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The Fabric Of Cosmos : Popular Penguins - Brian Greene

The Fabric Of Cosmos : Popular Penguins

Paperback

Published: 1st September 2008
Ships: 10 to 14 business days
10 to 14 business days
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Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos is an astonishing grand tour of the universe and the best layman's guide to current thinking on 'how everything works'. This rollercoaster ride explores the mysteries of space and time; asks questions about the nature of reality, dark matter, space warps and wiggles; and will fundamentally alter the perceptions of anyone that's looked up at the stars and asked themselves: what's it all about?

About The Author

Brian Greene was educated at Harvard and Oxford, graduating in 1987. After spending time at Harvard and Cornell, he is currently a Professor of Physics and of Mathematics at Columbia. He is the author of the bestselling book about string theory, The Elegant Universe, which won the Aventis Prize in 2000.

None of the books in my father's dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes – a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall – that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I'm not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

'There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide,' the text began. I winced. "Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind nine or twelve categories," it continued, "comes afterward"; such questions, the text explained, were part of the game humanity played, but they deserved attention only after the one true issue had been settled. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by the Algerian-born philosopher and Nobel laureate Albert Camus. After a moment, the iciness of his words melted under the light of comprehension. Yes, of course, I thought. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows come home, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living. That's what it all comes down to. Everything else is detail.

My chance encounter with Camus' book must have occurred during an especially impressionable phase because, more than anything else I'd read, his words stayed with me. Time and again I'd imagine how various people I'd met, or heard about, or had seen on television would answer this primary of all questions. In retrospect, though, it was his second assertion – regarding the role of scientific progress – that, for me, proved particularly challenging. Camus acknowledged value in understanding the structure of the universe, but as far as I could tell, he rejected the possibility that such understanding could make any difference to our assessment of life's worth. Now, certainly, my teenage reading of existential philosophy was about as sophisticated as Bart Simpson's reading of Romantic poetry, but even so, Camus' conclusion struck me as off the mark. To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life's arena – the universe. I remember thinking that if our species dwelled in cavernous outcroppings buried deep underground and so had yet to discover the earth's surface, brilliant sunlight, an ocean breeze, and the stars that lie beyond, or if evolution had proceeded along a different pathway and we had yet to acquire any but the sense of touch, so everything we knew came only from our tactile impressions of our immediate environment, or if human mental faculties stopped developing during early childhood so our emotional and analytical skills never progressed beyond those of a five-year-old – in short, if our experiences painted but a paltry portrait of reality – our appraisal of life would be thoroughly compromised. When we finally found our way to earth's surface, or when we finally gained the ability to see, hear, smell, and taste, or when our minds were finally freed to develop as they ordinarily do, our collective view of life and the cosmos would, of necessity, change radically. Our previously compromised grasp of reality would have shed a very different light on that most fundamental of all philosophical questions.

But, you might ask, what of it? Surely, any sober assessment would conclude that although we might not understand everything about the universe – every aspect of how matter behaves or life functions – we are privy to the defining, broad-brush strokes gracing nature's canvas. Surely, as Camus intimated, progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as under-standing all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by our experiences.

To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. I certainly find myself thinking this way in day-to-day life; it's easy to be seduced by the face nature reveals directly to our senses. Yet, in the decades since first encountering Camus' text, I've learned that modern science tells a very different story. The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality. Lying just beneath the surface of the everyday is a world we'd hardly recognize. Followers of the occult, devotees of astrology, and those who hold to religious principles that speak to a reality beyond experience have, from widely varying perspectives, long since arrived at a similar conclusion. But that's not what I have in mind. I'm referring to the work of ingenious innovators and tireless researchers – the men and women of science – who have peeled back layer after layer of the cosmic onion, enigma by enigma, and revealed a universe that is at once surprising, unfamiliar, exciting, elegant, and thoroughly unlike what anyone ever expected.

ISBN: 9780141037622
ISBN-10: 0141037628
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 592
Published: 1st September 2008
Dimensions (cm): 18.1 x 11.4
Weight (kg): 18.2