Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos

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Overview

In this thrilling journey into the mysteries of our cosmos, bestselling author Michio Kaku takes us on a dizzying ride to explore black holes and time machines, multidimensional space and, most tantalizing of all, the possibility that parallel universes may lay alongside our own. Kaku skillfully guides us through the latest innovations in string theory and its latest iteration, M-theory, which posits that our universe may be just one in an endless multiverse, a singular bubble floating in a sea of infinite bubble...
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Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos

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Overview

In this thrilling journey into the mysteries of our cosmos, bestselling author Michio Kaku takes us on a dizzying ride to explore black holes and time machines, multidimensional space and, most tantalizing of all, the possibility that parallel universes may lay alongside our own. Kaku skillfully guides us through the latest innovations in string theory and its latest iteration, M-theory, which posits that our universe may be just one in an endless multiverse, a singular bubble floating in a sea of infinite bubble universes. If M-theory is proven correct, we may perhaps finally find answer to the question, “What happened before the big bang?” This is an exciting and unforgettable introduction into the new cutting-edge theories of physics and cosmology from one of the pre-eminent voices in the field.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In Parallel Worlds, Michio Kaku brings his formidable explanatory talents to bear on one of the strangest and most exciting possibilities to have emerged from modern physics: that our universe may be but one among many, perhaps infinitely many, arrayed in a vast cosmic network. With deft use of analogy and humor, Kaku patiently introduces the reader to variations on this theme of parallel universes, coming from quantum mechanics, cosmology, and most recently, M-theory. Read this book for a wonderful tour, with an expert guide, of a cosmos whose comprehension forces us to stretch to the very limits of imagination.” —Brian Greene, Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics, Columbia University, and author of The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe “Kaku employs an amiable style that does much to make the story accessible even for those of us who have trouble telling the difference between superstring theory and Silly String aerosol. . . . Fascinating and sometimes downright boggling.” –Sci Fi Magazine “Kaku covers a tremendous amount of material . . . in a clear and lively way.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review“One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein revolutionized the science of cosmology. In Parallel Worlds, Michio Kaku, another genius, updates us on the this science and speculates about the future of the universe.” –San Antonio Express-News“Those who might enjoy a tour of cosmology, time travel, string theory, and the universe in 10 or 11 dimensions will find no better guide than Michio Kaku, a rare individual who has undertaken research in these subject areas yet also knows well how to present this intriguing, complex material in an engaging and easily assimilable style.” —Donald Goldsmith, author of The Runaway Universe and Connecting with the Cosmos “A highly readable and exhilarating romp through the frontiers of cosmology.” —Martin Rees, author of Our Cosmic Habitat and Our Final Century “A roller-coaster ride through the universe—and beyond—by one of the world’s finest science writers. Michio Kaku shows that the surface familiarity of the physical world conceals a wonderland of weird entities—dark matter and energy, hidden dimensions of space, and tiny loops of vibrating string that hold the cosmos together. In the universe according to Kaku, reality is as mind-bending as the most exhilarating science fiction.” —Paul Davies, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie University, Sydney, and author of How to Build a Time Machine“Michio Kaku has done it again. In Parallel Worlds, he deftly transforms the frontier of physics into a kind of amusement park, where you actually have fun while reading about Einstein's relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, and string theory. But the real story here is how Kaku invokes these powerful tools to speculate about multiple universes and their philosophical implications for our perceptions of God and the meaning of life.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, New York City, and author of Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
Publishers Weekly
Well-known physicist and author Kaku (Hyperspace) tells readers in this latest exploration of the far reaches of scientific speculation that another universe may be floating just a millimeter away on a "brane" (membrane) parallel to our own. We can't pop our heads in and have a look around because it exists in hyperspace, beyond our four dimensions. However, Kaku writes, scientists conjecture that branes-a creation of M theory, marketed as possibly the long-sought "theory of everything"-may eventually collide, annihilating each other. Such a collision may even have caused what we call the big bang. In his usual reader-friendly style, Kaku discusses the spooky objects conjured up from the equations of relativity and quantum physics: wormholes, black holes and the "white holes" on the other side; universes budding off from one another; and alternate quantum realities in which the 2004 elections turned out differently. As he delves into the past, present and possible future of this universe, Kaku will excite readers with his vision of realms that may exist just beyond the tip of our noses and, in what he admits is a highly speculative section, the possibilities our progeny may enjoy countless millennia from now; for instance, as this universe dies (in a "big freeze"), humans may be able to escape into other universes. B&w illus. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. First serial to Discover. (On sale Dec. 28) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Increasingly, it seems that whatever can be imagined, even in wildest speculation, is possible in modern astrophysics. As a case in point, Kaku (Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics, Graduate Ctr., CUNY; Hyperspace) considers serious theoretical possibilities of the existence of parallel and/or multiple universes. He begins by covering the historical background of cosmology (familiar territory to fans of this genre) and discussing the evidence gathered from recent satellite data regarding the age of the universe; theorists, he notes, are only beginning to make sense of this information. The text becomes more engaging in Part 2, "The Multiverse," as Kaku explores how parallel universes might be created, how they might interact with our own, and how new ones might be created all the time. Finally, in Part 3, "Escape into Hyperspace," future scenarios for this and other universes are entertained, including their effect upon the civilizations of intelligent beings within them. The acknowledgments listed in this well-researched book read like an honor roll of contemporary astrophysicists and the best science writers. Be prepared to exercise your imagination as you read. Highly recommended.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cutting-edge physics for a popular audience. This time out, Kaku (Physics, CUNY; Hyperspace, 1994, etc.) takes us through the broad outlines of what physicists call "Theories of Everything." The hottest new flavor here is M-Theory, a derivative of string theory in which our universe is considered to be one of innumerable parallel universes separated by tiny distances in eleven-dimensional space. While apparently counterintuitive, such theories arise from the solid twin pillars of modern physics: quantum theory and general relativity. Kaku dutifully steers the reader through the key formulations of physics, with brief glimpses of the scientists behind the big ideas: not only Newton, Einstein and Hawking, but the playful George Gamow, who did as much as anyone to make the Big Bang respectable, and the wisecracking Richard Feynman, who cheerfully admitted that nobody really understands quantum theory. We also get a look at the hardware of today's science, from the atom-smashers that generate new particles to the giant telescopes that peer back toward the origins of the universe. Kaku clearly enjoys speculating about the broader implications of his subject, and he cites several SF novels with obvious familiarity. His concluding chapters offer a discussion of some ways an advanced civilization might escape the heat death of the universe by tunneling into a parallel universe where the stars still shine. Unfortunately, though, Kaku sometimes stumbles when he strays beyond physics. Errors creep into his historical summaries (Copernicus wrote his astronomical treatise well before his deathbed), and analogies sometimes fall flat: he states that plucking a musical string harder produces a differentnote (it just becomes louder). His final chapter looks for meaning in the structure of the cosmos, seeking a compromise between the Copernican principle (we are not special) and the anthropic principle (we can hardly be accidental). Ambitious and thought-provoking. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky/Stuart Krichevsky Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400033720
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/14/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 47,463
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and a co-founder of string field theory. He is the author of several widely acclaimed books, including Visions, Beyond Einstein, and Hyperspace, which was named one of the best science books of the year by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He hosts a nationally syndicated radio science program and has appeared on such national television shows as Nightline, 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and Larry King Live.
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Baby Pictures of the Universe

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

—G. K. Chesterson

When I was a child, I had a personal conflict over my beliefs. My parents were raised in the Buddhist tradition. But I attended Sunday school every week, where I loved hearing the biblical stories about whales, arks, pillars of salt, ribs, and apples. I was fascinated by these Old Testament parables, which were my favorite part of Sunday school. It seemed to me that the parables about great floods, burning bushes, and parting waters were so much more exciting than Buddhist chanting and meditation. In fact, these ancient tales of heroism and tragedy vividly illustrated deep moral and ethical lessons which have stayed with me all my life.

One day in Sunday school we studied Genesis. To read about God thundering from the heavens, "Let there be Light!" sounded so much more dramatic than silently meditating about Nirvana. Out of naive curiosity, I asked my Sunday school teacher, "Did God have a mother?" She usually had a snappy answer, as well as a deep moral lesson to offer. This time, however, she was taken aback. No, she replied hesitantly, God probably did not have a mother. "But then where did God come from?" I asked. She mumbled that she would have to consult with the minister about that question.

I didn't realize that I had accidentally stumbled on one of the great questions of theology. I was puzzled, because in Buddhism, there is no God at all, but a timeless universe with no beginning or end. Later, when I began to study the great mythologies of the world, I learned that there were two types of cosmologies in religion, the first based on a single moment when God created the universe, the second based on the idea that the universe always was and always will be.

They couldn't both be right, I thought.

Later, I began to find that these common themes cut across many other cultures. In Chinese mythology, for example, in the beginning there was the cosmic egg. The infant god P'an Ku resided for almost an eternity inside the egg, which floated on a formless sea of Chaos. When it finally hatched, P'an Ku grew enormously, over ten feet per day, so the top half of the eggshell became the sky and the bottom half the earth. After 18,000 years, he died to give birth to our world: his blood became the rivers, his eyes the sun and moon, and his voice the thunder.

In many ways, the P'an Ku myth mirrors a theme found in many other religions and ancient mythologies, that the universe sprang into existence creatio ex nihilo (created from nothing). In Greek mythology, the universe started off in a state of Chaos (in fact, the word "chaos" comes from the Greek word meaning "abyss"). This featureless void is often described as an ocean, as in Babylonian and Japanese mythology. This theme is found in ancient Egyptian mythology, where the sun god Ra emerged from a floating egg. In Polynesian mythology, the cosmic egg is replaced by a coconut shell. The Mayans believed in a variation of this story, in which the universe is born but eventually dies after five thousand years, only to be resurrected again and again to repeat the unending cycle of birth and destruction.

These creatio ex nihilo myths stand in marked contrast to the cosmology according to Buddhism and certain forms of Hinduism. In these mythologies, the universe is timeless, with no beginning or end. There are many levels of existence, but the highest is Nirvana, which is eternal and can be attained only by the purest meditation. In the Hindu Mahapurana, it is written, "If God created the world, where was He before Creation? . . . Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end."

These mythologies stand in marked contradiction to each other, with no apparent resolution between them. They are mutually exclusive: either the universe had a beginning or it didn't. There is, apparently, no middle ground.

Today, however, a resolution seems to be emerging from an entirely new direction—the world of science—as the result of a new generation of powerful scientific instruments soaring through outer space. Ancient mythology relied upon the wisdom of storytellers to expound on the origins of our world. Today, scientists are unleashing a battery of space satellites, lasers, gravity wave detectors, interferometers, high-speed supercomputers, and the Internet, in the process revolutionizing our understanding of the universe, and giving us the most compelling description yet of its creation.

What is gradually emerging from the data is a grand synthesis of these two opposing mythologies. Perhaps, scientists speculate, Genesis occurs repeatedly in a timeless ocean of Nirvana. In this new picture, our universe may be compared to a bubble floating in a much larger "ocean," with new bubbles forming all the time. According to this theory, universes, like bubbles forming in boiling water, are in continual creation, floating in a much larger arena, the Nirvana of eleven-dimensional hyperspace. A growing number of physicists suggest that our universe did indeed spring forth from a fiery cataclysm, the big bang, but that it also coexists in an eternal ocean of other universes. If we are right, big bangs are taking place even as you read this sentence.

Physicists and astronomers around the world are now speculating about what these parallel worlds may look like, what laws they may obey, how they are born, and how they may eventually die. Perhaps these parallel worlds are barren, without the basic ingredients of life. Or perhaps they look just like our universe, separated by a single quantum event that made these universes diverge from ours. And a few physicists are speculating that perhaps one day, if life becomes untenable in our present universe as it ages and grows cold, we may be forced to leave it and escape to another universe.

The engine driving these new theories is the massive flood of data that is pouring from our space satellites as they photograph remnants of creation itself. Remarkably, scientists are now zeroing in on what happened a mere 380,000 years after the big bang, when the "afterglow" of creation first filled the universe. Perhaps the most compelling picture of this radiation from creation is coming from a new instrument called the WMAP satellite.

THE WMAP SATELLITE

"Incredible!" "A milestone!" were among the words uttered in February 2003 by normally reserved astrophysicists as they described the precious data harvested from their latest satellite. The WMAP (Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe), named after pioneering cosmologist David Wilkinson and launched in 2001, has given scientists, with unprecedented precision, a detailed picture of the early universe when it was a mere 380,000 years old. The colossal energy left over from the original fireball that gave birth to stars and galaxies has been circulating around our universe for billions of years. Today, it has finally been captured on film in exquisite detail by the WMAP satellite, yielding a map never seen before, a photo of the sky showing with breathtaking detail the microwave radiation created by the big bang itself, what has been called the "echo of creation" by Time magazine. Never again will astronomers look at the sky in the same way again.

The findings of the WMAP satellite represent "a rite of passage for cosmology from speculation to precision science," declared John Bahcall of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. For the first time, this deluge of data from this early period in the history of the universe has allowed cosmologists to answer precisely the most ancient of all questions, questions that have puzzled and intrigued humanity since we first gazed at the blazing celestial beauty of the night sky. How old is the universe? What is it made of? What is the fate of the universe?

(In 1992, a previous satellite, the COBE [Cosmic Background Explorer satellite] gave us the first blurry pictures of this background radiation filling the sky. Although this result was revolutionary, it was also disappointing because it gave such an out-of-focus picture of the early universe. This did not prevent the press from excitedly dubbing this photograph "the face of God." But a more accurate description of the blurry pictures from COBE would be that they represented a "baby picture" of the infant universe. If the universe today is an eighty-year-old man, the COBE, and later the WMAP, pictures showed him as a newborn, less than a day old.)

The reason the WMAP satellite can give us unprecedented pictures of the infant universe is that the night sky is like a time machine. Because light travels at a finite speed, the stars we see at night are seen as they once were, not as they are today. It takes a little over a second for light from the Moon to reach Earth, so when we gaze at the Moon we actually see it as it was a second earlier. It takes about eight minutes for light to travel from the Sun to Earth. Likewise, many of the familiar stars we see in the heavens are so distant that it takes from 10 to 100 years for their light to reach our eyes. (In other words, they lie 10 to 100 light-years from Earth. A light-year is roughly 6 trillion miles, or the distance light travels in a year.) Light from the distant galaxies may be hundreds of millions to billions of light-years away. As a result, they represent "fossil" light, some emitted even before the rise of the dinosaurs. Some of the farthest objects we can see with our telescopes are called quasars, huge galactic engines generating unbelievable amounts of power near the edge of the visible universe, which can lie up to 12 to 13 billion light-years from Earth. And now, the WMAP satellite has detected radiation emitted even before that, from the original fireball that created the universe.

To describe the universe, cosmologists sometimes use the example of looking down from the top of the Empire State Building, which soars more than a hundred floors above Manhattan. As you look down from the top, you can barely see the street level. If the base of the Empire State Building represents the big bang, then, looking down from the top, the distant galaxies would be located on the tenth floor. The distant quasars seen by Earth telescopes would be on the seventh floor. The cosmic background measured by the WMAP satellite would be just half an inch above the street. And now the WMAP satellite has given us the precise measurement of the age of the universe to an astonishing 1 percent accuracy: 13.7 billion years.

The WMAP mission is the culmination of over a decade of hard work by astrophysicists. The concept of the WMAP satellite was first proposed to NASA in 1995 and was approved two years later. On June 30, 2001, NASA sent the WMAP satellite aboard a Delta II rocket into a solar orbit perched between Earth and the Sun. The destination was carefully chosen to be the Lagrange point 2 (or L2, a special point of relative stability near Earth). From this vantage point, the satellite always points away from the Sun, Earth, and Moon and hence has a totally unobstructed view of the universe. It completely scans the entire sky every six months.

Its instrumentation is state-of-the-art. With its powerful sensors, it can detect the faint microwave radiation left over from the big bang that bathes the universe, but is largely absorbed by our atmosphere. The aluminum-composite satellite measures 3.8 meters by 5 meters (about 11.4 feet by 15 feet) and weighs 840 kilograms (1,850 pounds). It has two back-to-back telescopes that focus the microwave radiation from the surrounding sky, and eventually it radios the data back to Earth. It is powered by just 419 watts of electricity (the power of five ordinary lightbulbs). Sitting a million miles from Earth, the WMAP satellite is well above Earth's atmospheric disturbances, which can mask the faint microwave background, and it is able to get continuous readings of the entire sky.

The satellite completed its first observation of the full sky in April 2002. Six months later, the second full sky observation was made. Today, the WMAP satellite has given us the most comprehensive, detailed map of this radiation ever produced. The background microwave radiation the WMAP detected was first predicted by George Gamow and his group in 1948, who also noted that this radiation has a temperature associated with it. The WMAP measured this temperature to be just above absolute zero, or between 2.7249 to 2.7251 degrees Kelvin.

To the unaided eye, the WMAP map of the sky looks rather uninteresting; it is just a collection of random dots. However, this collection of dots has driven some astronomers almost to tears, for they represent fluctuations or irregularities in the original, fiery cataclysm of the big bang shortly after the universe was created. These tiny fluctuations are like "seeds" that have since expanded enormously as the universe itself exploded outward. Today, these tiny seeds have blossomed into the galactic clusters and galaxies we see lighting up the heavens. In other words, our own Milky Way galaxy and all the galactic clusters we see around us were once one of these tiny fluctuations. By measuring the distribution of these fluctuations, we see the origin of the galactic clusters, like dots painted on the cosmic tapestry that hangs over the night sky.

Today, the volume of astronomical data is outpacing scientists' theories. In fact, I would argue that we are entering a golden age of cosmology. (As impressive as the WMAP satellite is, it will likely be dwarfed by the Planck satellite, which the Europeans are launching in 2007; the Planck will give astronomers even more detailed pictures of this microwave background radiation.) Cosmology today is finally coming of age, emerging from the shadows of science after languishing for years in a morass of speculation and wild conjecture. Historically, cosmologists have suffered from a slightly unsavory reputation. The passion with which they proposed grandiose theories of the universe was matched only by the stunning poverty of their data. As Nobel laureate Lev Landau used to quip, "cosmologists are often in error but never in doubt." The sciences have an old adage: "There's speculation, then there's more speculation, and then there's cosmology."

As a physics major at Harvard in the late 1960s, I briefly toyed with the possibility of studying cosmology. Since childhood, I've always had a fascination with the origin of the universe. However, a quick glance at the field showed that it was embarrassingly primitive. It was not an experimental science at all, where one can test hypotheses with precise instruments, but rather a collection of loose, highly speculative theories. Cosmologists engaged in heated debates about whether the universe was born in a cosmic explosion or whether it has always existed in a steady state. But with so little data, the theories quickly outpaced the data. In fact, the less the data, the fiercer the debate.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface

PART ONE: THE UNIVERSE

Chapter One: Baby Pictures of the Universe
Chapter Two: The Paradoxical Universe
Chapter Three: The Big Bang
Chapter Four: Inflation and Parallel Universes

PART TWO: THE MULTIVERSE

Chapter Five: Dimensional Portals and Time Travel
Chapter Six: Parallel Quantum Universes
Chapter Seven: M-Theory: The Mother of All Strings
Chapter Eight: A Designer Universe?
Chapter Nine: Searching for Echoes from the Eleventh Dimension

PART THREE: ESCAPE INTO HYPERSPACE

Chapter Ten: The End of Everything
Chapter Eleven: Escaping the Universe
Chapter Twelve: Beyond the Multiverse

Notes
Glossary
Recommended Reading
Index

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE


Baby Pictures of the Universe


The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

—G. K. Chesterson


When I was a child, I had a personal conflict over my beliefs. My parents were raised in the Buddhist tradition. But I attended Sunday school every week, where I loved hearing the biblical stories about whales, arks, pillars of salt, ribs, and apples. I was fascinated by these Old Testament parables, which were my favorite part of Sunday school. It seemed to me that the parables about great floods, burning bushes, and parting waters were so much more exciting than Buddhist chanting and meditation. In fact, these ancient tales of heroism and tragedy vividly illustrated deep moral and ethical lessons which have stayed with me all my life.

One day in Sunday school we studied Genesis. To read about God thundering from the heavens, "Let there be Light!" sounded so much more dramatic than silently meditating about Nirvana. Out of naive curiosity, I asked my Sunday school teacher, "Did God have a mother?" She usually had a snappy answer, as well as a deep moral lesson to offer. This time, however, she was taken aback. No, she replied hesitantly, God probably did not have a mother. "But then where did God come from?" I asked. She mumbled that she would have to consult with the minister about that question.

I didn't realize that I had accidentally stumbled on one of the great questions of theology. I was puzzled, because in Buddhism, there is no God at all, but a timeless universe with no beginning or end. Later, when Ibegan to study the great mythologies of the world, I learned that there were two types of cosmologies in religion, the first based on a single moment when God created the universe, the second based on the idea that the universe always was and always will be.

They couldn't both be right, I thought.

Later, I began to find that these common themes cut across many other cultures. In Chinese mythology, for example, in the beginning there was the cosmic egg. The infant god P'an Ku resided for almost an eternity inside the egg, which floated on a formless sea of Chaos. When it finally hatched, P'an Ku grew enormously, over ten feet per day, so the top half of the eggshell became the sky and the bottom half the earth. After 18,000 years, he died to give birth to our world: his blood became the rivers, his eyes the sun and moon, and his voice the thunder.

In many ways, the P'an Ku myth mirrors a theme found in many other religions and ancient mythologies, that the universe sprang into existence creatio ex nihilo (created from nothing). In Greek mythology, the universe started off in a state of Chaos (in fact, the word "chaos" comes from the Greek word meaning "abyss"). This featureless void is often described as an ocean, as in Babylonian and Japanese mythology. This theme is found in ancient Egyptian mythology, where the sun god Ra emerged from a floating egg. In Polynesian mythology, the cosmic egg is replaced by a coconut shell. The Mayans believed in a variation of this story, in which the universe is born but eventually dies after five thousand years, only to be resurrected again and again to repeat the unending cycle of birth and destruction.

These creatio ex nihilo myths stand in marked contrast to the cosmology according to Buddhism and certain forms of Hinduism. In these mythologies, the universe is timeless, with no beginning or end. There are many levels of existence, but the highest is Nirvana, which is eternal and can be attained only by the purest meditation. In the Hindu Mahapurana, it is written, "If God created the world, where was He before Creation? . . . Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end."

These mythologies stand in marked contradiction to each other, with no apparent resolution between them. They are mutually exclusive: either the universe had a beginning or it didn't. There is, apparently, no middle ground.

Today, however, a resolution seems to be emerging from an entirely new direction—the world of science—as the result of a new generation of powerful scientific instruments soaring through outer space. Ancient mythology relied upon the wisdom of storytellers to expound on the origins of our world. Today, scientists are unleashing a battery of space satellites, lasers, gravity wave detectors, interferometers, high-speed supercomputers, and the Internet, in the process revolutionizing our understanding of the universe, and giving us the most compelling description yet of its creation.

What is gradually emerging from the data is a grand synthesis of these two opposing mythologies. Perhaps, scientists speculate, Genesis occurs repeatedly in a timeless ocean of Nirvana. In this new picture, our universe may be compared to a bubble floating in a much larger "ocean," with new bubbles forming all the time. According to this theory, universes, like bubbles forming in boiling water, are in continual creation, floating in a much larger arena, the Nirvana of eleven-dimensional hyperspace. A growing number of physicists suggest that our universe did indeed spring forth from a fiery cataclysm, the big bang, but that it also coexists in an eternal ocean of other universes. If we are right, big bangs are taking place even as you read this sentence.

Physicists and astronomers around the world are now speculating about what these parallel worlds may look like, what laws they may obey, how they are born, and how they may eventually die. Perhaps these parallel worlds are barren, without the basic ingredients of life. Or perhaps they look just like our universe, separated by a single quantum event that made these universes diverge from ours. And a few physicists are speculating that perhaps one day, if life becomes untenable in our present universe as it ages and grows cold, we may be forced to leave it and escape to another universe.

The engine driving these new theories is the massive flood of data that is pouring from our space satellites as they photograph remnants of creation itself. Remarkably, scientists are now zeroing in on what happened a mere 380,000 years after the big bang, when the "afterglow" of creation first filled the universe. Perhaps the most compelling picture of this radiation from creation is coming from a new instrument called the WMAP satellite.


THE WMAP SATELLITE


"Incredible!" "A milestone!" were among the words uttered in February 2003 by normally reserved astrophysicists as they described the precious data harvested from their latest satellite. The WMAP (Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe), named after pioneering cosmologist David Wilkinson and launched in 2001, has given scientists, with unprecedented precision, a detailed picture of the early universe when it was a mere 380,000 years old. The colossal energy left over from the original fireball that gave birth to stars and galaxies has been circulating around our universe for billions of years. Today, it has finally been captured on film in exquisite detail by the WMAP satellite, yielding a map never seen before, a photo of the sky showing with breathtaking detail the microwave radiation created by the big bang itself, what has been called the "echo of creation" by Time magazine. Never again will astronomers look at the sky in the same way again.

The findings of the WMAP satellite represent "a rite of passage for cosmology from speculation to precision science," declared John Bahcall of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. For the first time, this deluge of data from this early period in the history of the universe has allowed cosmologists to answer precisely the most ancient of all questions, questions that have puzzled and intrigued humanity since we first gazed at the blazing celestial beauty of the night sky. How old is the universe? What is it made of? What is the fate of the universe?

(In 1992, a previous satellite, the COBE [Cosmic Background Explorer satellite] gave us the first blurry pictures of this background radiation filling the sky. Although this result was revolutionary, it was also disappointing because it gave such an out-of-focus picture of the early universe. This did not prevent the press from excitedly dubbing this photograph "the face of God." But a more accurate description of the blurry pictures from COBE would be that they represented a "baby picture" of the infant universe. If the universe today is an eighty-year-old man, the COBE, and later the WMAP, pictures showed him as a newborn, less than a day old.)

The reason the WMAP satellite can give us unprecedented pictures of the infant universe is that the night sky is like a time machine. Because light travels at a finite speed, the stars we see at night are seen as they once were, not as they are today. It takes a little over a second for light from the Moon to reach Earth, so when we gaze at the Moon we actually see it as it was a second earlier. It takes about eight minutes for light to travel from the Sun to Earth. Likewise, many of the familiar stars we see in the heavens are so distant that it takes from 10 to 100 years for their light to reach our eyes. (In other words, they lie 10 to 100 light-years from Earth. A light-year is roughly 6 trillion miles, or the distance light travels in a year.) Light from the distant galaxies may be hundreds of millions to billions of light-years away. As a result, they represent "fossil" light, some emitted even before the rise of the dinosaurs. Some of the farthest objects we can see with our telescopes are called quasars, huge galactic engines generating unbelievable amounts of power near the edge of the visible universe, which can lie up to 12 to 13 billion light-years from Earth. And now, the WMAP satellite has detected radiation emitted even before that, from the original fireball that created the universe.

To describe the universe, cosmologists sometimes use the example of looking down from the top of the Empire State Building, which soars more than a hundred floors above Manhattan. As you look down from the top, you can barely see the street level. If the base of the Empire State Building represents the big bang, then, looking down from the top, the distant galaxies would be located on the tenth floor. The distant quasars seen by Earth telescopes would be on the seventh floor. The cosmic background measured by the WMAP satellite would be just half an inch above the street. And now the WMAP satellite has given us the precise measurement of the age of the universe to an astonishing 1 percent accuracy: 13.7 billion years.

The WMAP mission is the culmination of over a decade of hard work by astrophysicists. The concept of the WMAP satellite was first proposed to NASA in 1995 and was approved two years later. On June 30, 2001, NASA sent the WMAP satellite aboard a Delta II rocket into a solar orbit perched between Earth and the Sun. The destination was carefully chosen to be the Lagrange point 2 (or L2, a special point of relative stability near Earth). From this vantage point, the satellite always points away from the Sun, Earth, and Moon and hence has a totally unobstructed view of the universe. It completely scans the entire sky every six months.

Its instrumentation is state-of-the-art. With its powerful sensors, it can detect the faint microwave radiation left over from the big bang that bathes the universe, but is largely absorbed by our atmosphere. The aluminum-composite satellite measures 3.8 meters by 5 meters (about 11.4 feet by 15 feet) and weighs 840 kilograms (1,850 pounds). It has two back-to-back telescopes that focus the microwave radiation from the surrounding sky, and eventually it radios the data back to Earth. It is powered by just 419 watts of electricity (the power of five ordinary lightbulbs). Sitting a million miles from Earth, the WMAP satellite is well above Earth's atmospheric disturbances, which can mask the faint microwave background, and it is able to get continuous readings of the entire sky.

The satellite completed its first observation of the full sky in April 2002. Six months later, the second full sky observation was made. Today, the WMAP satellite has given us the most comprehensive, detailed map of this radiation ever produced. The background microwave radiation the WMAP detected was first predicted by George Gamow and his group in 1948, who also noted that this radiation has a temperature associated with it. The WMAP measured this temperature to be just above absolute zero, or between 2.7249 to 2.7251 degrees Kelvin.

To the unaided eye, the WMAP map of the sky looks rather uninteresting; it is just a collection of random dots. However, this collection of dots has driven some astronomers almost to tears, for they represent fluctuations or irregularities in the original, fiery cataclysm of the big bang shortly after the universe was created. These tiny fluctuations are like "seeds" that have since expanded enormously as the universe itself exploded outward. Today, these tiny seeds have blossomed into the galactic clusters and galaxies we see lighting up the heavens. In other words, our own Milky Way galaxy and all the galactic clusters we see around us were once one of these tiny fluctuations. By measuring the distribution of these fluctuations, we see the origin of the galactic clusters, like dots painted on the cosmic tapestry that hangs over the night sky.

Today, the volume of astronomical data is outpacing scientists' theories. In fact, I would argue that we are entering a golden age of cosmology. (As impressive as the WMAP satellite is, it will likely be dwarfed by the Planck satellite, which the Europeans are launching in 2007; the Planck will give astronomers even more detailed pictures of this microwave background radiation.) Cosmology today is finally coming of age, emerging from the shadows of science after languishing for years in a morass of speculation and wild conjecture. Historically, cosmologists have suffered from a slightly unsavory reputation. The passion with which they proposed grandiose theories of the universe was matched only by the stunning poverty of their data. As Nobel laureate Lev Landau used to quip, "cosmologists are often in error but never in doubt." The sciences have an old adage: "There's speculation, then there's more speculation, and then there's cosmology."

As a physics major at Harvard in the late 1960s, I briefly toyed with the possibility of studying cosmology. Since childhood, I've always had a fascination with the origin of the universe. However, a quick glance at the field showed that it was embarrassingly primitive. It was not an experimental science at all, where one can test hypotheses with precise instruments, but rather a collection of loose, highly speculative theories. Cosmologists engaged in heated debates about whether the universe was born in a cosmic explosion or whether it has always existed in a steady state. But with so little data, the theories quickly outpaced the data. In fact, the less the data, the fiercer the debate.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2009

    A Very Thought Provoking Book

    This book is written in a way that is simplistic and easy to understand. It is written very well--- technical, but interesting. Mr. Kaku is able to take a complicated subject and explain it so that anyone can understand it.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2005

    Excellent and Enjoyable

    This book is an awesome up-to-date account of modern physics and it's prospects. Dr. Kaku makes all the difficult concepts much simpler with creative anologies and methaphors. Dr. Kaku is a kindly explicator with a non-condescending attitute as opposed to some doctors of physics. (also there is some neat science fiction prospects towards the end of the novel.) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2005

    good reading

    Michio Kaku is an excellent writer and one of the best in relating science to the layperson. Every decade scientists - from physicists to geneticists - come up with up a new, more compelling theory about creation, the cosmos, and evolution. Ultimately, the best that scientists can do at the moment is just that - produce theories. Kaku shares this with readers and doesn't turn corners when doing so. He speculates of course about the universe (the expanding universe) and the attempts by physicists to reconcile Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum mechanics through string theory or M theory. The best part of Kaku's writing is one his own humanity in sharing his thoughts and two his ability to use his 'imagination' based upon scientific breakthroughs.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This book is a science based review of alternate universes and


    This book is a science based review of alternate universes and their relevance to us. Michio Kaku moves into astrophysics and cosmology within this book; broadening approaches enormously. With simple explanations of strings, m-theory, and black holes there is also focus on the importance of electromagnetism. This book makes reference to the universe that we are not alone; and the possible travel connection to parallel universes. Michio Kaku makes an appealing presentation in science that connects to the everyday world. There is a list of contacts in the physicist community for other interesting reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    love it.

    really cool book for people who want to understand a complex reality, simply.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2013

    Informational

    Lots of ideas in this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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