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About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.
Posted May 18, 2011
"Nothing" seems to be the simplest of all notions, apparently requiring no thought whatsoever. It is what remains where everything is taken away. But a closer scrutiny reveals that "nothing" is not trivial as it may first seem. Is it physically possible to achieve such a thing as the absence of all matter? Even if possible, is what remains a truly empty space? And what is space anyway - is it possible to talk about it in the absence of matter? It is these and related questions that this short book tries to answer. It takes the reader on a journey from philosophical and speculative ideas of classic antiquity, to the most advanced frontiers of modern theoretical and experimental Physics. For a book of its size it covers a lot of ground. It explains where the notion that "the nature abhors vacuum" comes from, and how it took almost two thousand years to refute it by actually creating the first known artificial vacuum. The book explains how the ideas about the vacuum have evolved over the centuries, and in particular what an effect the discoveries of quantum mechanics and general relativity have had on it. Today we believe that even the perfect vacuum is strictly speaking not completely empty, and it is a rather complicated and complex entity. The book concludes with some of the current Physics speculations and how they may pertain to our ideas about "nothing."
The book is written in an interesting and easy-flowing style, and it does not overwhelm the reader with technical details and arcane jargon. There are hardly any equations in it, and the ones that are present are straightforward and used in order to illustrate a point that otherwise would be too cumbersome to describe. Overall, this is a very good book with a fresh and engaging perspective.
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Posted June 13, 2012