Swankivy's Reviews > The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
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really liked it

At long last I finished reading this! Detailed science books aren't the best bus books. :o

So this book about M-theory etc. was a great read. I very much enjoyed myself reading it and weirdly enough I kept laughing because Greene has a really amusing way of throwing in ridiculous humor while dreaming up weird analogies. I'm sure I wouldn't understand any of the mathematics behind what's described here, and to be honest even the layperson's explanation of the science was a stretch for me sometimes, but I was invested enough sometimes to wonder about what else has progressed on the questions raised in this book since it was written and have looked things up to find out what's newer in the field. Especially when Greene made references to the particle accelerator and what it might find when it was completed. I read some cool stuff about the Higgs Boson and all that. YEAH!

Anyway, some notes I took while reading are my best way to share my thoughts.

1. I giggled when the author described a scientist's reaction to the discovery of muons: "Who ordered THAT?"

2. His way of explaining the way physical objects change as they go faster was well thought out. Showing how it's happening every day but we can't detect it due to small measurements. Increasing them would make the difference apparent, and if we lived in a world where those measurements were standard, it'd be intuitive and invisible to us again.

3. There was a great explanation of how a race car reaches the finish line slower if it travels diagonally, since some of the time is taken away to achieve horizontal travel.

4. I find it really interesting that it apparently takes infinite power to push something faster than light because it becomes heavier and heavier as it approaches light speed, and that's why we can't go faster than light.

5. I was envisioning warped space like a rubber tarp before the author explained the 3D problem. I am secretly a physicist after all!

6. In a discussion of why energy is in lumps (discussing Planck's Constant): "It's as if nature allows a whole pint of beer or no beer at all." Haha.

7. It's so interesting that observing matter affects it (photos hitting it has an effect), and if we lessened the photons we'd also be less likely to be able to determine its location because of the wave's length. And the electrons become "frantic" when they're cornered so they can't have their speed or location determined at the same time.

8. The quantum tunneling descriptions were effective! It was cool to learn that electrons can go through stuff because of the space around the particles, but that it is unlikely that it will happen because being lucky enough for that to happen takes a really long time.

9. The fifth level of magnification showing quantum froth was really effective. The borrowing and paying back analogy makes sense to explain why over long distances space seems flat, like a dot matrix printer makes images that look smooth.

10. The "Price is Right" analogy for the large amount of money (energy) leaving a small amount down to the penny was a good way to explain why the specifics are too difficult for existing math to figure out.

11. It's true that "elegance" and aesthetic doesn't prove a theory. We want theories to be beautiful, but if they're proved wrong we have to reject them, even if it's tempting to assume the elegance means it's accurate. But aesthetic does figure into choices in the research direction for theories.

12. Sypersymmetry demands an as yet undetected super-partner particle. They're calling the one for electron "selectron." Also, "squark" and "sneutrino." I laughed.

13. I like that they're allowing for the fact that the universe might not have the property of supersymmetry just because it would be mathematically matchy.

14. The metaphor of 5 different theories of what happened to Earhart was a great way to explain why 5 slightly different superstring theories makes the idea itself less trustworthy.

15. "Comings and Goings of a Garden Hose." I laughed. Maybe Kaluza K. Line came up with this epiphany just to combat the drudgery of staring at his neighbor's dot-eye. According to Linestein, there's a way to expand that dimension!

16. These ways of explaining the 10 dimensions (6 of them curled up in larger ones) WAS SO COOL.

17. I really love the story of how Greene learned that another paper had duplicated the same findings as his and mirror symmetry in string theory is A THING. With holes that match up in Calabi-Yau shapes. !!!!!!

18. I like how Greene explains counting a huge bin of oranges and then having a solution presented with a friend showing up with a box and how many boxes there were when the oranges were delivered. This is an analogy for why doing calculations on a mirror-imaged Calabi-Yau shape is sometimes easier than doing the math on its first one.

19. The rivalry between the mathematicians and the physicists--I giggled a lot. I love that they compared their results, got different answers, and later found an error in the math camp's computer code that when fixed yielded the physics answer. After mining math for tools all this time, physics can give back, as it also solved other insurmountable math issues!

20. I love the human element to the scientists' research into flop transitions and how Greene and Morrison had to teach each other their disciplines to make progress. They wanted to beat Witten to a discovery.

21. I liked the story of working with Aspinwall to determine the shape of the Calabi-Yau shape they're looking for and having to buy him beer to make him come in on Saturday.

22. Nobody knows the string coupling constant. Oy.

23. Black holes have no "hair." They are all the same as each other. Small black holes will act just like large black holes in experiments.

24. The revisions Greene and Morrison made after posting their article the first time resulted from having devil's advocate conversations. Haha.

25. Hawking and Thorne had a bet with Preskill about whether information can reemerge after a black hole evaporates. Loser buys the winner an encyclopedia!

I love learning about all these innovations and I love what dorks scientists are. I admire their imagination and passion, and even though most of the rest of the world will have no idea when they make their breakthroughs, I love all these ideas and I want to know where they've gone since.
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Reading Progress

September 3, 2008 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
June 22, 2019 – Started Reading
June 22, 2019 – Shelved
September 18, 2019 – Finished Reading

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