By Chet Yarbrough
By: Dave Goldberg, Jeff Blomquist
Narrated by: Mark F. Smith
Dave Goldberg is a physicist with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Princeton University
and Jeff Blomquist is an engineer at Boeing Aerospace.
Goldberg and Blomquist attempt to glorify and simplify the
study of physics by praising its inherent fascination and potential for answering questions about the universe. However, “A User’s Guide to the Universe” fails to enlighten the uninformed; i.e. it fails because no more is understood about physics than a child knows about birth when told that babies come from mother’s wombs rather than stork’s beaks.
The authors gain attention by asking simple questions like “What is empty space made of?” but lose their audience by giving weak answers; e.g. the authors answer is that 75% of space is dark matter and energy; and then quote a science fiction spoof called “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”—“Space…is big. Really big”; so, the listener is lead to understand space is big and made up of 75% of something unknown. It is not that the information is inaccurate or incomplete based on current science, but it is unsatisfying.
The authors go on to explain the Large Hadron Collider is searching for Higgs-Boson particles that may be quite large, and may be Physics WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) that hold matter together like invisible glue.
New words like Higgs-Boson and WIMP are mixed with old words like “big” and “glue” but “What is empty space made of?” The operative word “may” means no one presently knows.
In fairness, Goldberg and Blomquist help one understand some of the vocabulary of physics and cosmology but naming and explaining are two different arguments that confuse their answers; in part, because answers remain as unverifiable to physicists as the general public.
A unified field theory was a life-long pursuit of Albert Einstein; however, neither he nor any of his successor physicists have been able to find the golden key that explains everything about everything. String theory is an elegant idea that may be the golden key; on the other hand, it may be a dead-end because a string’s miniscule size is currently un-measurable, and consequently untestable. Additionally, for the theory to work, strings require 7 or 8 more spatial dimensions than the known 3 dimensional world (excluding time).
The authors spend a good deal of time explaining how movies and books ignore the fundamental physics of the universe. They note that time travel to a past, before a time machine’s invention, is impossible. This is not about physics; i.e. it is about logic.
Goldberg and Blomquist explore the theoretical frame-work of life by explaining how the “Big Bang” is the beginning of the physical universe, verified by measurements of an expanding universe and celestial noise that infers an original event. This is a well-trodden explanation of the beginning of the universe but no new insight is given to what existed before the “…Bang” or what caused the singularity.
No “…Users Guide to the Universe” would be complete without a discussion of extraterrestrial life but the limits of the discussion are the probabilistic nature of many planets in many universes that might have capacity to support life.
So, like the child that asks where we came from when told “children do come from mother’s wombs; not stork’s beaks”, one is no better informed about physics from “A User’s Guide to the Universe” than a child’s question about his origin.
[contact-form-7 id=”4427″ title=”What did you think about the review?”]