The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

( 74 )

Overview

From Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and author the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elegant Universe, comes a grand tour of the universe that makes us look at reality in a completely different way.

Space and time form the very fabric of the cosmos. Yet they remain among the most mysterious of concepts. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Could the universe exist without space and time? Can we travel to the past? Greene has set himself a daunting ...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$11.58
BN.com price
(Save 31%)$16.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (102) from $2.50   
  • New (14) from $9.83   
  • Used (88) from $2.50   
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$15.99
BN.com price

Overview

From Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and author the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elegant Universe, comes a grand tour of the universe that makes us look at reality in a completely different way.

Space and time form the very fabric of the cosmos. Yet they remain among the most mysterious of concepts. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Could the universe exist without space and time? Can we travel to the past? Greene has set himself a daunting task: to explain non-intuitive, mathematical concepts like String Theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Inflationary Cosmology with analogies drawn from common experience. From Newton’s unchanging realm in which space and time are absolute, to Einstein’s fluid conception of spacetime, to quantum mechanics’ entangled arena where vastly distant objects can instantaneously coordinate their behavior, Greene takes us all, regardless of our scientific backgrounds, on an irresistible and revelatory journey to the new layers of reality that modern physics has discovered lying just beneath the surface of our everyday world.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
… [Greene's] excitement for science on the threshold of vital breakthroughs is supremely contagious. The Fabric of the Cosmos is as dazzling as it is tough, and it beautifully reflects this theoretician's ardor for his work. In interviews he is sometimes asked where the next generation of physicists will come from. One clear answer: from the brain-teasing, exhilarating study of books like this. — Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
String theory is a recent development in physics that, by positing that all which exists is composed of infinitesimally small vibrating loops of energy, seeks to unify Einstein's theories and those of quantum mechanics into a so-called "theory of everything." In 1999, Greene, one of the world's leading physicists, published The Elegant Universe (Norton), a popular presentation of string theory that became a major bestseller and, last fall, a highly rated PBS/Nova series. The strength of the book resided in Greene's unparalleled (among contemporary science writers) ability to translate higher mathematics (the language of physics) and its findings into everyday language and images, through adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose. The same virtues adhere to this new book, which offers a lively view of human understanding of space and time, an understanding of which string theory is an as-yet unproven advance. To do this, Greene takes a roughly chronological approach, beginning with Newton, moving through Einstein and quantum physics, and on to string theory and its hypotheses (that there are 11 dimensions, ten of space and one of time; that there may be an abundance of parallel universes; that time travel may be possible, and so on) and imminent experiments that may test some of its tenets. None of this is easy reading, mostly because the concepts are tough to grasp and Greene never seems to compromise on accuracy. Eighty-five line drawings ease the task, however, as does Greene's felicitous narration; most importantly, though, Greene not only makes concepts clear but explains why they matter. He opens the book with a discussion of Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, setting a humanistic tone that he sustains throughout. This is popular science writing of the highest order, with copious endnotes that, unlike the text, include some math. (Feb. 16) Forecast: With a first printing of 125,000, Knopf clearly hopes this title, a main selection of BOMC, will at least match the sales of The Elegant Universe. Greene, a charismatic speaker, is going all out for the book, with a 14-city author tour and much major media, including an appearance on Letterman. Simultaneous Random House Audio editions will extend the book's reach: expect high interest and big sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Greene, the critically acclaimed author of The Elegant Universe and one of the world's leading string theorists, has written yet another thought-provoking account of where we are in our understanding of the universe. He tells the story of how generations of physicists have searched for the holy grail of physics, i.e., the single set of universal laws that govern the universe. However, the principal characters are not the physicists themselves but the theories that they developed, in particular, general relativity and quantum mechanics. Greene explores the string theory-mating dance between the two in simple but elegant language that titillates the mind. Frogs in bowls, falling eggs, loaves of bread, pennies on balloons, ping pong balls in molasses, and babushka dolls are just some of the analogies used to explain complex concepts cleverly. After reading this book, you will never look at a starry night sky the same way again. Strongly recommended for most science collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/03.]-James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Forbidding formulas no longer stand between general readers and the latest breakthroughs in astrophysics: the imaginative gifts of one of the pioneers making these breakthroughs has now translated mathematical science into accessible analogies drawn from everyday life and popular culture. . . . Nonspecialists will relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe.” –Booklist (starred review)

“This is popular science writing of the highest order. . . Greene [has an] unparalleled ability to translate higher mathematics into everyday language and images, through the adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose. . . He not only makes concepts clear, but explains why they matter.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375727207
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/8/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 56,753
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Greene
Brian Greene received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He joined the physics faculty of Cornell University in 1990, was appointed to a full professorship in 1995, and in 1996 joined Columbia University where he is professor of physics and mathematics. He has lectured at both a general and a technical level in more than twenty-five countries and is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory. He lives in Andes, New York, and New York City.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Roads to Reality

SPACE, TIME, AND WHY THINGS ARE AS THEY ARE

None of the books in my father’s dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes–a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall–that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

“There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” the text began. I winced. “Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind nine or twelve categories,” it continued, “comes afterward”; such questions, the text explained, were part of the game humanity played, but they deserved attention only after the one true issue had been settled. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by the Algerian-born philosopher and Nobel laureate Albert Camus. After a moment, the iciness of his words melted under the light of comprehension. Yes, of course, I thought. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows come home, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living. That’s what it all comes down to. Everything else is detail.

My chance encounter with Camus’ book must have occurred during an especially impressionable phase because, more than anything else I’d read, his words stayed with me. Time and again I’d imagine how various people I’d met, or heard about, or had seen on television would answer this primary of all questions. In retrospect, though, it was his second assertion –regarding the role of scientific progress–that, for me, proved particularly challenging. Camus acknowledged value in understanding the structure of the universe, but as far as I could tell, he rejected the possibility that such understanding could make any difference to our assessment of life’s worth. Now, certainly, my teenage reading of existential philosophy was about as sophisticated as Bart Simpson’s reading of Romantic poetry, but even so, Camus’ conclusion struck me as off the mark. To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life’s arena–the universe. I remember thinking that if our species dwelled in cavernous outcroppings buried deep underground and so had yet to discover the earth’s surface, brilliant sunlight, an ocean breeze, and the stars that lie beyond, or if evolution had proceeded along a different pathway and we had yet to acquire any but the sense of touch, so everything we knew came only from our tactile impressions of our immediate environment, or if human mental faculties stopped developing during early childhood so our emotional and analytical skills never progressed beyond those of a five-year-old–in short, if our experiences painted but a paltry portrait of reality–our appraisal of life would be thoroughly compromised. When we finally found our way to earth’s surface, or when we finally gained the ability to see, hear, smell, and taste, or when our minds were finally freed to develop as they ordinarily do, our collective view of life and the cosmos would, of necessity, change radically. Our previously compromised grasp of reality would have shed a very different light on that most fundamental of all philosophical questions.

But, you might ask, what of it? Surely, any sober assessment would conclude that although we might not understand everything about the universe–every aspect of how matter behaves or life functions–we are privy to the defining, broad-brush strokes gracing nature’s canvas. Surely, as Camus intimated, progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as understanding all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by our experiences.

To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. I certainly find myself thinking this way in day-to-day life; it’s easy to be seduced by the face nature reveals directly to our senses. Yet, in the decades since first encountering Camus’ text, I’ve learned that modern science tells a very different story. The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality. Lying just beneath the surface of the everyday is a world we’d hardly recognize. Followers of the occult, devotees of astrology, and those who hold to religious principles that speak to a reality beyond experience have, from widely varying perspectives, long since arrived at a similar conclusion. But that’s not what I have in mind. I’m referring to the work of ingenious innovators and tireless researchers–the men and women of science–who have peeled back layer after layer of the cosmic onion, enigma by enigma, and revealed a universe that is at once surprising, unfamiliar, exciting, elegant, and thoroughly unlike what anyone ever expected.

These developments are anything but details. Breakthroughs in physics have forced, and continue to force, dramatic revisions to our conception of the cosmos. I remain as convinced now as I did decades ago that Camus rightly chose life’s value as the ultimate question, but the insights of modern physics have persuaded me that assessing life through the lens of everyday experience is like gazing at a van Gogh through an empty Coke bottle. Modern science has spearheaded one assault after another on evidence gathered from our rudimentary perceptions, showing that they often yield a clouded conception of the world we inhabit. And so whereas Camus separated out physical questions and labeled them secondary, I’ve become convinced that they’re primary. For me, physical reality both sets the arena and provides the illumination for grappling with Camus’ question. Assessing existence while failing to embrace the insights of modern physics would be like wrestling in the dark with an unknown opponent. By deepening our understanding of the true nature of physical reality, we profoundly reconfigure our sense of ourselves and our experience of the universe.

The central concern of this book is to explain some of the most prominent and pivotal of these revisions to our picture of reality, with an intense focus on those that affect our species’ long-term project to understand space and time. From Aristotle to Einstein, from the astrolabe to the Hubble Space Telescope, from the pyramids to mountaintop observatories,
space and time have framed thinking since thinking began. With the advent of the modern scientific age, their importance has been tremendously heightened. Over the last three centuries, developments in physics have revealed space and time as the most baffling and most compelling concepts, and as those most instrumental in our scientific analysis of the universe. Such developments have also shown that space and time top the list of age-old scientific constructs that are being fantastically revised by cutting-edge research.

To Isaac Newton, space and time simply were–they formed an inert, universal cosmic stage on which the events of the universe played themselves out. To his contemporary and frequent rival Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, “space” and “time” were merely the vocabulary of relations between where objects were and when events took place. Nothing more. But to Albert Einstein, space and time were the raw material underlying reality. Through his theories of relativity, Einstein jolted our thinking about space and time and revealed the principal part they play in the evolution of the universe. Ever since, space and time have been the sparkling jewels of physics. They are at once familiar and mystifying; fully understanding space and time has become physics’ most daunting challenge and sought-after prize.

The developments we’ll cover in this book interweave the fabric of space and time in various ways. Some ideas will challenge features of space and time so basic that for centuries, if not millennia, they’ve seemed beyond questioning. Others will seek the link between our theoretical understanding of space and time and the traits we commonly experience. Yet others will raise questions unfathomable within the limited confines of ordinary perceptions.

We will speak only minimally of philosophy (and not at all about suicide and the meaning of life). But in our scientific quest to solve the mysteries of space and time, we will be resolutely unrestrained. From the universe’s smallest speck and earliest moments to its farthest reaches and most distant future, we will examine space and time in environments familiar and far-flung, with an unflinching eye seeking their true nature. As the story of space and time has yet to be fully written, we won’t arrive at any final assessments. But we will encounter a series of developments–some intensely strange, some deeply satisfying, some experimentally verified, some thoroughly speculative–that will show how close we’ve come to wrapping our minds around the fabric of the cosmos and touching the true texture of reality.

Classical Reality

Historians differ on exactly when the modern scientific age began, but certainly by the time Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton had had their say, it was briskly under way. In those days, the new scientific mind-set was being steadily forged, as patterns found in terrestrial and astronomical data made it increasingly clear that there is an order to all the comings and goings of the cosmos, an order accessible to careful reasoning and mathematical analysis. These early pioneers of modern scientific thought argued that, when looked at the right way, the happenings in the universe not only are explicable but predictable. The power of science to foretell aspects of the future–consistently and quantitatively–had been revealed.

Early scientific study focused on the kinds of things one might see or experience in everyday life. Galileo dropped weights from a leaning tower (or so legend has it) and watched balls rolling down inclined surfaces; Newton studied falling apples (or so legend has it) and the orbit of the moon. The goal of these investigations was to attune the nascent scientific ear to nature’s harmonies. To be sure, physical reality was the stuff of experience, but the challenge was to hear the rhyme and reason behind the rhythm and regularity. Many sung and unsung heroes contributed to the rapid and impressive progress that was made, but Newton stole the show. With a handful of mathematical equations, he synthesized everything known about motion on earth and in the heavens, and in so doing, composed the score for what has come to be known as classical physics. In the decades following Newton’s work, his equations were developed into an elaborate mathematical structure that significantly extended both their reach and their practical utility. Classical physics gradually became a sophisticated and mature scientific discipline. But shining clearly through all these advances was the beacon of Newton’s original insights. Even today, more than three hundred years later, you can see Newton’s equations scrawled on introductory-physics chalkboards worldwide, printed on NASA flight plans computing spacecraft trajectories, and embedded within the complex calculations of forefront research. Newton brought a wealth of physical phenomena within a single theoretical framework.

But while formulating his laws of motion, Newton encountered a critical stumbling block, one that is of particular importance to our story (Chapter 2). Everyone knew that things could move, but what about the arena within which the motion took place? Well, that’s space, we’d all answer. But, Newton would reply, what is space? Is space a real physical entity or is it an abstract idea born of the human struggle to comprehend the cosmos? Newton realized that this key question had to be answered, because without taking a stand on the meaning of space and time, his equations describing motion would prove meaningless. Understanding requires context; insight must be anchored.

And so, with a few brief sentences in his Principia Mathematica, Newton articulated a conception of space and time, declaring them absolute and immutable entities that provided the universe with a rigid, unchangeable arena. According to Newton, space and time supplied an invisible scaffolding that gave the universe shape and structure. Not everyone agreed. Some argued persuasively that it made little sense to ascribe existence to something you can’t feel, grasp, or affect. But the explanatory and predictive power of Newton’s equations quieted the critics. For the next two hundred years, his absolute conception of space and time was dogma.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface
Pt. I Reality's Arena
1 Roads to Reality 3
2 The Universe and the Bucket 23
3 Relativity and the Absolute 39
4 Entangling Space 77
Pt. II Time and Experience
5 The Frozen River 127
6 Chance and the Arrow 143
7 Time and the Quantum 177
Pt. III Spacetime and Cosmology
8 Of Snowflakes and Spacetime 219
9 Vaporizing the Vacuum 251
10 Deconstructing the Bang 272
11 Quanta in the Sky with Diamonds 304
Pt. IV Origins and Unification
12 The World on a String 327
13 The Universe on a Brane 376
Pt. V Reality and Imagination
14 Up in the Heavens and Down in the Earth 415
15 Teleporters and Time Machines 437
16 The Future of an Allusion 470
Notes 495
Glossary 537
Suggestions for Further Reading 543
Index 545
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter 1: Roads to Reality

SPACE, TIME, AND WHY THINGS ARE AS THEY ARE

None of the books in my father's dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes–a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall–that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I'm not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

"There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide," the text began. I winced. "Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind nine or twelve categories," it continued, "comes afterward"; such questions, the text explained, were part of the game humanity played, but they deserved attention only after the one true issue had been settled. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by the Algerian-born philosopher and Nobel laureate Albert Camus. After a moment, the iciness of his words melted under the light of comprehension. Yes, of course, I thought. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows comehome, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living. That's what it all comes down to. Everything else is detail.

My chance encounter with Camus' book must have occurred during an especially impressionable phase because, more than anything else I'd read, his words stayed with me. Time and again I'd imagine how various people I'd met, or heard about, or had seen on television would answer this primary of all questions. In retrospect, though, it was his second assertion –regarding the role of scientific progress–that, for me, proved particularly challenging. Camus acknowledged value in understanding the structure of the universe, but as far as I could tell, he rejected the possibility that such understanding could make any difference to our assessment of life's worth. Now, certainly, my teenage reading of existential philosophy
was about as sophisticated as Bart Simpson's reading of Romantic poetry, but even so, Camus' conclusion struck me as off the mark. To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life's arena–the universe. I remember thinking that if our species dwelled in cavernous outcroppings buried deep underground and so had yet to discover the earth's surface, brilliant sunlight, an ocean breeze, and the stars that lie beyond, or if evolution had proceeded along a different pathway and we had yet to acquire any but the sense of touch, so everything we knew came only from our tactile impressions of our immediate environment, or if human mental faculties stopped developing during early childhood so our emotional and analytical skills never progressed beyond those of a five-year-old–in short, if our experiences painted but a paltry portrait of reality–our appraisal of life would be thoroughly compromised. When we finally found our way to earth's surface, or when we finally gained the ability to see, hear, smell, and taste, or when our minds were finally freed to develop as they ordinarily do, our collective view of life and the cosmos would, of necessity, change radically. Our previously compromised grasp of reality would have shed a very different light on that most fundamental of all philosophical questions.

But, you might ask, what of it? Surely, any sober assessment would conclude that although we might not understand everything about the universe–every aspect of how matter behaves or life functions–we are privy to the defining, broad-brush strokes gracing nature's canvas. Surely, as Camus intimated, progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as understanding all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by
our experiences.

To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. I certainly find myself thinking this way in day-to-day life; it's easy to be seduced by the face nature reveals directly to our senses. Yet, in the decades since first encountering Camus' text, I've learned that modern science tells a very different story. The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality. Lying just beneath the surface of the everyday is a world we'd hardly recognize. Followers of the occult, devotees of astrology, and those who hold to religious principles that speak to a reality beyond experience have, from widely varying perspectives, long since arrived at a similar conclusion. But that's not what I have in mind. I'm referring to the work of ingenious innovators and tireless researchers–the men and women of science–who have peeled back layer after layer of the cosmic onion, enigma by enigma, and revealed a universe that is at once surprising, unfamiliar, exciting, elegant, and thoroughly unlike what anyone ever expected.

These developments are anything but details. Breakthroughs in physics have forced, and continue to force, dramatic revisions to our conception of the cosmos. I remain as convinced now as I did decades ago that Camus rightly chose life's value as the ultimate question, but the insights of modern physics have persuaded me that assessing life through the lens of everyday experience is like gazing at a van Gogh through an empty Coke bottle. Modern science has spearheaded one assault after another on evidence gathered from our rudimentary perceptions, showing that they often yield a clouded conception of the world we inhabit. And so whereas Camus separated out physical questions and labeled them secondary, I've become convinced that they're primary. For me, physical reality both sets the arena and provides the illumination for grappling with Camus' question. Assessing existence while failing to embrace the insights of modern physics would be like wrestling in the dark with an unknown opponent. By deepening our understanding of the true nature of physical reality, we profoundly reconfigure our sense of ourselves and our experience of the universe.

The central concern of this book is to explain some of the most prominent and pivotal of these revisions to our picture of reality, with an intense focus on those that affect our species' long-term project to understand space and time. From Aristotle to Einstein, from the astrolabe to the Hubble Space Telescope, from the pyramids to mountaintop observatories,
space and time have framed thinking since thinking began. With the advent of the modern scientific age, their importance has been tremendously heightened. Over the last three centuries, developments in physics have revealed space and time as the most baffling and most compelling concepts, and as those most instrumental in our scientific analysis of the universe. Such developments have also shown that space and time top the list of age-old scientific constructs that are being fantastically revised by cutting-edge research.

To Isaac Newton, space and time simply were–they formed an inert, universal cosmic stage on which the events of the universe played themselves out. To his contemporary and frequent rival Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, "space" and "time" were merely the vocabulary of relations between where objects were and when events took place. Nothing more. But to Albert Einstein, space and time were the raw material underlying reality. Through his theories of relativity, Einstein jolted our thinking about space and time and revealed the principal part they play in the evolution of the universe. Ever since, space and time have been the sparkling jewels of physics. They are at once familiar and mystifying; fully understanding space and time has become physics' most daunting challenge and sought-after prize.

The developments we'll cover in this book interweave the fabric of space and time in various ways. Some ideas will challenge features of space and time so basic that for centuries, if not millennia, they've seemed beyond questioning. Others will seek the link between our theoretical understanding of space and time and the traits we commonly experience. Yet others will raise questions unfathomable within the limited confines of ordinary perceptions.

We will speak only minimally of philosophy (and not at all about suicide and the meaning of life). But in our scientific quest to solve the mysteries of space and time, we will be resolutely unrestrained. From the universe's smallest speck and earliest moments to its farthest reaches and most distant future, we will examine space and time in environments familiar and far-flung, with an unflinching eye seeking their true nature. As the story of space and time has yet to be fully written, we won't arrive at any final assessments. But we will encounter a series of developments–some intensely strange, some deeply satisfying, some experimentally verified, some thoroughly speculative–that will show how close we've come to wrapping our minds around the fabric of the cosmos and touching the true texture of reality.

Classical Reality

Historians differ on exactly when the modern scientific age began, but certainly by the time Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton had had their say, it was briskly under way. In those days, the new scientific mind-set was being steadily forged, as patterns found in terrestrial and astronomical data made it increasingly clear that there is an order to all the comings and goings of the cosmos, an order accessible to careful reasoning and mathematical analysis. These early pioneers of modern scientific thought argued that, when looked at the right way, the happenings in the universe not only are explicable but predictable. The power of science to foretell aspects of the future–consistently and quantitatively–had been revealed.

Early scientific study focused on the kinds of things one might see or experience in everyday life. Galileo dropped weights from a leaning tower (or so legend has it) and watched balls rolling down inclined surfaces; Newton studied falling apples (or so legend has it) and the orbit of the moon. The goal of these investigations was to attune the nascent scientific ear to nature's harmonies. To be sure, physical reality was the stuff of experience, but the challenge was to hear the rhyme and reason behind the rhythm and regularity. Many sung and unsung heroes contributed to the rapid and impressive progress that was made, but Newton stole the show. With a handful of mathematical equations, he synthesized everything known about motion on earth and in the heavens, and in so doing, composed the score for what has come to be known as classical physics. In the decades following Newton's work, his equations were developed into an elaborate mathematical structure that significantly extended both their reach and their practical utility. Classical physics gradually became a sophisticated and mature scientific discipline. But shining clearly through all these advances was the beacon of Newton's original insights. Even today, more than three hundred years later, you can see Newton's equations scrawled on introductory-physics chalkboards worldwide, printed on NASA flight plans computing spacecraft trajectories, and embedded within the complex calculations of forefront research. Newton brought a wealth of physical phenomena within a single theoretical framework.

But while formulating his laws of motion, Newton encountered a critical stumbling block, one that is of particular importance to our story (Chapter 2). Everyone knew that things could move, but what about the arena within which the motion took place? Well, that's space, we'd all answer. But, Newton would reply, what is space? Is space a real physical entity or is it an abstract idea born of the human struggle to comprehend the cosmos? Newton realized that this key question had to be answered, because without taking a stand on the meaning of space and time, his equations describing motion would prove meaningless. Understanding requires context; insight must be anchored.

And so, with a few brief sentences in his Principia Mathematica, Newton articulated a conception of space and time, declaring them absolute and immutable entities that provided the universe with a rigid, unchangeable arena. According to Newton, space and time supplied an invisible scaffolding that gave the universe shape and structure. Not everyone agreed. Some argued persuasively that it made little sense to ascribe existence to something you can't feel, grasp, or affect. But the explanatory and predictive power of Newton's equations quieted the critics. For the next two hundred years, his absolute conception of space and time was dogma.


From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright© 2004 by Brian Greene
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Brian Greene
author of

The Fabric of the Cosmos:
Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they're not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try--and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it's exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we're making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn't say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for oursense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign--and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn't flow--rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time's arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn't that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn't make for a good excuse--at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane--like a bucket of spinning water--actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space--whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It's a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What's the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That's a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world's foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring--like a very, very thin rubber band--is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don't worry, I can't picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we've come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects--the branes--also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black--light can't escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein's statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that's enough to avoid conflict with Einstein's recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue--due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics--is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don't know, but what we're learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn't matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better--made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 74 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(40)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(10)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 74 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2007

    Fascinating space travel

    If you are interested in a book that discusses the universe than this is a good title to pick up and read. After reading Brian Greene, I have come to the realization that space is more vast than I ever imagined. The universe is a place that is so big and so expansive that after this book one is able to understand more completely how the universe works. Greene also mentions string theory. String theory is one of the latest theories that unify the macroscopic and the microscopic worlds of physics.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2006

    Excellent introduction to theoretical physics

    We highly recommend this excellent introduction to theoretical physics, which is accessible to any determined reader, even those with no mathematical and little scientific background. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Brian Greene is scrupulous about clarity, and has a gift for metaphor that makes it possible for him to discuss even the most abstruse, esoteric physics with skill, clarity and wit. Readers will discover baffling wonders that flatly contradict ordinary quotidian experience, and will come to realize that what they perceive as real is anything but real. Moreover, they will learn that physicists seem to have a great deal more success at demonstrating what is not real than at discovering what is. The most commonplace things - the difference between yesterday and tomorrow, between here and there - continue to baffle the greatest minds in science. Now you can begin to understand why.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2004

    Describes a universe stranger than our wildest dreams

    In the first sentence of chap. 16 (the last chapter of Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Universe), the author srites, 'Physicists spend a large part of their lives in a state of confusion.' If such a sobering, and humorous, assessment is made of seasoned professionals, little wonder that laypersons untrained in physics and mathematics develop an Excedrin headache trying to grasp the mind-boggling theories of modern science. What is space? What is time? What is matter? What is energy? What is gravity? What is reality? In our mundane, commonsense thinking, the answers are self-evident and patently clear. The truth, however, says Greene, is otherwise. Many, if not most, of the findings of modern physics are counterintuitive; they reveal a cosmos far stranger than imagined in our wildest dreams. Greene, the author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Revised Edition, 2003), has now published a second popular work on physics in which he delves into the mysteries of space and time, or (since Einstein) spacetime. From Sir Isaac Newton's classical physics, to Albert Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, to the weird world of quantum mechanics and superstring theory, Greene is our tour guide into the macrocosmos (the world of the very large) and the microcosmos (the world of the very small). Here we encounter an ugly skeleton rattling around in the physicists' closet: 'The greatest obstacle theoretical physics has faced during the last eighty years [is the] fundamental rift between general relativity and quantum mechanics.' When the mathematical calculations of each are juxtaposed, things just don't add up. Until some grand unifying field theory is found, the two greatest theories of modern physics stand in embarrassing contradiction. Following the lead of Edward Witten, the world's most renowned string theorist, Greene believes that superstring theory is the key to such a unified field theory. Superstrings (if they exist) are conceived to be incredibly tiny loops of vibrating energy that lie deep within the heart of matter and that are able to connect with and influence, from incredible distances, objects widely separated in spacetime. M-theory, a refinement of superstring theory, envisions the existence of eleven dimensions (ten of space and one of time). In such a bizarre (and, for this reviewer, incomprehensible) cosmos, the arrow of time, which seemingly moves only in one direction (from the past to the present and on to the future), could be reversed time machines might be possible. Pass the Excedrin, please! Greene writes brilliantly about symmetry, the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), gravity, multiverses (parallel universes), the evolution and expansion of the universe, black holes, and the influence of the big bang on the arrow of time. Disappointingly, however, he says little (except implicitly) about causality, except in a footnote to chap. 3. Greene scatters nuggets of wit, wisdom, and humor through his intelligent text, and provides numerous analogies and metaphors ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous--from Nicole Kidman and Zen koans to Voodoo and the Scarecrow in the Land of Oz. Numerous drawings and line illustrations enhance the book's popular appeal. If you want to be ambitious, read the 42 pages of technical notes at the end of the volume. Caution: More than one Excedrin tablet is needed for such a venture. So what? you may ask. What does all this scientific stuff have to do with the price of tea in China? If nothing else, we gain from Greene's book a fascinating chronicle of our evolving understanding of the basic 'stuff' of the universe. For, as the philosopher Aristotle wrote, in the first sentence of his Metaphysics, 'All men by nature desire to know.' Roy E. Perry is an advertising copywriter at a Nashville publishing house. He may be reached at rperry1778@aol.com ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 27, 2011

    Excellent book and topic.

    Brian Greene is a great science mind and writer. If you are interested in the basic nature of our universe, this is a must read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 5, 2011

    Highly Recommended...engages brain cells

    I first became aware of this title watching Nova on PBS. I was enthralled to say the least...had to get the book and was not disappointed. Mr. Greene is very engaging and presents the material in an intelligent as well as entertaining way. NO MATH. I must admit that I had to work a bit on some of the material especially the quantum part but that is what I found so engaging.I am into my second reading and have also embarked on a journey to learn physics and even honing up on my algebra. Being retired I have the time. All of this in somewhat new to me and I come into it with no or little presuppositions. I just purchased the DVD of the title and I will most definitely buy his other books...can't wait.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2005

    It has changed my thinking

    Frankly speaking, my greatest interest was not in physics. But after reading Brian Greene, I am seriously planning to graduate in physics. This book has opened my mind to the wonders of quantum mechanics and I am really thankful for it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    In awe of the Universe...

    This is an excellent book for the novice reader interested in physics. The examples given by the author puts something complex into layman's terms. I couldn't but it down. I have read other physics books but this one was by far the most mind expanding. The things that are at play beyond our world and within our world down to the minute details are really astounding. If you suffer from neuroticism and/or can't come to terms with you being nothing more than just a bunch of atoms then don't read. You will just get your feeling hurt.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2005

    interesting read

    I found this book to be very interesting. The author was very concise and stuck to the subject matter. His description of Newton's bucket experiment as to how the water in a bucket is affected by the rotation of the bucket was very insightful. I was so amazed by this book, I bought his first one and am reading it now (the elegant universe). I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how the world works.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2004

    Great book -- no-so-great CD

    After listening to the first two chapters on CD, I bought the book. Eric Davies, the reader, put emphasis on the wrong words so often (he reads the book like it is a suspense novel) that his reading interfered with learning. Too bad Brian Greene didn't read it himself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2004

    Very nice

    I havent actually read this book yet, however it has risen considerably on my to-do list. I first heard of it while Greene was explaining his theories in Denver at the 'Tattered Cover Book Store.' I chanced upon while visiting C-Span for the first time in my life. Expecting a boring speech on something I couldn't understand, I was gripped and blown away at the same time when I heard his compelling use of language and hilarious analogies including one which metioned 'a wardrobe malfunction.' I have always been more of a biology person, but his speech alone has made me seriously reconsider my major, and University (Greene teaches at Columbia.)I can't wait to see and hear more of Greene in the future, and someday i hope he will give an interview fort the Daily Show, it's right up his alley.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    Simply the best for a average reader

    Perhaps the best book you can hope for this topic (in case you are not a physics graduate.). Very simple and interesting style of explaining.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 22, 2014

    This is his second book. I finished this book around the same ti

    This is his second book. I finished this book around the same time I was watching the new Cosmos series on Fox. (It's hard to believe that Seth McFarlane, the man behind Family Guy, is one of the producers of the new Cosmos. I'm still waiting for Stewie to show up, or for a Cosmos parody on Family Guy. But I digress.) Like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson on Cosmos, Brian Greene is attempting to make science understandable to those of us who don't have advanced science degrees. Dr Greene uses a lot of pop culture references to illustrate his points. He seems to have a special fondness for the Simpsons. It's a little more complex, though. He's trying to explain the basics of string theory, with its theories of 10-dimensional space and quantum lengths. It can be a little slow going at times. He saves most of the mathematical equations for the footnotes. I'm not sure it's fully understandable to everyone. I had trouble with it myself. Some updates from the text. The large Hadron collider was finished, and the Higgs particle was discovered. Also, scientists recently discovered ripples from the original big bang. Dr Greene knows about pop culture. (He's appeared on the TV show The Big Bang Theory making fun of himself.) He does well in this book. It's just the subject matter that can be daunting.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    Highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Physics

    The book is extremely well written and easily followed by anyone with even a slight bit of knowledge of Physics. Guaranteed you will come a way with a new appreciation for the stuff around you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Reality is more bizarre than fiction

    A wonderful book for those novices interested in delving into the bizarre yet beautiful fabric of the universe. Written for non scientists in an accessible fashion. Mind bending concepts challenge our sense of reason. Very enjoyable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    Bn make this a daily find!

    If you like this book read the trouble with physics

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 17, 2012

    For me, the best book of Brian Greene's trilogy. Very well writt

    For me, the best book of Brian Greene's trilogy. Very well written, exciting, and extremely interesting. If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 12, 2012

    A truly engrossing book for adults who desire to understand the

    A truly engrossing book for adults who desire to understand the current directions in cosmology, quantum mechanics and particle physics. The book is well written and free of the clash of personalities that mark so many of the current popular books on these subjects. I will gladly go on to read further works from this author. He writes with grace and clarity on subjects that are becoming increasingly more important for our futures. Without an understanding of where we came from and what we are a part of, we will not treat the world-or each other-with the respect and attention that we should.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 21, 2011

    Good read, but too, too, too, too, too wordy.

    Leave out half the goofy little tales and examples he's added and stick with more straight science and it would be an excellent read. The good science is there, but I kept falling asleep trying to get to it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2004

    An stimulating book

    An exciting read in the currently prevailing understanding of the universe, supported with good illustrations. Highly recommended to general readers and students.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2004

    A very good book about aging science

    The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene expands the scope of his best selling Elegant Universe to even wider readership. The foundations of relativity and quantum theory were laid well before the appearance of spacecraft explorations, computers and the chaos theory. It is very unlikely that we can understand the texture of reality by adding extra dimensions to the old framework. For a much fresher look on the fabric of reality that elucidates puzzling observations, like normal galaxies and heavy elements at the fringes of the accessible universe, I recommend to pop-science and sci-fi readers Eugene Savov's book Theory of Interaction the Simplest Explanation of Everything. Savov simply demonstrates how the revealed vibrating underlying structure creates what we observe and then described in the laws of modern physics. If you will enjoy exploring some entertaining ideas that may become obsolete in few decades due to their complexity, then you should buy Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. If you are looking for a simpler and much far reaching picture of the fabric of existence, inferred from space observations and trained in fractals intuition, then buy Eugene Savov's Theory of Interaction the Simplest Explanation of Everything together with Discovery of Cosmic Fractals by Yurij Baryshev and Pekka Teerikorpi. You may add these three books to your collection of basic books. The controversial books will free your mind.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 74 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)