By Chet Yarbrough
By: Brian Greene
Narrated by: Michael Prichard
Brian Greene’s primary field of research is “string theory”, a widely researched field of physics that purports to be a theory that explains everything about everything. In cosmic-inflation’ time, “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is dated–published in 2004. However, Greene provides an excellent overview of 21st century physics. He makes a welcome contribution to understanding physics by bridging a knowledge gap between scientists and the general public. “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is a spectacular tour of experimentally proven and currently unverified theories of physics.
“The Fabric of the Cosmos” stretches imagination from the infinitesimal to the infinite. Greene begins with a discussion of the substance of reality, builds to the fabric of space and cosmology, and ends with string theory to explain what is believed about physics by a large part of the scientific community. The most widely praised scientists are Newton, Maxwell, and the oracle of symmetry, Albert Einstein.
Newton is praised because of his prescient insight to the laws of physics for what mankind can see. Maxwell is praised for grasping the unity of scientific phenomena in his theory of electromagnetic radiation. Einstein is praised because of insight to the physics of the unseen through laws of special and general relativity.
Greene explains the history of sciences’ definition of space. In the beginning of science history, space is seen as a vacuum of nothingness but evolves into a something called dark matter and energy which is calculated to be 70% of the universe. Greene explores cosmological theories of the origin of the universe in the big bang theory which is refined by a theory of inflation, generated by an inflaton field. (An inflaton field, as opposed to a gravitational field, is theorized to push matter apart rather than pull it together.) The history of a static, immutable, Newtonian universe evolves into a quantum universe that begins by rapidly expanding; then, slowing down, and once again, rapidly expanding. Greene explains theories of how and why the definition of space has changed.
FABRIC OF SPACE-TIME: <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/nByekIx7XXw” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>iframe>
The phrase “the arrow of time” vivifies one of the most interesting parts of Greene’s book. It stirs one’s imagination about time travel, the possibility of time dimensions (e.g. the TV series “Fringe” or Haruki Murakami’s novel “1Q84”.), and why the incident of a broken egg does not, or likely cannot, reverse its course; with cogent explanations of entropy and why things seem to fall apart rather than come together.
THE ARROW OF TIME: <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/GdTMuivYF30” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>iframe>
Greene explores quantum physics and concretely reveals how a world directed by cause and effect is actually ruled by probabilities rather than certainties. Greene explains minute probabilities of movement–electrons simultaneously passing through slits in a screen are expanded to encompass cosmological actions of the universe; i.e. the proven theory of electrons that are both particles and waves is used as an example of quantum mechanics that have cosmological consequence. Greene explains concept and experiment in entanglement, “spooky action”, and wave and particle phenomena in field physics that have relevance to the origin of the universe.
QUANTUM MECHANICS: <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/45KGS1Ro-sc” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
And finally, Greene explains the idea of string theory, and one begins to understand why string theory captures most of the scientific interest of the physics’ community. Greene gives the example of a piece of iron, continually divided until it becomes an atom, an atom that divides into protons, and electrons; and electrons that divide into quarks; and finally, quarks that divide into strings. At this point, no further division is necessary, because string theory combines relativity with quantum mechanics by theorizing that a string vibrates (like a violin string) to create a probability of being either one thing or another but not a certainty of being either or the other thing. String theory offers a fundamental theory of the origin of everything, a vibrating string that makes the substance of the universe without guaranteeing one matter outcome or another; a construct that combines quantum theory with relativity. Strings create reality but not with certainty but with probability.
STRING THEORY: <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/_B0Kaf7xYMk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
The fundamental resistance to acceptance of this theory is that a string cannot be measured, and therefore, cannot be experimentally proven. The elemental size of a string, if it exists, is a billionth of a billionth of an electron’s size (the estimated size of a Planck length which is a mathematical construct too small to measure). Some physicists, like Lee Smolin, suggest that the “string theory band wagon” is over-loaded–sacrificing alternative research opportunities because of science funding commitments to a theory that cannot be verified by experiment. Smolin feels 40 years spent exploring string theory, without experimental proof, is hindering physics progress.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/Fxeb3Pc4PA4” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
String theory may not offer the right answers to the origin, constituent parts, or causative forces of the universe but Greene offers a considered explanation of what 21st century physicists are doing, and how their research may find Einstein’s most coveted objective–a unified field theory that explains everything about everything.