The Hole In The Universe

( 3 )


An adventure into the heart of Nothing by bestselling author K. C. Cole.

Once again, acclaimed science writer K. C. Cole brings the arcane and acad-
emic down to the level of armchair scientists in The Hole in the Universe,
an entertaining and edifying search for nothing at all. Open the newspaper on any given day and you will read of a newly discovered planet, star, and so ...

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The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything

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An adventure into the heart of Nothing by bestselling author K. C. Cole.

Once again, acclaimed science writer K. C. Cole brings the arcane and acad-
emic down to the level of armchair scientists in The Hole in the Universe,
an entertaining and edifying search for nothing at all. Open the newspaper on any given day and you will read of a newly discovered planet, star, and so on. Yet scientists and mathematicians have spent generations searching the far reaches of the universe for that one elusive state-nothingness.
Although this may sound like a simple task, every time the absolute void appears within reach, something new is discovered in its place: a black hole,
an undulating string, an additional dimension of space or time-even another universe. A fascinating and literary tour de force, The Hole in the Universe is a virtual romp into the unknown that you never knew wasn't there.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Acclaimed science writer K. C. Cole, author of The Universe and the Teacup and First You Build a Cloud, takes on the void. An L.A. Times bestseller, The Hole in the Universe examines "nothing," from vacuums and zero to black holes and phantom limbs.
From the Publisher
As clear and accessible as Hawking's A Brief History of Time, this work deserves wide circulation, not just among science buffs."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Cole has plenty of experience making the most abstruse theories intelligible to the lay reader. . . . A clever and readable investigation."-New York Post
David Perlman
...a quirky, contemplative and immensely stimulating rumination on Nothing.
San Francisco Chronicle
Gilbert Taylor
The vacuum is attracting physicists' attention Los Angeles Times science writer Cole ventures upon the void, fortunately with a sensitivity well pitched to the level of complexity average readers can absorb. She explains that absence of stuff doesn't define a vacuum, since 'Empty' space is filled with fields--evanescent particle pairs that flash in and out of existence--and, further, that space-time itself is 'something.'...Cole regularly reassures us that the theory-bred conjectural properties of nothingness she describes seem weird to her, too, and at the same time she clearly conveys why they thrill physicists: they could account for why the big bang began or why physical constants have the values they have...An enthusiastic, companionable guide to the inner limits of the universe.
Michael Scott Moore
...the book is a strong and sometimes mind-blowing introduction to the edges of modern physics.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nothing is as big a mystery as nothing. From the hatred the digit "zero" inspired in the ancient church and the horror vacui suffered by thinkers such as Aristotle to the tantalizing singularity of black holes, nothing packs quite a wallop. People, not nature, abhor a vacuum but are often fascinated by what repels them. Cole (The Universe and the Teacup), a science columnist for the L.A. Times, prods at the infinite properties and manifestations of nothing, trying to get a handle on it without boxing it in. Definitions make something out of nothing, but then, she indicates, everything did come out of nothing. Comprising an expansive set of topics from the history of numbers to string theory, the big bang, even Zen, the book's chapters are broken into bite-sized portions that allow the author to revel in the puns and awkwardness that comes with trying to describe a concept that no one has fully grasped. It is an amorphous, flowing, mind-bending discussion, written in rich, graceful prose.. As clear and accessible as Hawking's A Brief History of Time, this work deserves wide circulation, not just among science buffs. (Feb.) Forecast: Cole's reputation means the book will be widely reviewed--and if the reviews are accurate, sales will rise. This title is a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club, as well as of the Astronomy and Library of Science book clubs. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This book is about nothing. Science writer Cole (First You Build a Cloud, LJ 5/1/99) attempts to explain the current theories of what is there when there isn't anything. She has a lot of fun with wordplay, but she does manage to convey the concept that there is a real difficulty in defining what empty space is. Physicists tell us that, even if outer space were a complete vacuum, space itself would have a structure. If that sounds nonsensical, it is only because concepts in modern physics seem to defy common sense. Unfortunately, these theories involve a knowledge of mathematics at a level beyond that of the target audience. Thus, the author can only tell us the names--field theory, string theory, M-theory, etc.--but is unable to describe them in any depth or even offer a good heuristic feel for what phenomena they would predict or how they could be tested. Cole is a very good science writer, but this reviewer believes that the topic she has chosen here is not yet ready for prime time. Recommended for large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]--Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
In Hole in the Universe, science journalist and author Cole explains why the scientific search for nothingness is attracting so much attention among physicists. Scientists and theories are probed in this survey of the history of the search for the 'ultimate nothingness' of the universe, yet the account is most accessible to lay audiences.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156013178
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/1/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 290
  • Sales rank: 1,051,217
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

K. C. Cole is a science columnist for the Los Angeles Times and teaches at UCLA. The award-winning author of the international bestselling The Universe and the Teacup and First You Build a Cloud, she lives in Santa Monica, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Why Not? A Prelude
Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
(Michael Faraday
there is a hole in the universe.
It is not like a hole in a wall where a mouse slips through, solid and crisp and leading from somewhere to someplace. It is rather like a hole in the heart, an amorphous and edgeless void. It is a heartfelt absence, a blank space where something is missing, a large and obvious blind spot in our understanding of the universe.

The paper is bumpy so that any mark you draw on it skips and sputters from place to place, and you find that it's impossible to draw a perfectly smooth line.
Or the paper is slippery, so that your pen slides and the ink oozes off the edge.
Or the paper is curled into a cylinder, so that even a straight line circles around and meets itself from the rear.
Or the paper is black—so anything you draw on it disappears.
Or the paper is three-dimensional, like a cardboard box: suddenly you have many more possibilities for what you can create.
Or the paper is one-dimensional, like a line: your possibilities are constricted.
Or the paper has zero dimensions, or ten, and they are knotted and twisted in bizarre ways.
Or the paper wiggles and waves as you try to write on it. It won't stand still.
Or the paper has a barely perceivable background, an intricate set of images that you couldn't see until you developed the right technology.
Or the paper grows, stretches, shrinks, changes shape before your eyes.
Or the paper itself starts to draw lines and figures of its own accord.
Sweet Nothing

Anybody who knows all about nothing knows everything.
—physicist Leonard Susskind, Stanford University

From our earliest days, we've grown accustomed to thinking of nothing as a kind of bland absence—a convenient pause between numbers or atoms or thoughts, a passive-aggressive empty space that resembles nothing so much as a blank stare.

*See Chapter 3, "Good for Nothing."

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Physicist Frank Oppenheimer used to say that artists and scientists were the official "noticers" of society. Their job was to notice things that other people either had never been taught to see or had learned to ignore -- then to go out and tell the world about what they'd found.

I realize now that this is precisely what I've become: an official noticer. I get paid to be the ultimate voyeur. I peer over scientists' shoulders as they build machines of almost unfathomable proportions that re-create -- albeit on a small scale -- the creation of the universe. I eavesdrop as they struggle to find the unifying principles of nature in ten-dimensional space. I hang out in laboratories and lecture halls where scientists try to decode the messages written on the walls of the universe or streaming from the deep throats of black holes.

I certainly didn't start out as someone who was interested in science. I wanted to understand the way the world works. And I thought the way to do that was to study the social sciences: psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science. Like most people with an interest in human affairs, I never gave much of a thought to math or physics -- fields that seemed to have little to do with the kinds of things that interested me.

One of the reasons, of course, was that most of the science I learned in school was crammed into rigid boxes labeled geometry, biology, physics -- as if they have nothing to do with each other, much less with human experience. It was science stripped of all the wonderful ambiguity that pervades the real practice of science: the wrong answers; the right answers to the wrong questions. Most of all, it didn't reflect the role -- the critical role -- that our understanding of the physical universe plays in shaping our emotional and philosophical one.

I first started making these connections in a series of "Hers" columns for The New York Times. These grew into my first science book: First You Build a Cloud: Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life. It explores what hard science has to say about quasi-philosophical questions such as the nature of right and wrong, cause and effect, aesthetics, disorder, and the use and abuse of metaphor.

The next book, similarly, grew mostly from articles I had written for The Los Angeles Times that linked mathematics with everything from the O. J. Simpson trial to fairness in divorce settlements. It is called The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, and it's a celebration of mathematics as a singular set of rules for seeing the truth.

The subsequent book is perhaps less obviously philosophical. Yet The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything (you can see I have a fondness for long subtitles) also links physics, mathematics and perception in an exploration of the invisible forces that shape everything. We only call them "nothings" because we aren't aware of their existence. But they hold up the universe just the same. Like physics and philosophy, something and nothing are two sides of the same coin.

--K. C. Cole

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    A lot about nothing.

    I read this book as part of a Physics project in Grade 11, and it was an interesting, though sometimes difficult novel to read. As uneducated as I am in advanced physics concepts, K. C. Cole does a good job of laying her information about Nothing out on the table in an easily comprehendable way. The book covers various topics revolving around Nothing and zero, such as its history, mathematical equations and physical states. While there are some mind-expanding concepts contained within the pages, it can sometimes be difficult to pull out with Cole's use of wordplay and witticism, unintentional or otherwise. Also, while much is covered about Nothing, there is still a lack of information to truly make the subject comprehendable. Then again, I realize now how difficult it must have been to get the present information when so little is known of the subject. Overall, it's a solid read for those less educated, but still interested in physics, but I'd imagine it's be a tad boring and unsatisfying for a huge science buff.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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