I have long been fascinated by time. Why does time's arrow appear to flow in only one direction? Why is it that our experience of time can vary depending on what particular sort of experience we are undergoing?
Adam Frank offers a story in two parts. The early chapters of his book are about the links between culture and time. His remarks on this theme range from the dawn of pre-history (the beginning of time?) through the development of human interest in various cycles of time: the day, the month, the year, and so on. As the accuracy of scientific observations increases so there is a shift in human perceptions of time. As the present time we (in the developed world) are captives to a time-world whose granularity is very tiny; our smart phones and GPS receivers drive us to divide time into ever smaller intervals. This exposition of time as a cultural artefact is excellent.
But with the researches of Einstein we have been taught that things are not quite as simple as we imagined. Time, space and velocity interact in ways that challenge our facile preconceptions. Even as Einstein's results were finding their way into the scientific mainstream, other researchers were probing even deeper imponderables: was there a beginning of time? Is time linear or circular? Can it even go backwards???
So the book shades into its mind-blowing second half, as Frank guides his readers through a bewildering collection of theories about time and its beginnings (or not) and the possibilities of multiple universes. One wonders: where is William of Occam when you need him?
So it is that some cosmologists have become disenchanted with the increasingly weird speculations about time and space and try to draw the scientific community back to evidence-based reasoning.
It is not to be wondered at that Adam Frank's book claims no right to reach firm conclusions. That is the state of play as the moment. As an exposition of the scientific approach to knowledge and truth this is a very stimulating book. Science has its skeptics and its devotees. Both would be well advised to read this book and pay heed to its remarks about how science proceeds.
I read the Kindle edition of the book, and did quite a lot of highlighting. There are many notes and references at the end of the book, so anyone who gets really hooked can easily discover where to go next. How many lifetimes have you got?