Friday, August 14, 2015

THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE


Review of THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE by BRIAN GREENE

I read one other book by Brian Greene recently, THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS, which took a look at several highlights in physics. THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE focuses specifically on string theory, or M-theory as Greene later clarifies.

For me, reading about M-theory kindles endless curiosity and excitement. The material in this book fascinated and challenged me and really kicks the brain into full alert. I find some of the logical leaps and scientific explorations simply mind-boggling, but I enjoy pondering on them nonetheless.

I definitely would like to understand the math behind this book, and this theory, more. I expect I’m a far ways off from that, but at this point I’m thinking I might benefit from a physics textbook as much as a leisure book like this. I have never been someone who likes being told that, “A is true. Because.” In Greene’s defense, he works hard to explain the why behind what he’s telling the reader, but in an attempt to keep things accessible sometimes there’s a little “Because.” that leaves me wanting more explanation. However, I think the explanation is the actual math and he’s probably entirely accurate that readers such as myself won’t follow the math. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try!

I also want to read some books or articles on M-theory by scientists who aren’t convinced. Greene acknowledges his bias upfront. String theory is his area of study. Of course, he believes it. Of course, he’s passionate and excited about the latest discoveries. He does attempt to introduce arguments against M-theory, but his enthusiasm often overshadows those. I’m always for a balanced perspective, so the next step for me is likely seeking out some reading material that goes more into depths on M-theory’s drawbacks.

As the previous paragraph implies, I’m not entirely sold on M-theory. However, I don’t feel like I understand it enough to be credible when arguing why! Regardless, it seems to me that there’s very little measurable evidence. Instead the primary reasoning behind M-theory often feels like the fact that it would be so convenient. Don’t get me wrong; I catch Greene’s contagious enthusiasm as I’m reading his words and feel swept away by the exciting possibilities M-theory provides. Then I stop reading, take a step back, and start thinking, “But where’s the proof?”

However, my skepticism only makes me admire string theorists all the more. How brave, I think, to pursue any line of research with no guarantee that your decades of hard work will eventually provide the insights you hope. That being said, I don’t buy that any scientist really wastes their life, even if their research doesn’t lead or contribute to major revelations. Even if string theory is ultimately conclusively disproven, I image there’s still plenty to be learned from the various theories and experiments pursued in its name. 

Thought stuffed to overflowing with information, THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE still feels like it’s scratching the surface. While I teeter back and forth, indecisive, between skepticism and reverence for M-theory, I always love any book that further expands my reading list (and resent at the same time, too; I already have so much read). Next up in this subject: textbooks and string theory criticism.

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