In his second book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, popular string theorist Brian Greene deals with some of the most intriguing concepts within the realm of physics, and in turn, our universe. One by one, he presents a grand mystery and then gives the prominent hypotheses and theories set forth to demystify each mystery. He does this by building a narrative and using analogies (lots of them) to describe every concept’s qualitative features. Throughout the book, Greene does not employ any mathematics in explaining these concepts. But for the curious readers with some understanding, he gives some mathematical equations in the notes. From the nature of space to the abstract nature of time to the big bang, he enthusiastically guides the reader through centuries of ideas and conclusions in an ambitious journey spanning the entire universe.
Going through the theories
Looking back, according to Isaac Newton, space and time were separate, absolute entities, and all motion was relative to only this absolute space. A German polymath, Gottfried Wilhelm, claimed that space and time were mere words to describe where and when an event occurred. To Albert Einstein, space and time were relativistic on their own but absolute together as “spacetime.” Quantum mechanics, as it is known to do, once again challenged our intuition by going against the notion of space being empty. Brain Greene objectively goes through each of these theories, along with other ones. Every idea is explained effortlessly no matter what the complexity is.
Another major section of the book is dedicated to time. Does time flow, and does it have a direction? Greene poses these questions and goes on to discuss them. For the first question, he concludes that it is we who experience time flow. The past, present, and future are all equally real. What is truly baffling is that time does not seem to have an arrow. Newtonian physics, the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, the laws of thermodynamics (even entropy), or any other renowned laws and theories do not distinguish between time moving into the future or time going backwards.
Professor Greene then ventures into the cosmos to take on symmetry and its relationship with temperature leading to the unification of the force fields. The Higgs ocean and Higgs field, essential to the universe as they are the source of objects having mass, are introduced. Nowadays, hardly any Physics book leaves out the infamous ”Big Bang,” and this book is no different. He also tries to shed some light on the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that constitute 95 percent of the universe.
As the journey ends, Brain Greene starts on it again, but this time he takes it through the lens of ”String Theory” and its successor’ M Theory.” This elegant yet purely theoretical framework does what no other theory has done yet. It includes gravity in its unification! String theory in itself transitions to extra dimensions, multi-universes, and super-symmetry. In the last section, he discusses the experiments undertaken to prove or disprove the theories in the book from LIGO to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). He also dedicates a whole chapter to the possibility of time travel and teleportation in our universe.
The floor for exploration
Brian Greene’s excitement about the different topics seeps through every line, which is quite contagious. Every now and then, you grin or smirk at what you read. This is mostly due to the absurdity in the matters of the universe described but sometimes because of his quirky analogies and comments. In the ”Fabric of The Cosmos,” Greene acts as an essential middle man between the cosmos and the reader. He gracefully presents the vast, sophisticated physics describing the universe, without drawing any conclusions. That is left to the reader.
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Shoaib Shahid is a high school student doing his A-levels from Beaconhouse Margalla Islamabad. He is a great admirer of Physics and aspires to become a theoretical physicist himself. He started writing narratives in his childhood and has since ventured into non-fiction.