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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and…
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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2004)

by Brian Greene

Other authors: Claudio Bartocci (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Another excellent journey into the world of physics and cosmology by Brian Greene, this time with the focus on two of the most basic questions that we have been asking ourselves since the dawn of humanity:

1. What is space?
2. What is time and why does it flow (or seem to) in only one direction?

Before attempting to answer these questions, or more accurately, explaining what we've learned so far, Greene lays the foundation for a more in-depth understanding by explaining the basics of Newtonian physics, Einstein's special and general relativity, quantum mechanics and later on string theory and other theories beyond the Classical Model. Even though these topics have already been covered in The Elegant Universe, I didn't mind Dr. Greene covering them again. For one thing, many of these topics are fairly demanding, so having them explained multiple times is a boon, and for another, the focus was on what this means for the fabric of space-time and the direction of time's arrow.

In every succeeding chapter, the reader's understanding of space and time is deepened until we get to a point where our current understanding of these concepts lie. From quantum jitters, to entropy, to Higgs field (since discovered and confirmed), we are passengers on a journey of enlightenment and this journey has really only begun.

Another bonus are the latter chapters, which describe what contemporary science has to say about teleportation, time travel, wormholes and other popular phenomena known from science fiction. Certainly an interesting read, although this is where Brian Greene starts to rely a bit much on pop culture analogies involving The Simpsons and Springfield, which are fine in this book but get slightly out of hand in the multiverse book.

Definitely a great popular science book that one should read despite the not so promising data from the Large Hadron Collider regarding super-symmetry and other concepts beyond the Classical Model. But for me, it's time for a break from physics and cosmology for a while. Hopefully, they will crank the LHC to higher energies in the mean time and find some promising results. ( )
  matija2019 | Jan 8, 2019 |
(original review, 2004)

"Within each individual [time] slice, your thoughts and memories are sufficiently rich to yield a sense that time has continuously flowed to that moment. This feeling, this sensation that time is flowing, doesn't require previous moments—previous frames—to be "sequentially illuminated."

In "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene

I agree that this is at least as much philosophy as science, though mathematically based philosophy. But what irks me is that for all the pages of science books devoted to this subject, no one has pointed out that for us to experience moments sequentially (assuming those moments don't themselves move) our mind has to move through those moments. And movement entails time. So while time may be a spatial dimension, if Greene (and Godel, etc.) are right, then there must be at least one other dimension of time that allows our minds to move through the different moments that all exist and experience them sequentially.

I'm still not seeing a real explanation for why in any given time slice we have memories of past events, but not memories of future events. There's no reason for one but not the other. Moreover, does Greene address what this does for the idea of causality, which is so central in science? For example, "point mutations plus natural selection results in speciation." If all moments exist simultaneously from a four-dimension point of view, nothing causes anything.

A four-dimensional block universe is temporal. Time is one of its dimensions, so there's no lack of time. Time exists, as events can be ordered by the temporal relations "earlier than," "simultaneous with," and "later than." It's "temporal becoming" which doesn't exist—meaning that things don't really come to be and then cease to be, since every moment exists. Events can stand in causal relations in this kind of universe. Here's an example of what it would mean to stand in a causal relation:

For any entities x and y, x is the cause of y if and only if
(i) If x were not to exist, y would not exist, and
(ii) If y were not to exist, x would still exist.

Regarding temporal relations, they can exist if time is asymmetrical. Time is not the same in both directions. That's an obvious feature of time. The temporal relations "earlier than" and "later than" are surely not arbitrary. If you had to put a series of scrambled frames of a video in the correct order, you would know how to order them. Thus, the temporal relations of "earlier than" and "later than" seem to be meaningful even in a block universe. And still regarding causal relations, I think the description that I gave for such a relation is adequate for causally relating x and y. When you say, "I still don't see why such a description would hold in a block universe," remember that events in a block universe don’t exist independently of other events. If x is the cause of y, then it’s due to the fact that x exists that y exists. X could have failed to exist and thus, y would have failed to exist. There could have been different events in one location of spacetime if matters had been different in another location of spacetime. The reality of every moment in time just shows that there aren’t in fact different events, not that there couldn’t have been different events. An account of causation doesn’t require temporal becoming to be a feature of reality. Causation can be "tenseless."

Professor Greene may have gone a bit overboard trying to simplify things. Special relativity says that observers may not agree on when or where events happen, but they do have to agree that the events do actually happen and that the causal link that leads up to the event is the same. As for the distinction between the past and the future, that too is quite real. It's just that if there's no causal link between events, then it really doesn't matter which happens before which, e.g., a man sneezes in America and a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa. To an observer, the two events might happen at the same time. To another, the sneezing might happen before and to another, the sneezing might happen after. But since the events aren't causally related, it doesn't really matter. But if the man sneezing caused the butterfly to flap its wings then everyone has to agree that sneezing happened before. That is how time is actually determined. By causally linked events.

Much of this book is complete nonsense and lacks a philosophical understanding of relativity. Time is absolutely a real thing at least in the flow sense of it. Things are happening, changing, evolving, and that’s definitely not an illusion. The sense of simultaneity is an illusion and the rate at which different things experience the flow or change of time varies. The future is not a place that already exists and neither is the past. They are gone. The revolutionary war isn't still going on, it ended over 200 years ago. When physicists talk about the possibility of traveling to the future, what they really mean is you are slowing the flow of time for yourself relative to the area you are attempting to travel to in the future. If you traveled on a ship really fast outwards into space at half the speed of light for about an hour and then came back, you wouldn't have traveled to the future. For you it would have only been 2 hours but for earth it would have been much longer because the flow of time was different for you two. When you say things like "time travel" or "traveling to the future" you make it sound like the future place that you're going to travel to already exists. It doesn't. The same is true with the past.

As I wrote above, I suppose the key word here is causality, I believe that without causality there can be no time. mental or physical, without matter and energy there cannot be no time being observed....and where there is no time, well here then this is the illusion. It does appear however that present time is the activity of potentiality, during any instant..(Aristotle), movement in time is not the illusion, but the observation of it, ...time is time because there IS an instance of reality...reality ever changes in the things that are moving in time, this is because there is a cause for any cause, but the perception of time changes because of space time being met with energy...as with Einstein’s theories, by and large atoms and electrons are moving, stars are moving, the sea moves, the earth rotates...all that is a fact about what causes them (Newtonian physics). Every part comes from some other part during the present. I don't think that Einstein was saying that time changes, but rather the perception of it; the nature of light and energy never changes, but rather the "apparent" mass of matter changes or seems to distort reality of our time next to some other distant event, into another "now"? And this seems to be according to the general theory relativity. It would be an interesting idea if atoms have different “now times” traveling at their relativistic speeds from each other.

Physics has partially been in a crisis for a while because there is still a lack of understanding about time and exactly what it is. Sean Carroll and Lee Smolin have written about this extensively. It is possible to generalize science for popular consumption and not have to tell fairy tales.


NB: The proverbial idea of a loaf of bread representing entire spacetime, subject to slicing in different angles depending on the observers' relative motion may lead to conveying an inconsistent picture of reality. This implies that future already exists and all events that could ever take place have already occurred. If this was the reality, we ought to be able to predict the future. As much as I am a fan of Professor Brian Green, I sometimes feel that his enthusiasm of explaining concepts like those of spacetime that emerged from Special Theory of Relativity to ordinary people without the underlying math conveys a wrong picture to people. I applaud his zeal of explaining intricate physics to everyone, but I am afraid such explanations without the accompanying math will not provide the consistent picture that theories like Special Theory of Relativity actually paint. ( )
  antao | Oct 18, 2018 |
For months, I avoided writing something about Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. It was complex and only suited to summary in the most superficial way. Or so I tell myself. More likely, I am not up to the task. The book is an introduction to the current scientific understanding of the nature of space and time, emphasis on the former. While I wouldn't describe it as technical per se -- lacking the mathematics that would further illuminate but also complicate the material -- it is nonetheless challenging. The material requires the motivated nonphysicist to persist and focus, and the effort is well rewarded.

Greene offers a substantive review of quantum mechanics and general relativity, both necessary to examine current conceptions of space and time. The punchline, at the risk of imprecision, is that we cannot look at space in a common sense way at all. There are important ways in which space does not involve a conventional notion of locality; quantum phenomena resist explanations that rely on the familiar behavior of quotidian reality; at the smallest dimensions space and time themselves seem to lose meaning; ultimately there is no such thing as “empty” space, as what appears empty is actually roiling with the energy of quantum fluctuations.

Having established this basis, Greene uses these concepts to paint a picture of cosmic inflation and loop quantum gravity theories, aiming to show how these prominent approaches account for space itself and the vastness of the universe.

Where is the controversy, one might ask? Ultimately, the trajectory of the book leads to Green's great personal interest in physics, string theory. We see how this theory, if true, might address some of the current mysteries in our understanding of space and time. But there are those for whom them’s fightin’ words. Some argue that string theory lacks the quality of falsifiability, and as such cannot be taken seriously. If you are a staunch adherent of this position, you no doubt do not need to be reading this review.

The book was excellent and I highly recommend it. I found it all rather thrilling. ( )
1 vote stellarexplorer | Dec 29, 2017 |
Greene un ottimo divulgatore, riesce a spiegare concetti molto complicati. Senza convincere, però: sarà anche matematicamente consistente, ma senza prove scientifiche non si può considerare la teoria delle stringhe come la descrizione fisica dell'universo. Per fortuna, lo ammette anche l'autore: se le nostre teorie non riescono a confrontarsi con fenomeni misurabili e controllabili, rimangono nel limbo delle idee brillanti che possono anche non avere nulla a che fare con la realtà ( )
  AlessandraEtFabio | Dec 22, 2017 |
Carl Sagan and his Cosmos marked my childhood with great memories in 1980s, and it's great to see the tradition of successful scientists laying out a great narrative is alive and ticking in books such as this one by Brian Greene.

I'm a bit late to the party, so reading the book felt like a time travel. Having read it more than a decade after it's been written, I know that Higgs boson has been discovered, gravitational waves have been detected, and NASA's Gravity Probe B mission has been accomplished. Does that fact take anything away from the book's worth? Well, it depends on your perspective, but I would say "no, not at all!". Lacking the descriptions stellar scientific achievements that occurred in the last 13 years, the book is still a very good exposition of our current understanding of our universe and reality.

My only criticism can be summarized as the following: it's good for a popular science book to stay away from the technicalities of complex physics theories, but I think putting a bit of math in the end notes hardly helps, simply referring to the relevant sources for details would make it more concise. Moreover, I'd expect a more thorough description of loop quantum gravity, instead of a mere few pages of introduction and a very short comparison with string theory. ( )
1 vote EmreSevinc | Nov 12, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greene, Brianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bartocci, ClaudioEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davies, ErikNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Space and time capture the imagination like no other scientific subject. (Preface)
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Dal regno immutabile di Newton, dove lo spazio e il tempo sono assoluti, alla concezione fluida dello spazio-tempo di Einstein, alle tesi della meccanica quantistica, il fisico americano mostra come il mondo sia molto diverso da quello che l'esperienza comune potrebbe far pensare. Concentrandosi sull'enigma del tempo, Greene stabilisce che nessuna regola fisica conferma l'idea che esso scorra in una particolare direzione. Attraverso l'analisi della teoria del big bang, dimostra quanto le recenti teorie delle superstringhe e la M-teoria possano conciliare ogni cosa, dalla più piccola particella al più grande buco nero. Una visione che culmina in un "multiverso" dove spazio e tempo possono dissolversi in entità più sottili e fondamentali.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375727205, Paperback)

As a boy, Brian Greene read Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus and was transformed. Camus, in Greene's paraphrase, insisted that the hero triumphs "by relinquishing everything beyond immediate experience." After wrestling with this idea, however, Greene rejected Camus and realized that his true idols were physicists; scientists who struggled "to assess life and to experience the universe at all possible levels, not just those that happened to be accessible to our frail human senses." His driving question in The Fabric of the Cosmos, then, is fundamental: "What is reality?" Over sixteen chapters, he traces the evolving human understanding of the substrate of the universe, from classical physics to ten-dimensional M-Theory.

Assuming an audience of non-specialists, 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. For the most part, he succeeds. His language reflects a deep passion for science and a gift for translating concepts into poetic images. When explaining, for example, the inability to see the higher dimensions inherent in string theory, Greene writes: "We don't see them because of the way we see…like an ant walking along a lily pad…we could be floating within a grand, expansive, higher-dimensional space."

For Greene, Rhodes Scholar and professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, speculative science is not always as thorough and successful. His discussion of teleportation, for example, introduces and then quickly tables a valuable philosophical probing of identity. The paradoxes of time travel, however, are treated with greater depth, and his vision of life in a three-brane universe is compelling and--to use his description for quantum reality--"weird."

In the final pages Greene turns from science fiction back to the fringes of science fact, and he returns with rigor to frame discoveries likely to be made in the coming decades. "We are, most definitely, still wandering in the jungle," he concludes. Thanks to Greene, though, some of the underbrush has been cleared. --Patrick O'Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:06 -0400)

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A foremost string theorist discusses such topics as Newton's perspectives on space, Einstein's fusion of space and time, and recent breakthroughs on multidimensional universe theory.

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141011114, 0141037628

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