rather tedious. From the story of debate between Einstein and Bohr in chapter 11, the book becomes interesting. However, the author explains neither Bell's theorem nor the details of many experiments understandably. On the final page, the author reveals the reason of difficulty in understanding entanglement writing, "... the quantum theory does not tell us why things happen the way they do; why are the particles entangled?" Was our expectation to the author too big?
A good point of the book is that it includes biographical descriptions of a lot of physicists related to quantum theory and entanglement. I have learned for the first time that Thomas Young, famous for the double slit experiment, was a child prodigy. Schrödinger's anecdotal "entanglement" with women are also told. A bad point is that writing and printing are made rather carelessly. For example, von Neumann's proof of the non-existence of hidden variable in quantum mechanics and John Bell's later challenge to Neumann's assumption are repeatedly described on pages 101 and 102. There are many typos, and especially the contents of pages 234 and 235 should be interchanged. This error, combined with sudden appearance of the description of Borromean rings on page 232, makes the reader confused around these pages.
Physics and Astrophysics: A Selection of Key Problems
A Wide and Deep View in a Slim Volume (10 Oct 03)
In this small book the author attempted to answer a question, "What seems to be most important and interesting in physics and astrophysics at present?" The "present" of the latest edition of this book is the first half of the 1980s. As the author writes in "Preface to the English Edition," the effective lifetime of each edition of the book of this type is not long. Because of the scarcity of books of this kind, however, the author's style and method of getting and presenting an overall view of the situation in physics as a whole continue to be heuristic even after many years since the publication of this book.
The book consists of three chapters on macrophysics, microphysics and astrophysics. Each chapter has seven to nine sections that deeply treat specific problems. It would be a good exercise for students and researchers to write by themselves about the later developments of the problem they are interested in or to give a list of other important problems they can think of. -- The author, V. L. Ginzburg, shared the 2003 Noble Prize in Physics with two low-temperature theorists. --
The Problems of Physics
A Nobel-Prize Winner's Wonderful Insight (9 Oct 03)
The first edition of this book was published in 1988, and this second edition appeared after six years. So, it may be time for the author to publish another new edition. I suppose however that most of the problems described in this edition remain to be challenging and that the book is still worth reading even in the early years of the 21st century, because the author treated the problems of the kind related to deep mysteries of nature. I read this book with great interest and learned much.
The author, Anthony J. Leggett, shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics with two low-temperature theorists. Thus this book is also good to learn how wonderful insight one of Nobel-Physics-Prize winners has not only into the field of his specialty but also into all the fields of physics.
The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos
Absorbing Narrative about Astounding Discovery (18 Sep 03)
Most cosmologists long believed that the universe would expand at a decelerating rate. Contrary to this belief, two teams of astronomers independently announced in 1998 the observational results that indicated the accelerating expansion of the universe since about 5 billion years ago. One of the two teams was called the Supernova Cosmology Project and led by Saul Perlmutter of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and the other was the High-z Supernova Team led by Brian Schmidt of Mount Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatories in Australia and the author of this book, Robert Kirshner of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Before reading this book I already learned much about this astounding finding from the following books: Amir D. Aczel, "God's Equation" (1999); Donald Goldsmith, "The Runaway Universe (2000); and Mario Livio, "The Accelerating Universe" (2000). The person who read one or more of these books like me might think the earlier chapters of "The Extravagant Universe" not so attractively written. As distinct from the other authors, however, Kirshner includes some passages useful to students and young scientists. For example, he writes in chapter 4, "You don't always have to understand the details of the mathematics to contribute to the advance of science"; and in chapter 6 he heuristically discusses various possible sources of observational errors.
From chapter 9 on, the narrative becomes quite absorbing. We get such high excitement of the intellectual work leading to the discovery that can be conveyed only by the person who actually engaged in it. It is wonderful that mankind can learn something about the fate of the universe, though we do not yet know what dark energy, i.e., the source of acceleration, really is.
I like the last pages of this book, on which the author describes why cosmology is important to us. Decision makers of science policy should read these pages at least. All the readers who are interested in the wonders of nature and the universe will surely be interested in this book. Vividly describing scientists' life filled with collaboration, competition, annoyance, confidence, etc., this is a good book especially for young people.
Antimatter: The Ultimate Mirror
Science Is Approaching Science Fictions (29 Apr 03)
Antimatter often appears in science fictions. In Gregory Benford's "Eater," for example, a robot made by magnetic copying of the heroine flies to the black hole Eater on a spaceship, carrying an antimatter bomb to change the course of Eater and to prevent its collision with the Earth. In reality, antimatter does not exist naturally on the Earth. Nor has it ever been made in a large quantity in the laboratory.
In 1996 Walter Oelert and coworkers at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva produced antihydrogen atoms, the first-step thing towards antimatter. Gordon Fraser's "Antimatter" describes the history of physics about the mirror world, in which antimatter has one of the deepest mysteries. First the success of Oelert's team is shortly described. Then the story starts from Galileo Galilei's work and comes to that of Oelert's team again through Paul Dirac's theoretical prediction of the existence of antiparticles and many discoveries by other physicists.
Fraser lucidly narrates to laypersons using neither jargons nor equations. A story about kaons in the chapter of "Broken mirrors" is possibly a little difficult to many readers, but this is a small flaw. Not only laypersons but also physicists can enjoy this book reading anecdotes of many great physicists and exciting episodes of finding antiparticles and producing antihydrogen atoms. In the last chapters the author describes the applications of antiparticles, the riddle of missing antimatter in the Universe and a program to search cosmic antimatter, concluding by the following words that might stimulate would-be scientists: "Our understanding of cosmology and the origin of the Universe would require a major rethink, a Copernican revolution for the twenty-first century."
Antihydrogen atoms of Oelert's team were flying so speedily that they were of no use for measuring their physical nature. In 2002, however, the ATHENA collaboration at CERN reported the success in the production of many "cold" antihydrogen atoms that move very slowly. Though it is yet quite far from the production of a massive quantity of antimatter, science gradually approaches the science fiction. I wish that this book be revised in the near future by adding the latest advances in antimatter science and by correcting the error of the Japanese physicist Hantaro Nagaoka's first name (now it strangely reads "Hatari" on page 39) as well as a few typos.
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number
Pursuing the Mysteries of the Ubiquitous Number Phi (31 Mar 03)
Mario Livio, a cosmologist and art aficionado at the Hubble Space Telescope Center and the author of the previous book "The Accelerating Universe," wrote a lot about the irrational (never-ending, never-repeating) number phi, or the Golden Ratio, whose value is 1.6180339877... The story starts from these questions: Who discovered the Golden Ratio? Was phi used in the design of a Babylonian stela and Egyptian pyramids? The author pursues the answers to these questions, writing a series of his thoughts like a detective story.
Then he describes the role of the Greek mathematicians Plato and Euclid, and the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci in the history of phi, together with the geometrical and arithmetical wonders connected to this number. One example of the wonders is the relation between the Fibonacci sequence and phi. The Fibonacci sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ... is defined as a series of numbers in which each term is the sum of the two preceding terms. The ratio of successive numbers of this sequence approaches phi as we go farther and farther down the sequence.
Next come the topics of phi found in nature and used in arts. The logarithmic spiral, which goes hand in hand with the Golden Radio, appears in the sunflower, the flight of a falcon, galaxies, etc. The author's study of many historical attempts to disclose the Golden Ratio in various works of art, pieces of music and poetry comes to the conclusion that ... (I have to refrain from writing the ending of the "detective story").
In the final chapter Livio considers the question: What is the reason that mathematics and numerical constants like phi play such a central role in topics ranging from fundamental theories of the universe to the stock market? Noting that the discussion about this question can fill the entire volume, the author gives a brief (but very understandable) description of the modified Platonic view and the natural selection interpretation. He also presents his personal opinion, which adopts complementarity of the above two views. This chapter whets readers' appetite for a possible next book on this topic to be written by Livio.
I strongly recommend "The Golden Ratio" to scientists, artists and laypersons that are interested in the wonders of numbers and mathematics and in their relations to arts and nature.
Boltzmann's Atom: The Great Debate That Launched a Revolution in Physics
Still Reverberating Conflict (24 Nov 02)
Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) was an Austrian theoretical physicist and made important contributions to the kinetic theory of gases and thermodynamics. His work was based on the hypothesis of the existence of atoms, and was not accepted by the majority of scientists in those days. In the undergraduate physics course, our teacher told us that Boltzmann committed suicide. I wanted to know why he ended his life so sadly, but did not have a chance to learn about it for many years. David Lindley's book gave me a clear answer to my question and much more. I was intrigued by the story about the romance between Boltzmann, a youth "whose energies and thoughts were rarely distracted from physics," and Henriette von Aigentler, a young student at a teacher training college.
The author gives a readable account not only of Boltzmann's life and work but also of work and philosophy of those scientists who opposed his theory, developed a similar theory, or confirmed his hypothesis, James Clerk Maxwell, Wilhelm Ostwald, Ernst Mach, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Max Planck and Albert Einstein among them. Thus readers can get good understanding about Boltzmann's depressive mood and the significance and greatness of his work. The conflict between Boltzmann's atomic hypothesis and Mach's philosophy that science should be based only on observable facts is discussed especially in detail in this book.
Lindley teaches us that a similar conflict also exists nowadays. Namely, he writes in Chapter 7, ". . . now some physicists argue for the existence of superstrings and other curious entities that will never be seen directly. It remains, even now, a profound question whether the cost of proposing such very hypothetical objects as superstrings is sufficiently compensated by the benefit in understanding that the hypothesis brings." Here he insists the merit of Mach's critical attitude. In Postscript, however, the author stresses the legacy of Boltzmann's difficult victory over Mach in the modern idea of theoretical physics. Readers are thus made think by themselves about the merit and demerit of Mach's philosophy and physical hypotheses. The book would be interesting to both laypersons and working physicists.
Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries
Essays Leading You to Deep Thinking (5 Oct 02)
The author Steven Weinberg is the Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist. In this book 23 essays written between 1985 and 2000 are collected. The dust cover of the book has a photo of the statue of the 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe with a posture of facing up. The author writes in the preface that this is only part of the reason for his choice of "Facing Up" for the title of the book. The other part of the reason is described as follows: Each of the essays in this collection struggles with the necessity of facing up to the scientific discoveries that show the laws of nature are impersonal, with no hint of a divine plan or any special status for human being. Weinberg adds some words about his viewpoints: rationalist, reductionist, and so on. These aptly describe his personal philosophy underlying all the essays in this volume.
In a sense the reductionism or the physics imperialism is considered a defective thought these days. However, Weinberg's reductionism (called "objective reductionism" in chapter 2 and "grand reductionism" in chapter 10) means the notion: "There are arrows of scientific explanation that converge to a common source at the level of the very small." He does not necessarily mean the constituents of the upper level structure by "the very small." Nor does he deny the emergence of new concepts at higher levels of organization to understand the behavior at those levels. Thus I find myself comfortably agreeing with him about defending his reductionism. As for his criticism of social constructivism (chapter 9), I also hold an opinion similar to his.
On the other hand, Weinberg's attack on religions is so scathing (especially in chapters 20 and 22) that I cannot completely agree with him, though I do not believe in any religion. He looks only at the aspect of religions as the adversary of science on the basis of big historical events unhappy to religions. In spite of this disagreement, I find instructive expressions here and there in this book. For example, I like Weinberg's words, "We will need to confirm and strengthen the vision of a rationally understandable world if we are to protect ourselves from the irrational tendencies that still beset humanity (chapter 12)." To sum up, this book gives the reader good learning and a chance of deep thinking about the significance of science, religion and philosophy.
The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity
History of Infinity and Cantor's Life Well Told (24 Aug 02)
Is infinity a number? Who invented or discovered infinity? Is one kind of infinity larger than the other? Is there anything yet unknown about infinity? If you have such questions, this is a good book for you.
Amir D. Aczel is a mathematician, and wrote the much acclaimed book "God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity and the Expanding Universe." He produced here another interesting book by telling stories about the study of infinity. In the introductory chapter numbered aleph-0 the author writes briefly about the life of the mathematician Georg Cantor and his "continuum hypothesis" together with its equation using the Hebrew letter aleph. The symbol aleph with a subscript 0, 1, 2, etc., invented by Cantor, denotes the order or the different level of infinity.
In the following chapters Aczel describes the history of searching infinity. The story starts from its discovery by Greeks in the fifth or sixth century B.C. and includes the concept of infinity in the Kabbalah (a system of Jewish mystical philosophy), discoveries about the nature of infinity by Galileo and Bolzano, and studies by mathematicians in Berlin during the period from 1860 to the start of World War I. Next, the author explains about irrational numbers. Reading about these, the reader might almost forget about Cantor told at the beginning of the book.
After reading almost 40% of the text, however, the reader is brought back to the central story about Cantor. Cantor got strong opposition against his research from his former teacher Leopold Kronecker. This fact and the difficulty of proving his continuum hypothesis seem to have been responsible for Cantor's mental problems. The story of Kurt Gšdel, who further developed the work of Cantor, comes next, and the reader learns that Gšdel also got mental illness. The author writes in one of the endnotes that Cantor and Gšdel were not the only mathematicians working in the field of the foundations of mathematics to suffer from mental illness and that it is interesting to contemplate the reasons for this. Some readers might wish to read Aczel's another book on this contemplation in the near future.
In the final chapter we find an interesting question, "Do numbers actually exist?" The author writes the answer he believes to be the case, and gives a beautiful ending by citing the sentence from a commemorative plaque of Cantor in Halle. The sentence, Aczel thinks, captures Cantor's deepest conviction about mathematics.
Even the reader without much knowledge of mathematics can enjoy this book, if she or he is a little patient to read technical passages. In those passages the author understandably explains the proofs of some natures of infinity discovered by Cantor.
Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc
Going over Boundaries between Disciplines (18 Jul 02)
What factors can be motivations of a genius's reformative work? Is it possible that the same notions affect geniuses in science and art? What is the daily life of geniuses? What processes are going on when a genius does a monumental work? We often have such questions as above. Arthur I. Miller, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at University College London, wrote a wonderful book to answer all of those questions and to tell us more about creative activity by the example of the two giants of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso.
This dual biography centers on the special relativity theory discovered by Einstein in 1905 and the Cubism painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" produced by Picasso in 1907. In the first chapter, the author mentions that Poincare's book "La Science et l'hypothese" gave a spur to both of the two geniuses and led them to explore new notions of space and time. Tracing their respective lives in later chapters, the author clarifies how both men sought representations of nature that transcend those of classical thought and reach beyond appearances. The reader would be convinced of the fact that the effect of Poincare's book is not a superficial similarity between the works of Einstein and Picasso but a common denominator deeply rooted in the culture and science of the early twentieth century.
In the last chapter the author insists that at the creative moment boundaries between disciplines dissolve. Namely, aesthetics becomes paramount also in science; on the other hand, artists solve problems just like scientists. So, if you are a scientist, you would find direct interest in the chapters on Einstein and also find it profitable to read the chapters on Picasso; and if you are an artist, the reverse would be true. Laypersons would also get a lot of stimuli to a productive life from this book.
A Highly Intelligent Novel about Artificial Intelligence (28 Apr 02)
Before buying this book, I read a review of the Japanese edition of the book, and thought that even I, a non-native speaker of English, should be able to read its original English edition rather easily because of the following reasons: (1) The author Richard Powers studied physics before becoming a writer, and I am a physicist. (2) This is a scientific novel about artificial intelligence. In fact, this book has very rich contents more than computer-based neural networks, and full understanding requires much knowledge about Western literature. Thus it was rather tough for me to read through it. After finishing, however, I am quite satisfied with the struggle I had with this book.
The protagonist, named after the author, joins the project being undertaken by the cognitive neurologist Philip Lentz, and trains a series of neural networks, which are named Imp A, B, C, and so on (Imp is an abbreviation for Implementation). Their work place, the Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences, is located at U. Along with this story, Richard's love affair with his former student C. is told. They once lived together in B. They are however separated, and Richard is attracted to another young lady, A. Imp A, B, C, etc. are okay, but as for ladies C. and A. and places U. and B., what rough naming the author made in this work! But wait. This might be a technique to give the story much reality like a private note.
I have been training a female friend of mine to read and write in English only by exchanging e-mail messages written in English these several months. This limited method of training is in a sense quite similar to Richard's training of neural networks, and I have found many parallels between this novel and my experience. Even from this fact only, I can conclude that this book is well written. Imp H or Helen learned too much and finally . . . Oh, this is not what I want to happen to my pupil and me. I highly recommend this novel to all intelligent readers.
A Sci-Fi Story Especially Good for (Would-Be) Scientists (14 Feb 02)
Gregory Benford, a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, provides an educational, rather than entertaining, sci-fi story. Actually, he writes in the afterword of this book, "I have endeavored to show . . . how scientists do think, work, and confront the unknown." The present reviewer is a physicist. So he enjoyed how the physicist-writer well expresses scientists' thinking, working, and loving. However, the reader who is a sci-fi aficionado but a layperson of science might find the long descriptions of scientific discussion by the characters a little tedious or difficult to understand. The author also gives satirical descriptions of politics and politicians. Educational and satirical descriptions are elements not of sci-fi but of purely literary novels. Thus the author seems to be writing for a genre partly unsuitable for his talent.
The story begins when Benjamin Knowlton and his wife Channing, both working at an astronomical center in Hawaii, find a strange interstellar object. It is identified to be a black hole approaching Earth, and the name "Eater" proposed by Channing is adopted. The British astronomer Kingsley Dart joins the center. Channing, formerly a brilliant astronaut and now having a heavy cancer, and Kingsley feel an attractive force between themselves. The Eater has intelligence stored in its magnetic field, and sends messages to Earth, demanding its "remnants." Channing makes up her mind to . . . You will like this book very much, if you are a romantic scientist or hope to be one.
The Universe in a Nutshell
The Forefront of Theoretical Physics Told for Laypersons (8 Jan 02)
Stephen Hawking occupies the Lucasian chair at the University of Cambridge, which was once held by Isaac Newton before its motorization as Hawking writes humorously. Hawking is also regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein. His previous book, "A Brief History of Time," was sold an estimated 25 million copies world over, but was notorious for mostly not being read beyond the earliest chapters. "The Universe in a Nutshell" is a sequel to it, including many illustrations and telling in a more readable style about the major breakthroughs that have occurred in the field of theoretical physics after the release of the first book.
The author writes in the foreword that the structure of the book is like a tree, the first two chapters forming a central trunk from which the other chapters branch off. Thus, after reading two introductory chapters on the theory of relativity and "the shape of time," the reader can jump to any of later five chapters on the development of the universe, black holes, the possibility or impossibility of time travel, our future, and the future journey of discovery.
Many scientists tried to avoid addressing a question about the beginning of the universe. In chapter 3, however, Hawking states the necessity of trying to understand it on the basis of science for the following reason: If the laws of science are suspended at the beginning of the universe, they might fail also at other times.
The universe is considered to have begun in a big bang, a point where the whole universe was scrunched up into a single point of infinite density. At this point Einstein's general theory of relativity cannot be used, because when the universe is small the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics is important. Therefore, we need a "quantum theory of gravity," a unified theory of the general theory of relativity and the quantum mechanics, and this is the main subject of the book.
Hawking's own approach to the unified theory is to combine the general theory of relativity and Richard Feynman's idea of multiple histories. Many related concepts and theories, for example, holography, duality, p-branes, M-theory and superstring theory, are explained. Only in chapter 6, the story is rather close to our life, and here the author describes also excitingly how biological and electronic life will go on developing in complexity at an ever-increasing rate.
I highly recommend this book to laypersons. They will possibly get only a feeling of understanding, not understanding itself; but the book surely opens their eyes more or less about the principles of the universe already found and those on the way to be found. Physical scientists outside Hawking's field might get some frustrations, because advanced concepts at the forefront of research are not conveyed well enough by the everyday language without the aid of the mathematical language suitable for physics.
Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology
A Scholarly Description of Einstein's Religious Philosophy (6 Dec 01)
In the first chapter that deals with Einstein's personal attitude toward religion, we learn the followings: Einstein regarded science and religion as mutually depending on each other, which is evidenced by his words, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." However, the predominant motivations that led him to his development of the theory of relativity were purely physical considerations. Like Spinoza, Einstein denied the existence of a personal God, and used the term "cosmic religious feeling" to describe the sublimity and marvelous order in nature.
Near the end of the first chapter, the author asks a question, "Did Einstein's conception of religion affect his scientific work?" and derives a positive answer. The story that Einstein's introduction of the cosmological constant was religiously motivated concludes the chapter.
The second chapter discusses what Einstein has written about the nature of religion and its role in human society. Einstein's "Credo" about the cosmic religious feeling is cited repeatedly. In his essay read at a conference held in 1940, Einstein called the doctrine of a personal God not only unworthy but also fatal. The author writes about many responses Einstein got in reaction to this essay. At the end of this chapter the author analyzes Spinoza's role in the development of Einstein's religious philosophy.
As can be seen from the above, topics given in the first two chapters are quite attractive, and explanations are instructive to the reader who has interest in the mental background of Einstein's academic work. The scholarly style of the author's writing is enjoyable.
However, the third and final chapter that studies the influence of Einstein's scientific work on theology was not interesting to me at all. After finishing the book, I read Introduction section of the book again. To my great relief, I found the following words of the author near its end: "It is possible that [Einstein] would have rejected all of the arguments in chapter 3 if he were alive." The reason why I was not interested in the final chapter was that my thought about religion was the same as Einstein's!
Thus I recommend the first two chapters to all those who have interest in Einstein or religion, but do not recommend the third chapter for those who think like Einstein.
Surfing through Hyperspace: Understanding Higher Universes in Six Easy Lessons
A Four-Dimensional World for Imaginative Minds (11 Sep 01)
The four-dimensional world treated in this book is not the space-time of the theory of relativity, but the world with a fourth spatial direction different from all the directions of our normal three-dimensional space. A number of books on the fourth dimension had already been published. So, why did Pickover, an IBM researcher who published many popular books, write this book? He gives an answer in the preface: The main purpose of the book is to tell the reader the physical appearance of four-dimensional beings, what they can do in our world, and the religious implications of their penetration into our world, with a few simple formulas and computer programs to aid the understanding of the four- and more-dimensional spaces (those who are not interested in computing can easily skip them).
The author presents an SF story, in which an FBI agent, "you," gives personal lectures on hyperspace to his younger fellow agent Sally. Finally they both experience surfing into a four-dimensional world. Meanwhile the reader learns concepts and terms such as "hyperspheres," "tesseracts," "enantiomorphic," "extrinsic geometry," "quaternions," "nonorientable surfaces," etc. The author succeeds in achieving his aim rather well by the use of many illustrations and computer graphics, though he cites too much from Edwin Abbott's "Flatland" in early chapters and from Karl Heim's "Christian Faith and Natural Science" in later chapters.
The book has nine Appendixes (one is a list of SF stories and novels about the fourth dimension), "Notes" and "Further Readings" sections, and Addendum about recent publications dealing with parallel universes and cosmic topology. These are also interesting and informative. This is a good book especially for theologians, philosophers, artists, and general readers who like wild imaginations or computer experiments. To the serious reader who wants to know the implications of hyperspace in modern physics, I would like to recommend Michio Kaku's "Hyperspace."
Einstein's Unfinished Symphony:Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time
A Tribute to Joseph Weber, the LIGO Project and Much More (19 Aug 01)
In this book Marcia Bartusiak, an excellent science journalist, writes about scientists' endeavors to detect gravitational waves coming from deep space. The existence of gravity waves was predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, and they are considered to have the frequency falling into the audio range, but no one has ever listened to them. Thus the author elegantly entitled this book "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony." Each chapter also has the title related to music. For example, the chapter about the discovery of the Hulse-Taylor binary pulsar, indirect evidence for gravity waves, is cogently entitled "Pas De Deux."
Bartusiak's sentences are also rhythmic like music, especially in the earliest chapters, so that the reader comfortably learns about Einstein's discovery of the origin of gravity and Renaissance in relativity made theoretically by John Archibald Wheeler and experimentally by Robert Dicke. Wheeler is cited to have explained general relativity in one clear sentence, "Mass tells space-time how to curve, and space-time tells mass how to move."
The pioneer of experimental work directly to catch gravity waves was Joseph Weber. He published his first results in 1969, claiming evidence for observation of gravity waves based on coincident signals from two bar detectors. Unfortunately, by the middle of 1970s nearly everyone came to agree that Weber was mistaken. Bartusiak writes that Weber had however created a momentum that could not be stopped. Weber died on 30 September 2000, just a few months before the publication of this book. Thus the book partially happened to become one of the earliest tributes to Weber. His first bar detector is now shown in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.
Then comes the central story of this book, the construction, improvements and prospects of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). LIGO is a gigantic instrument system placed in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. Its construction started as a collaborative project, involving dozens of scientists and the cost of more than $370 million. Among those scientists, Rainer Weiss is considered to be the founding father of the effort. His career began with a determination to get rid of the noises in a hi-fi system, only to transfer that interest ironically or rather wonderfully to reducing the noises that could mask a gravity wave.
Each piece of LIGO's detector includes a marvel of engineering. LIGO's "classy" physics and the virgin territory of possible gravity wave astronomy are gathering young physicists from around the world. Potential sources of gravity waves cataloged so far by Kip Thorne's Caltech team and other theoretical groups around the world are many and varied from black hole collisions to neutron-star mountains. The author tells us all the details of these in a quite understandable manner. She also describes gravitational research in countries other than United States and projects by the use of spacecrafts.
The book is well balanced between theory and experiment, between science and sociology, and between anecdotes and stories of serious pursuit. As for anecdotes, there is one about the fact that the term "black hole" caused a problem for a while in France. Read the book for the reason. This is a masterpiece of nonfiction, and will absorb the mind of both a scientist and a layperson.