The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

ISBN: 0375708111
ISBN 13: 9780375708114
By: Brian Greene

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About this book

A fascinating and thought-provoking journey through the mysteries of space, time, and matter.With a new preface (not in any other edition) that will review the enormous public reception of the relatively obscure string theory—made possible by this book and an increased number of adherents amongst physicists—The Elegant Universe "sets a standard that will be hard to beat" (New York Times Book Review). Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter—from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas—is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy. Today physicists and mathematicians throughout the world are feverishly working on one of the most ambitious theories ever proposed: superstring theory. String theory, as it is often called, is the key to the Unified Field Theory that eluded Einstein for more than thirty years. Finally, the century-old antagonism between the large and the small-General Relativity and Quantum Theory-is resolved. String theory proclaims that all of the wondrous happenings in the universe, from the frantic dancing of subatomic quarks to the majestic swirling of heavenly galaxies, are reflections of one grand physical principle and manifestations of one single entity: microscopically tiny vibrating loops of energy, a billionth of a billionth the size of an atom. In this brilliantly articulated and refreshingly clear book, Greene relates the scientific story and the human struggle behind twentieth-century physics' search for a theory of everything. Through the masterful use of metaphor and analogy, The Elegant Universe makes some of the most sophisticated concepts ever contemplated viscerally accessible and thoroughly entertaining, bringing us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works.

Reader's Thoughts

Lindsay Wing

I'm an English major and I can't do simple multiplication without a calculator, so needless to say, this is not my subject. I found this book to be really cool, though. First, Greene does an astounding job breaking down these incredibly complex concepts so that anyone can understand them (and when I say that, I mean it, because I still don't understand gravity, let along super string theory). So anyone looking for a basic break-down of these super interesting ideas, this is the book for you. More importantly, though, I found something amazing happen while I was reading it - Greene succeeds so well at making these ideas accessible that I was able to actually sit back periodically and reflect on them. And let me tell you as an English major, (we spend most of out time staring at the ceiling pondering concepts), these ideas are absolutely unbelievable. They are at once abstract and concrete and GORGEOUS. The fact that the tiniest particles move and behave the way they do, and the way that time flows, and the way that our bodies are pulled on a fishing line through time while we simultaneously exist in each compartmentalized moment for eternity....wow. Talk about some enthralling ideas. And the most striking thing about them is that you get to continually remind yourself that not only is it amazing, but it's REAL. I was truly blown away by how enraptured this book made me with the universe that I occupy. It's an excellent option if you're feeling disillusioned or bored with your world.

Joao Vaz

Dear God, Will you ever allow us folks down here on Earth to come up with Einstein’s dream of a Theory of Everything (ToE)? The fact of the matter is that there are essentially two opposing theories upon which rests our knowledge of the universe: General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. That is, the world of the large and the world of the miniscule. But whenever we try to unify them, our calculations just fall short; or better, fall large!, for we bump into infinity. Oh wait!, this book has just told me that String theorists already have! They claim that all fundamental particles are composed of tiny vibrating strings of energy whose movement gives rise to all those different particles that we know of. And in so doing, not only do these strings fit into Quantum theory, but they're also able to accurately predict the whys and wherefores of the big bulks of matter, like those of stars and galaxies! TADÃÃN!BUT, not only are there five different versions to the theory, but also, and because we are talking about excruciatingly small objects, it is impossible to test it! Not really a theory is it? (daimn!) It shamelessly enters the realm of Philosophy… Oh those naysayers! Tell me of one thing that we take for granted today that hasn’t started as Cartesian doubt! You go get them my fairy little oscillating strings, which so happen to explain black holes! But back to you old man, you never really cease to surprise me! So you’re telling me that the universe is this big cosmic symphony whose musical notes are the sounds exuded by the movement of strings? Oh you shrewd mayster!, I always knew you had a bend for drama! With my heart in your stars, J

Younes ben amara

لنقل ان الفيزياء تنقسم الى نظريات .فيزياء كلاسيكة ، فيزياء حديثة .الفيزياء الكلاسيكة تفسر الكون على اساس معادلات نيوتن وهي صادقة لحد كبير في التنبوءات ومازالت تستعمل وتدرس في المدارس لحد الآن.الحديثة تنقسم الى عدة اقسام : نظرية النسبية العامة والخاصة . نظرية الكم ، نظرية الاوتار الفائقة التي ادعت انها جمعت كل النظريات السابقة ..هناك ايضا سيناريوهات اخرى منها نظرية –ام و عدة اقتراحات اخرى تسمى بنظريات كل شيء ..ان رأيت ان الامر صعب –كما ظهر لي من قبل – فاقرا كتاب (الكون الانيق ) لبرايان غرين ويكفيك ذلك لكي تفهم كل هاته المصطلحات حتى لو كانت ثقافتك الفيزيائية عادية ، ان كنت تريد الفهم حقا فزد اطلع على سيتفن هونكينغ في' الكون في قشرة جوز' .وكتاب من الذرة للكوارك ..والمنظمة العربية للترجمة باشراف الدكتور جابر عصفور فعلت خيرا باخراج كل هاته الروائع بصفة ممتازة جدا ..الكون الانيق كتاب ممتاز جدا لدرجة كبيرة ولو كانت لي القدرة لجعلت كل الذين يدرسون الفيزياء يقرئونه اجباريا بدل الكتب البيداغوجية التافهة التي توزع عليهم ..لقد قال (هل وجود الجسيمة الأولية نهاية الطريق ؟ ابدا، انها بداية الطريق –الطويل – نحو بناء نظرية كل شيء).انا اعتقد ان كل الفيزيائيين الذين مارسوا معادلات الكم و مجال هيغز والنموذج المعياري للجسميات والنسبية ونظرية الاوتار الفائقة وطول بلانك ومعادلات شرونديجر .. مؤمنون بالله في اعماق انفسهم ..انه كون باهر لدرجة لا تصدق انه رائع ومدهش ومميز وليس عشوائيا .. ممتعا مسليا ممتازا غامضا مليئا بالاسرار مشوق مثير وكل الصفات الرائعة التي تجعلك متحمساً ..لذا لا غرابة في ان سمى كتابه (الكون الانيق (..انه ببساطة كذلك ..من مقال لي : بوزون هيغز : الرابط للمقال الكامل هنا :http://goo.gl/X3OGJf

Wolf

Dr. Greene, unfortunately, imagines himself to be a much better writer and expositor than he actually is. Far too much time is wasted on silly examples to explain his points; so much that the analogies not only break down but become absurd. These concepts are not very difficult. Dr. Greene fairly well crosses the line into talking down instead of explaining things.However, this book has some rather well laid out charts and diagrams and other visual aids. Importantly these come with a gracious degree of explanation. It almost makes up for the long-windedness.The universe & Dr. Greene's charts are elegant; Dr. Greene's writing is not.

Genia Lukin

I never really got the hang of String Theory. I find it awfully weird and almost nigh-unscientific. Not being a physicist, I try not to make judgments about it, since I clearly don't understand it one bit - at least on the math level! - but I have to say that Brian Greene didn't endear it to me.I also fervently found myself wishing for the Nth time that science books were not so firmly divided between "professional, terrifying math texts" and "written for people who never figured out the Theory of Relativity". I think we need "Science for the Educated Sci-Fi Reader" or something like that. As it is, unless you're Stephen Hawking, who pretty much has the right to do anything he liked, if you're trying to explain relativity to me, again, you will put me off.

Eng

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George

I was tired of reading nothing but literature, my main squeeze, and having only vague notions about scientific concepts whose names are often thrown around in public discourse. And so I've resolved to throw in a non-fiction book into my reading now and then, and, physics representing one of the larger gaps in my knowledge, I chose to read The Elegant Universe. How glad I am to have read it. As it turns out, my idea of string theory was erroneous, as was my rudimentary grasp of Einstein's theory of relativity. I wasn't expecting to read about the latter, but it turns out that the casual understanding of string theory that this book seeks to instill requires some understanding of relativity and some other ideas in physics. The first chapters of the book give a crash course on what's happened in physics since about the turn of the century, and then Greene starts in on string theory. The Elegant Universe is therefore a wonderful resource for any reader interested not only in an introduction to string theory but to relativity, quantum mechanics, and (in the final chapters) the big bang. Though I admit that other science books could have done the same, this one rekindled in me an interest in science that's lain dormant since middle school. (I'm now in my mid-20s). Often the book challenges the reader with somewhat dense passages about difficult concepts, but, considering the subject matter, Greene proves a passionate, lucid teacher.

Rama

An Introduction to SuperstringTheory/M TheoryThis book offers an enjoyable ride through a lovely landscape of Superstring theory/M theory. The author is an active researcher and a popular writer in this field who is also known for his presentation on PBS's NOVA about quantum cosmology. Since the postulation of special theory of relativity, Einstein and subsequent physicists have struggled to explain the four natural forces of the most basic components of matter; the electromagnetic force; the strong and weak nuclear forces; and the gravitational force by one unified field theory (a.k.a., theory of everything: Superstring/M Theory). This theory must unify the forces of the cosmos, and forces of microcosm thereby explaining the creation of heaven and earth. The author covers significant amount of material in simple clearly written non-technical and non-mathematical form. The book is described in four parts; first two parts introduces theory of relativity and quantum mechanics and the unholy marriage of the two that results in the complexity of understanding the forces of the cosmos and subatomic forces. The latter two parts describes Superstring theory that evolves into more focused M theory to explain all physical forces of nature. This theory suffers from lack of experimental evidence, but rests solely on mathematical calculations. Hence it was subjected to heavy criticism during early years of the theory by leading physicists. However it has emerged as a winner as the theory grew out of academic obscurity to leading contender in quantum cosmology. The book has interesting tales about the leaders of the field such as Ed Witten who is strongly favored as the true successor of Albert Einstein. The author's enthusiasm and excitement about his involvement in this field is evident abundantly, when he discovers that fabric of space tears and repairs itself. This book is lot more informative and enjoyable than Michio Kaku's Hyperspace (see my review of this book). At the end of the book, notes to each chapter, Glossary of scientific terms, and suggested books for further reading offers stepping stones to more enthusiastic readers for furthering their knowledge. The author has done an excellent job of writing this book, and I encourage you to buy it: But he could have considered writing a chapter on mathematical methodology and some basic approaches to calculations that probably would have made this book one of the top few in this field.

Robin Wasserkaise

This book presents the latest breakdown of empirical existance with string theory- it's really well written and it sugguest how the fundimentals of all existing things come together in a very similar way as our understanding of music (little vibrations). I love this subject because, where the goal of civilization is to appreciate life in some form of organized chaos, some well spoken theorists have the ability to put things into perspective in such a way that the world seems to teem with possibility. Food for thought if you read this:
Presentism holds that neither the future nor the past exist—that the only things that exist are present things, and there are no non-present objects. Some have taken presentism to indicate that time travel is impossible for there is no future or past to travel to; however, recently some presentists have argued that although past and future objects do not exist, there can still be definite truths about past and future events, and that it is possible that a future truth about the time traveler deciding to return to the present date could explain the time traveler's actual presence in the present.[5] This view is contested by another contemporary advocate of presentism, Craig Bourne, in his recent book 'A Future for Presentism', although for substantially different (and more complex) reasons. In any case, the relativity of simultaneity in modern physics is generally understood to cast serious doubt on presentism and to favor the view known as four dimensionalism (closely related to the idea of block time) in which past, present and future events all coexist in a single spacetime.

Matt

The first section of the book boasts an outstanding, lucid introduction to the underlying "pillars" of Modern Physics: Classical Mechanics, Special & General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. These chapters involve a great number of thoughtful, clever analogies. If this is your maiden venture into popular physics literature (as it was mine), the first 135 pages or so are really worthy of sufficiently focused study. My whole worldview has been changed as a result!The remainder of the text depicts a historical overview of the emergence of string theory as a leading candidate for the elusive "Theory of Everything." Some of the more technical passages are predictably dense, but these generally make for the most rewarding reading. Unsurprisingly, the most interesting parts of the book describe developments in which the author, Brian Greene, personally contributed. I am obviously not qualified to judge his merits as a physicist, but he is really a wonderful writer.One final comment: much of the criticism toward this book stems from the fact that string theory is just that -- a theory and not verifiable physical law. The doubts of the skeptics are entirely reasonable. But they do not give credit to the incredibly fair treatment Greene gives of the discussion. (I wonder if they've even read the book...) He airs in print both the criticism and support of string theory (and reductionism in general) in equal measure. I feel that his even-handed framing of the subject is probably the book's greatest quality!

Jack Thornsberry

This book blew my mind countless times as I read through it, so much so that I could usually only read 10-20 pages in one sitting. I had physics in high school, watched Cosmos and tons of other programs on the universe/relativity/quantum physics etc. so I have always had an interest but not enough to have that be my profession - nor am I smart enough in that way. Books like this let you visit that world for a while and this author does a fantastic job explaining general and advanced physics, Einstein, etc with many real world examples. Trust me, your mind will be doing flip flops when he talks about time bending, space travel, etc. After he builds the foundation, he sets the stage to cover string theory which many believe will be the next great leap in figuring out why the universe exists and where is it going. Awesome read to keep your mind sharp.

Rob

AN INTRODUCTION BY WAY OF HYPERBOLIC SENTIMENT: The Elegant Universe is "The Bible" of superstring theory[*:].I close the covers of The Elegant Universe with powerfully mixed feelings. On the one hand, Brian Greene gives us a lucidly-written layman's-terms explanation for high-concept modern physics, providing an excellent survey of 20th century science and painting a vivid picture of a promising strategy for reconciling the discrepancies in the otherwise dominant theories. On the other hand, about half-way through the text, it devolves into (what feels like) a navel-gazing vanity project that fails to connect that promising strategy with the target audience (i.e., the layman that actually gives a damn about modern science).To be clear: the first third of the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Brian Greene is a cogent writer with a wonderful pedagogical streak that is able to produce a clear image of some otherwise hard-to-decipher concepts in modern physics. Because of The Elegant Universe, I feel like I now have a fairly good understanding of the core concepts underlying Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics (e.g., Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). Greene is also able to give a decent explanation regarding how these theories break down when you try to "merge" them (e.g., like when you come up with "infinite energy" and/or "infinite mass" and/or "infinite probabilities" through calculations of black holes or the Big Bang).This first third of the book is very accessible, very enjoyable, and very informative. Engaging, fascinating, and extremely powerful.Somewhere during that potent 130-150 pages, Greene remarks (something to the effect of): You cannot be said to fully understand something until you can explain both its system and significance to a complete stranger. (Not a quote, but I'm sure you know what I'm getting at...)And with that statement does Dr. Greene undermine the remaining two-thirds of the book. After introducing string theory, after explaining that it is a strategy with the potential to marry relativity and quantum mechanics, after getting you (the lay-reader) excited that you too will have some insight into the critical significance that is superstring theory — he glosses over some math (which doesn't really feel like physics after that first 120 pages) and more/less asks you to "bear with me here, trust me..." EXAMPLE: after introducing the concept of strings, the text rushes into a discussion of 6-dimensional "curled up" Calabi-Yau manifolds without really giving a good way of visualizing that whole mess[†:]. EXAMPLE: after 2 or 3 chapters about string theory where Greene is introducing it and discussing how it might reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, he starts to segue into reconciling aspects of string theory with itself — looping back (like its own subject strings) on itself in a perverse recursion full of mathematical adjustments and jargon. EXAMPLE: in the midst of discussing how this New Science, and where you expect it to loop back on the promised explanations for the Old Science, Greene veers off into a series of anecdotes about "this one time at Harvard..." and/or "once at Princeton we stayed up all night and..." — which really just seemed a little gratuitous.By the time I realized what was happening, my attitude was already tainted. Perhaps I could have extracted more of the science if my cynicism hadn't kicked in so virulently and so early on in the reading. Perhaps spending more time with the end-notes will prove fruitful. Or perhaps on a future, subsequent follow-up reading I will discover that I was right the first time and we have 150 or so pages of incredible science writing and the remainder is chintzy vanity project[‡:].RATED FOR HYPE: ★★★★★RATED FOR STYLE: ★★★☆☆RATED FOR SCIENCE: ★★☆☆☆---[*:] Let's hear it for faith-based science?[†:] This is partly me being overly critical of Greene's (in my opinion) cavalier treatment of the Calabi-Yau concepts immediately following their introduction. There are some end-notes and citations for further reading, and he does attempt to dedicate some space in the main text to the idea — but his "dumbing down" of the Calabi-Yau manifolds to the "ant in the garden hose" analogy just doesn't really address it with sufficient vigor. Not after the incredible work he did in the earlier chapters re explaining relativity and quantum mechanics. I suppose I may have been more satisfied with something along the lines of "you have your time dimension, your three 'regular' space dimensions, and then these other six are really dedicated to providing reference points to describing the shape and vibration of the string IN THE THREE DIMENSIONS YOU ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH" — but no such explanation was there. If that's even really what he might have meant.[‡:] Which I mean in the nicest possible way...? To be fair, Greene leaves plenty of room throughout the text to permit himself (and his colleagues studying superstring theory) to be "wrong". It reminds me of when Robert Wright hedges his bets in The Moral Animal , saying that the evolutionary psychology approach (as championed by himself, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Robert Trivers, and others) is a strong one that explains a whole lot but you better be careful before you go painting too broad of a stroke with those kinds of theories... Greene seems to do similar hedging, admitting that aspects of superstring theory seem tenuous (esp. when you consider how many "adjustments" they perform while "fine-tuning" a given aspect of the theory(s)) and that they (as scientists) are wise to temper their enthusiasm, to not lose sight of goals like "experimental verification". But then there's Greene's enthusiasm — which can easily electrify the reader but also just as easily undermine all of that careful hedging.

Alisha

I left Christianity a few years ago and swore off religion altogether; however, after reading this book, string theory has become tantamount to religion in my life. Brian Greene writes beautifully about particles, planets, and the origins of our universe as we know it today. It is a heavy book- I don't recommend it for anyone who wants a quick, easy read. It took me almost two months to get through, but I learned a tremendous amount and came away in complete awe of the world and the forces at work in it today. Since Green wrote his book string theory has come under intense scrutiny; despite this, I would still support this book on the basis that it is gorgeously written, based in fact (many of the experiments and proofs were done by Greene himself), and incredibly informative. A vertible Bible of where we came from, where we're going and the incredibly complex way things function in this glorious universe of ours.

Anthony Berger

Greene took an almost ungraspable concept and delivered it to the lay person with relative panache. Giving practical, macroscopic examples of relativity and spacetime; breaking down the concepts within quantum theory; taking the various forms of string theory and mentioning the compilation of those theories to M-theory, makes Greene gifted.Unfortunately, there are digressions and obvious gaps that most readers are trying to come to terms with, which Greene doesn't even mention. Oftentimes, many people reading books about the fundamental nature of matter within our universe, search for an answer to the question of why matter manifested the way it did? This question is left completely unanswered. It took an engaging conversation with a close friend to realize that that question is simply impossible to answer and therefore completely irrelevant. It would have been nice for Greene to have stated that, however.Another "elephant in the room": while these concepts are truly phenomenal, they're also entirely theoretical. It's astounding that extraordinarily complex multivariable differential transforms, which require months for computers to process, based upon algorithms designed to answer our questions, can result in simple integer solutions. But, can we reliably say that these computer simulations give us a numerical answer that is truly representative of the physical universe? No. We can only hope it does. Therefore, it begs the question, while we search for the elegant unifying theory of the universe, when will we realize that we either come to accept elegance is lost in the complexity of our [fabled] search for unification, or finally realize we're approaching the idea all wrong?

ΑνναΦ

E' un Universo liquidoE' un Universo difficile, lavoro duro e destino incerto.Dopo Zygmut Baumann, ci voleva anche la fisica quantistica a toglierci ogni certezza, immersi in un cosmo che funziona come un mantice, si gonfia e si sgonfia (forse), e noi in mezzo, a vivere chissà, forse più vite, su più dimensioni, arrotolate come bigodini o srotolate come tappeti.Richard Feynman, guru della meccanica quantistica, disse “penso di poter affermare con sicurezza che nessuno capisce la meccanica quantistica”. Molto bene, a me qualcosa sembra di aver capito.Il bello di questo libro, molto elegante, è che è scritto così bene che ti sembra di capire tutto. Greene è bravo, conduce il lettore medio, non tecnico, mano per mano, esempi chiari e divertenti e ti fa capire. Poi, quando sei contento perché pensi di aver raggiunto il tuo scoglio su cui aggrapparti felice, in mezzo a tutte queste turbolenze quantistiche, ti spiazza dimostrandoti che non è così, del resto abbiamo capito che dobbiamo esser pronti a tutto: tutto è relativo (Einstein) e tutto è assai indeterminato (fisica quantistica).Forti di queste certezze incerte, colpisce il fatto che i fisici dei quanti nella visione cosmogologica arrivino a teorizzare cose postulate secoli fa dai filosofi Greci o dai corsi e ricorsi di Vico o dell'Univesro eterno e dei molti mondi di Tommaso Bruno. Forse scopriremo che la fisica coincide con la filosofia. O magari con la Metafisica. Buffo no?

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