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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Overview .. And More Questions Raised, 27 Dec 2009
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This review is from: In Search of the Multiverse (Hardcover)
What an interesting book.

Let's first dispose, perhaps, of 2 small complaints, which apply to all of John Gribbin's books: John's irrepressible habit to include largely irrelevant biographical data in his texts - as in, in this book, Quote his draft thesis, typed up by his gilrlfriend Nancy Gore, whom he married the following year unquote or "he was born in Washington DC, on 11 November 1930". Frankly - who cares? Another slightly grating habit is the belaboring of extremely elementary points - such as the author's constant reminders of what "10 the power N" means - anyone who would have difficulty grasping this, even if they extraordinarily enough did not know it yet, but nevertheless read popular science books - would surely have got it the first time!

Now for the gist of the book. The book is an overview and analysis of the current state of play in our search for understanding our Universe, either as a unique Universe or as one within a Multiverse of Universes - where our Universe is one of many (a more technical, and in some ways narrower, overview of learned opinions on the subject ranging from strong acceptance to strong rejection of the concept(s) of the Multiverse is to be found in the book 'Universe or Multiverse, edited by Bernard Carr)

John Gribbin's book shines in many ways, but leaves some questions hanging and IMHO does not go far enough in certain areas. Commendably, he cites Edward Tryon's work - a work that had been rejected out of hand by many eminent Physicists, because Tryon was way ahead of his time when he first described in the late sixties our Universe as the possible result of a rogue quantum fluctuation in a pre-existing environment. The reason for the rejection was that the inflationary scenario (as put forward by Alan Guth) was not yet understood - yet, when I discussed Tryon's model with a couple of world-renowned Physicists as recently as 2005, several years after Alan Guth became famous, they still rejected Tryon's ideas out of hand.

A couple of points that are mentioned almost in passing by John Gribbin would require book-length treatment, and some meta-results seem assumed rather than proven. For instance, he commendably indicates, almost in passing, that time is quantized (an idea astonishingly still controversial in some quarters) and without further ado sets the value of the time quantum at the Planck value. There is absolutely no evidence that the time quantum indeed has that value - the Planck time solely sets an upper boundary to a range of possible time quantum values - there is most likely one time quantum value per Universe within the Metaverse.

Finally- Max Tegmark is a well-known proponent of mathematics as being the ultimate reality - and although John Gribbing cites Max Tegmark's work several times, and in addition rightly says in the course of the text that 'the truth lies in the equations', he does not explore enough the explanatory and predictive power that pure mathematics lends our attempts to explain the Universe.

As for the conclusion - no spoiler here - I am a whit worried that the conclusion does not address properly an issue it raises, that of backwards recurrence. Overall, a five-star effort, possibly better read in conjunction with Bernard Carr's compilatory volume, but an excellent book in its own right.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Dec 2009 19:14:36 GMT
Maybe one brief comment about the quantum of time - if we plug the mass of the universe, roughly 10 to the power 58 grams, into Heisenberg's equation describing a quantum fluctuation that can give rise to a Big Bang by risking to violate the duration limit of allowed existence of that fluctuation- the resulting value of the boundary time quantum is by many orders of magnitude smaller than the value of Planck time. This needs to be explored - Planck's value may also be different in different Universes. In any event, it may depend in part of the definition of a time quantum. If by this is meant the smallest observable value, then Planck time does the job, but if we define it as a minimum incompressible value with real-world, 'material' consequences - such as a fluctuation giving rise to a whole Universe under a Tryon scenario - then this needs to be further explored.

Posted on 22 Sep 2010 12:58:04 BDT
Ailsa says:
I actually like Gribbin's little biographical comments! They add colour, help to flesh out the picture of the scientists being described as real people and give historical context. As a scientist, I think it's always helpful to understand at least something about the history of science.

Posted on 25 Jan 2011 21:17:08 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Jan 2011 21:35:29 GMT
monica says:
Good review (though it always makes me squirm a bit when reviewers who one presumes don't know the author refer to him/her by first name.) I was disappointed to find that the reviewer's profile didn't indicate whether he'd a scientific background as knowing that would have helped me to better evaluate his review. Then I clicked onto 'comments'. M. Ransford, you seem to know of what you speak. I don't, but thanks for what seems a well-informed review.

Sorry, Ailsa, I find that sort of thing annoying. It seems like padding and how on earth can such irrelevancies make scientists seem like 'real people'? An aside like 'Ailsa had to fight great odds to pursue her love of physics, given that. . .' might be just forgiveable, but one like 'Ailsa, born in a cottage in Upper Bockhampton. . .' isn't. Neither contributes to knowledge of the history of science. Cheers, though.
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