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How the Universe Got its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space [Paperback]

Janna Levin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Jan 2003
Conventional wisdom says the universe is infinite. But could it be finite, merely giving the illusion of infinity? Modern science is beginning to drag this abstract issue into the realm of the real, the tangible and the observable. HOW THE UNIVERSE GOT ITS SPOTS looks at how science is coming up sharp against the mind-boggling idea that the universe may be finite. Through a decade of observation and thought-experiment, we have started to chart out the universe in which we live, just as we have mapped the oceans and continents of our planet. Through a kind of cosmic archaeology and without leaving Earth, we can look at the pattern of hot spots left over from the big bang and begin to trace the 'shape of space'. Beautifully written in a colloquial style by a world authority, Janna Levin explores our aspirations to observe our universe and contemplate our deep connection with it.


Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition edition (2 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753813769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753813768
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 909,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

How the Universe Got its Spots is the diary of a couple of years in the life of Janna Levin, a young theoretical physicist specialising in cosmology. Combining a discussion of her research with more personal reflections on how her work and personal life interact, it's a warm and revealing record of the working life of a scientist.

Levin's current specialism is topology, the global shape and connectedness of space. With the aid of numerous diagrams she manages to explain the basic ideas in lay terms, which is no mean feat for a theory that strives to move beyond Einstein. General relativity tells us how space curves locally, but it can't determine the overall shape of the universe, nor whether it's infinite or bounded. If it's finite, light travelling in a straight line will eventually return to its starting point, like a ship sailing around the Earth. In a tiny universe we would see multiple copies of ourselves as light circled around and around. The real universe is at least billions of light years across, and Levin is modelling the patterns of spots that would appear in the microwave background radiation if space had various different topologies.

One day, orbiting telescopes may give us the data we need to determine the actual shape of the universe. We may not have the answers yet, but what this book does have is a real insight into the motivations of a theoretical physicist as she plays with notions so far beyond everyday life that they boggle the mind. It's reassuring to know that Levin is boggling too. --Elizabeth Sourbut --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Janna was listed as one of three up and coming media stars in the THES this month and her new paperback is receiving good reviews, as the INDEPENDENT says, it's "almost the Fever Pitch of astrophysics" "connects the dots for the la

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars reader from barrowford, uk 22 April 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Interested in the cosmos? Got some physics? (Thanks Mrs Perry, I'm sorry I was such a dunce, but I was a FASCINATED dunce). Have you tried to wrap your head around the concept of space being curved, and found your brains curdling and your knees turning green? If so, this is the book for you. Forget those rubbery sheet models, this writer knows how to make you SEE how space could be finite and saddle shaped (my favourite), or flat and infinite. Every model she describes is completely comprehensible, even if you don't have elucidating dreams about it like I did..... This is an excellent, human-sized read, written by a woman with a real life and a handle on both her everyday experience AND the mind-bending mysteries of life, the universe, etc.

No really, it could be saddle shaped... like a Pringle....... honest....
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human! 22 Oct 2002
Format:Hardcover
A wonderfully understandable and personalised diary. Touches on most, if not all relevent theories in the field, but in a way which us mere humans can understand. Excellently written.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For incredibley brilliant daughter 7 Nov 2012
By Arch
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For incredibley brilliant daughter who just has not read it yet but maybe I will soon as it looks pretty good
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars travelogue on science and cosmology more than hard descripitions 9 Jun 2007
By Matt Dahlquist - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author states that her concept for the book is a series of essays written to her mom, mostly about her work and the science. It is an interesting collection of essays that sums up the essence of cosmological topology (what shape is the universe, what shape did it have in earlier stages) for a layman audience. It lacks the complex mathematics behind the ideas and the proofs and spends a fair bit of time with her own tribulations in a shakey marriage and the processes of academic science, so if you want just the meat this isn't your book. I found it entertaining, interesting and an easy read.
0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is author the leopard with her spots? 4 April 2007
By Roger Bagula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
How the Leopard Changed Its Spots : The Evolution of Complexity

The book seems to have a very personal diary entry quality.

I'm not buying that. The author has changed her spots.

Levin talks about four major models:

1) her first model the E8 soccer ball model ( 12 o)

2) Week's model: minimal manifold model ( near A4 by vertice number at 22 or 23 : can also fit my elliptical E8)

3) Thurston's model ( SO(6) or SU(4) or A3) broken Weeks's Model ?

4) Levin's second model as hexagonal prism D6 model ( again 12 vertices): a broken E8 model?

She uses a standing wave like elliptical projection method for her "spots spheres".

She's probably our generation's Sophie Germaine.

It seems like she tends to "use" men and

thinks more like a man than a woman at times.

They say only once a century does a woman come along

who has the abilities of a kind that are comparable to the top men.

But it appears she is still pretty young and self centered.

She has sowed it up in a book

when she should have been studying

to get as much knowledge as she needed first?

It is at least good to know that people like her are around who

have some fractal background

although she seem to have ignored that in her book.

She seems somewhat mathematically naive in terms of :

1) group theory/ Lie algebras

2) theory of surfaces/ standing waves

3) discrete mathematics

I really can't fault her much as it has taken me many years to develop a knowledge in these areas.

From the picture "Map" result I got was D=Sqrt[3] on the elliptical projection: that would be

D=Sqrt[3]+1 =~2.73 which is a number associated with SU(3) or A2 in the curvature Lie Algebra approach.

I would need to do a box counting dimension analysis

of the different models in the Levin projections to get an idea which is the best in fractal terms.

There is no indication that she or the people she is working with have taken that step.

My indication is that the Week's model is more likely

using my own E8 elliptical invariant Klein-Gordon,

but neither of them had that when they did their work.

I think that the author should read Joao Magueijo's book

as well.

Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation
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