The Fabric of the Cosmos

Hardcover $37.50

Knopf | Feb 10, 2004 | 592 Pages | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 | ISBN 9780375412882

  • Paperback$16.95

    Vintage | Feb 08, 2005 | 592 Pages | 5-3/16 x 8 | ISBN 9780375727207

  • Hardcover$37.50

    Knopf | Feb 10, 2004 | 592 Pages | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 | ISBN 9780375412882

  • Ebook$15.99

    Vintage | Dec 18, 2007 | 592 Pages | ISBN 9780307428530

  • Audiobook Download$12.95

    Random House Audio | Feb 10, 2004 | 360 Minutes | ISBN 9780739309278

  • Audiobook Download$32.50

    Random House Audio | Nov 12, 2003 | 1440 Minutes | ISBN 9781415902349

Praise

“Send[s] the reader’s imagination hurtling through space on an astonishing ride. . . . He is both a skilled and kindly explicator. His excitement for science on the threshold of vital breakthroughs is extremely contagious.” —The New York Times

“The best exposition and explanation of early 21st-century research into the fundamental nature of the universe as you are likely to find anywhere.” —Science

“Perhaps the single best explainer of abstruse science in the world today. . . . Greene has a gift for finding the right metaphor.” —The Washington Post

“I recommend Greene’s book to any nonexpert reader who wants an up-to-date account of theoretical physics, written in colloquial language that anyone can understand.” —Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books

“As pure intellectual adventure, this is about as good as it gets. . . . Even compared with A Brief History of Time, Greene’s book stands out for its sweeping ambition . . . stripping down the mystery from difficult concepts without watering down the science.” —Newsday

“Greene is as elegant as ever, cutting through the fog of complexity with insight and clarity. Space and time, you might even say, become putty in his hands.” —Los Angeles Times

“Highly informed, lucid and witty. . . . There is simply no better introduction to the strange wonders of general relativity and quantum mechanics, the fields of knowledge essential for any real understanding of space and time.” —Discover

“The author’s informed curiosity is inspiring and his enthusiasm infectious.” —Kansas City Star

“Mind-bending. . . . [Greene] is both a gifted theoretical physicist and a graceful popularizer [with] virtuoso explanatory skills.” —The Oregonian

“Brian Greene is the new Hawking, only better.” —The Times (London)

“Greene’s gravitational pull rivals a black hole’s.” —Newsweek

“Greene is an excellent teacher, humorous and quick. . . . Read [your friends] the passages of this book that boggle your mind. (You may find yourself reading them every single paragraph.).” —Boston Globe

“Inexhaustibly witty . . . a must-read for the huge constituency of lay readers enticed by the mysteries of cosmology.” —Sunday Times

“Relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe.” —Booklist, starred review

“Holds out the promise that we may one day explain how space and time have come to exist.” —Paul Davies, Nature

“Greene takes us to the limits of space and time.” —The Guardian

“Exciting stuff. . . . Introduces the reader to the mind-boggling landscape of cutting-edge theoretical physics, where mathematics rules supreme.” —The News & Observer

“One of the most entertaining and thought-provoking popular science books to have emerged in the last few years. The Elegant Universe was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Fabric of the Cosmos deserves to win it.” —Physics World

“In the space of 500 readable pages, Greene has brought us to the brink of twenty-first-century physics with the minimum of fuss.” —The Herald

“If anyone can popularize tough science, it’s Greene.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Greene is a marvelously talented exponent of physics. . . . A pleasure to read.” —Economist

“Magnificent . . . sends shivers down the spine.” —Financial Times

Author Q&A


A Conversation with Brian Greene


Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they’re not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try–and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it’s exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we’re making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for our sense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign–and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn’t flow–rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time’s arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn’t that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn’t make for a good excuse–at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane–like a bucket of spinning water–actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space–whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It’s a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What’s the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That’s a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world’s foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring–like a very, very thin rubber band–is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don’t worry, I can’t picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we’ve come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects–the branes–also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black–light can’t escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein?s statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that’s enough to avoid conflict with Einstein’s recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue–due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics–is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don’t know, but what we’re learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn’t matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better–made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.

 


A Conversation with Brian Greene


Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they’re not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try–and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it’s exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we’re making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for our sense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign–and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn’t flow–rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time’s arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn’t that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn’t make for a good excuse–at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane–like a bucket of spinning water–actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space–whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It’s a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What’s the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That’s a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world’s foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring–like a very, very thin rubber band–is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don’t worry, I can’t picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we’ve come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects–the branes–also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black–light can’t escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein?s statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that’s enough to avoid conflict with Einstein’s recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue–due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics–is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don’t know, but what we’re learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn’t matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better–made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.


From the Hardcover edition.

 


A Conversation with Brian Greene


Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they’re not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try–and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it’s exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we’re making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for our sense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign–and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn’t flow–rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time’s arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn’t that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn’t make for a good excuse–at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane–like a bucket of spinning water–actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space–whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It’s a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What’s the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That’s a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world’s foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring–like a very, very thin rubber band–is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don’t worry, I can’t picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we’ve come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects–the branes–also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black–light can’t escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein?s statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that’s enough to avoid conflict with Einstein’s recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue–due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics–is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don’t know, but what we’re learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn’t matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better–made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.


From the Hardcover edition.

 


A Conversation with Brian Greene


Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they’re not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try–and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it’s exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we’re making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for our sense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign–and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn’t flow–rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this "arrow of time" (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time’s arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn’t that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn’t make for a good excuse–at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane–like a bucket of spinning water–actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space–whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It’s a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What’s the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That’s a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world’s foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring–like a very, very thin rubber band–is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don’t worry, I can’t picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we’ve come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects–the branes–also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black–light can’t escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein?s statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that’s enough to avoid conflict with Einstein’s recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue–due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics–is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don’t know, but what we’re learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn’t matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better–made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.


From the Hardcover edition.

 


A Conversation with Brian Greene


Q: What would you say to people who think they are just not smart enough to ever fully wrap their minds around the nature of the universe?
A: For most people, the major hurdle in grasping modern insights into the nature of the universe is that these developments are usually phrased using mathematics. But when the impediment of mathematics is removed and the ideas themselves are rephrased in common language, they’re not that hard to understand. So, I say: give it a try–and most people do find that they grasp much more than they expected.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone can understand?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it’s exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we’re making.

Q: What made you decide to follow The Elegant Universe and string theory with an exploration of cosmology?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say that The Fabric of the Cosmos is a book on cosmology. Cosmology certainly plays a big part, but the major theme is our ever evolving understanding of space and time, and what it all means for our sense of reality. The Elegant Universe was a book about the search for a unified theory, in which space and time were supporting characters. As I was writing it, I almost had to keep space and time in check, as they so easily could have taken over. In The Fabric of the Cosmos, I let them have free reign–and space and time, with little effort, assumed the starring roles.

Q: You make some mind-boggling statements about the nature of time. Can you elaborate on the difference between how physicists and the rest of us view time?
A: Well, in day to day life, physicists view time in the same way that everyone else does. And that makes it all the more surprising when we examine how time appears in our current theoretical frameworks, because nowhere in our theories do we see the intuitive notion of time that we all embrace. Nowhere, for example, can we find the theoretical underpinnings for our sense that time flows from one second to the next. Instead, our theories seem to indicate that time doesn’t flow–rather, past, present, and future are all there, always, forever frozen in place. Moreover, we all sense that time has a direction pointing from what we call past to what we call future. And much of what we experience adheres fully to this “arrow of time” (e.g. eggs break but they never unbreak, we remember the past but not the future, etc.). But as familiar as this all is, explaining the origin of time’s arrow using our understanding of physics is no small task. And when we look at the problem closely, it seems to require that we understand what conditions were like at the birth of the universe. That is why I spend a good deal of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos discussing cosmology.

Q: Doesn’t that make it hard to catch a train?
A: It does, but it doesn’t make for a good excuse–at least not more than once.

Q: You discuss some seemingly simple things that turn out to be quite complex beneath the surface, like water sloshing around a spinning bucket. Can you explain?
A: Well, physics is ultimately about explaining what we see and experience. And some things that might seem mundane–like a bucket of spinning water–actually tap into some deep mysteries. As I describe in the book, Newton himself realized that a bucket of spinning water raised surprisingly delicate questions about the nature of space–whether or not space is a human abstraction or a real physical entity. It’s a question we are still pondering today.

Q: What’s the most startling and unexpected revelation about the universe that you have seen in your career as a physicist?
A: That’s a tough question. Probably the growing belief, due largely to string theory, that our universe may really have more than three space dimensions. That possibility really blows my mind.

Q: You are one of the world’s foremost experts on string theory. In your new book you also talk about superstrings and branes, what exactly is the difference?
A: Well, a superstring–like a very, very thin rubber band–is an object with only one dimension, the dimension that extends along its own length. Branes are simply objects with more dimensions. A two-brane has two dimensions (like a disk or frisbee), a three-brane has three
dimensions (like a lump of clay), and the higher dimensional branes have more dimensions (don’t worry, I can’t picture them either). The point is that superstring theory was initially thought to only contain strings. But in recent years, we’ve come to realize that these other, higher dimensional objects–the branes–also have an important role in the theory.

Q: What are black holes and what do they tell us about the nature of universe?
A: Black holes are regions of the universe in which so much mass has been crushed to such a small size that the pull of gravity is enormous. So strong, in fact, that if you get too close it is impossible to escape. Even a beam of light that gets to close will be sucked in, explaining why black holes are black–light can’t escape their powerful gravitational grip. Black holes provide theoreticians with an important theoretical laboratory to test ideas. Conditions within a black hole are so extreme, that by analyzing aspects of black holes we see space and time in an exotic environment, one that has shed important, and sometimes perplexing, new light an their fundamental nature.

Q: You say that a particle on one side of the universe can influence the action of a sister particle on the other side of the universe instantaneously. Does this violate Einstein?s statement that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light?
A: It is a delicate question, but most physicists would say no. The influence is such that no information can be sent from place to place at faster than light speed, and many believe that’s enough to avoid conflict with Einstein’s recognition that light sets a cosmic speed limit. I am among those who take this point of view, but as I stress in the book, this issue–due to remaining conundrums surrounding quantum mechanics–is not fully settled.

Q: How close are we to really understanding the nature of the universe?
A: Sometimes I think the final theory is just around the corner. Sometimes I think such thoughts are naive. The bottom line is I don’t know, but what we’re learning is so startling, that in a way it doesn’t matter. When or if we reach the deepest understanding, it will be a major moment for our species. But until then, making progress at unravelling the cosmos is its own reward.

Q: What do you think of the new Matrix movie?

A: Liked the first one better–made you think more about what constitutes reality. Second one had only a bit of that, and although the effects were great, I just felt exhausted by the end.

Also by Brian Greene

everydayebook.com
Back to Top