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.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Why Not? A Prelude
Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
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 blackso 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.
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 absencea 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."
Table of Contents
|Preface: Appreciations, Attributions, and Apologies||ix|
What People are Saying About This
Going from black holes and false vacua to blind spots and phantoms, K.C. Cole, with her wide-ranging mind, has provided a deep (but also light-hearted and accessible) meditation on "nothingness"--and how cosmologists, physicists, neurologists, psychologists, artists (and mystics) all find the notion of it productive and indispensable.
(Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of The Island of the Colorblind)
An extraordinary book. K.C. Cole is our ambassador to the realms of the exceedingly strange, inside the atom and outside the known universe. She is a practical philosopher with the singular ability to graze eleven dimensions of esoteric material, find the connections among them, and see the humor in it all.
(Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter)
With grace, humor, and abundant skill, K.C. Cole takes the reader on a grand and lively tour of modern physics--from cosmology, to particle physics, to string theory--and shows how all roads ultimately lead to the same question: what is "nothing"? The Hole in the Universe is a compelling, enjoyable, and widely accessible exploration of what may well be the most fundamental scientific issue of our age.
(Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe)
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
The Hole in the Universe is what Nancy Pearl calls a book about nothing and author K.C. Cole supports that with her subtitle, "How Scientists Peered over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything." Cole combines physics, science fiction, literature, mathematics, and humor to make her case. Who knew a book about nothing could be so entertaining? Cole has the ability to take scientific fact and not-so-exact speculation and make nothing about something.
This was a great book for anyone who would like to learn more about nothing (kind of an oxy moron!). I'm fifteen years old and i was very intruiged with this book. All in all it was a great book.
Any lay person with an interest in science should read K. C. Cole's new book. Harold Shane may feel it is to much for Cole's 'target audience', but I cannot agree. I am probably physics challenged, but could follow at least 80% as I read about nothing. With Cole's charming style, 80% is enough to give one great enjoyment, while force-feeding a good deal of new and interesting information into the reader's brain. Eureka for Cole's ability to make the un-understandable mostly understandable. Now, I'm going to read 'First you build a cloud'.