The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

The international bestseller that inspired a major Nova special and sparked a new understanding of the universe, now with a new preface and epilogue.Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away layers of mystery to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter—from the small...

Title:The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
Author:
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ISBN:039333810X
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:464 pages

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory Reviews

  • Alisha
    Apr 12, 2007

    I left Christianity a few years ago and swore off religion altogether; however, after reading this book, string theory has become tantamount to religion in my life. Brian Greene writes beautifully about particles, planets, and the origins of our universe as we know it today. It is a heavy book- I don't recommend it for anyone who wants a quick, easy read. It took me almost two months to get through, but I learned a tremendous amount and came away in complete awe of the world and the forces at wo

    I left Christianity a few years ago and swore off religion altogether; however, after reading this book, string theory has become tantamount to religion in my life. Brian Greene writes beautifully about particles, planets, and the origins of our universe as we know it today. It is a heavy book- I don't recommend it for anyone who wants a quick, easy read. It took me almost two months to get through, but I learned a tremendous amount and came away in complete awe of the world and the forces at work in it today. Since Green wrote his book string theory has come under intense scrutiny; despite this, I would still support this book on the basis that it is gorgeously written, based in fact (many of the experiments and proofs were done by Greene himself), and incredibly informative. A vertible Bible of where we came from, where we're going and the incredibly complex way things function in this glorious universe of ours.

  • Rob
    Apr 30, 2008

    is "The Bible" of superstring theory[*:].

    I close the covers of

    with powerfully mixed feelings. On the one hand, Brian Greene gives us a lucidly-written layman's-terms explanation for high-concept modern physics, providing an excellent survey of 20th century science and painting a vivid picture of a promising strategy for reconciling the discrepancies in the otherwise dominant theories. On the other hand, ab

    is "The Bible" of superstring theory[*:].

    I close the covers of

    with powerfully mixed feelings. On the one hand, Brian Greene gives us a lucidly-written layman's-terms explanation for high-concept modern physics, providing an excellent survey of 20th century science and painting a vivid picture of a promising strategy for reconciling the discrepancies in the otherwise dominant theories. On the other hand, about half-way through the text, it devolves into (what feels like) a navel-gazing vanity project that fails to connect that promising strategy with the target audience (

    , the layman that actually gives a damn about modern science).

    To be clear: the first third of the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Brian Greene is a cogent writer with a wonderful pedagogical streak that is able to produce a clear image of some otherwise hard-to-decipher concepts in modern physics. Because of

    , I feel like I now have a fairly good understanding of the core concepts underlying Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics (

    , Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). Greene is also able to give a decent explanation regarding how these theories break down when you try to "merge" them (

    , like when you come up with "infinite energy" and/or "infinite mass" and/or "infinite probabilities" through calculations of black holes or the Big Bang).

    This first third of the book is very accessible, very enjoyable, and very informative. Engaging, fascinating, and extremely powerful.

    Somewhere during that potent 130-150 pages, Greene remarks (something to the effect of):

    (Not a quote, but I'm sure you know what I'm getting at...)

    And with that statement does Dr. Greene undermine the remaining two-thirds of the book. After introducing string theory, after explaining that it is a strategy with the potential to marry relativity and quantum mechanics, after getting you (the lay-reader) excited that you too will have some insight into the critical significance that is superstring theory — he glosses over some math (which doesn't really feel like physics after that first 120 pages) and more/less asks you to "bear with me here, trust me..."

    after introducing the concept of strings, the text rushes into a discussion of 6-dimensional "curled up"

    without really giving a good way of visualizing that whole mess[†:].

    after 2 or 3 chapters about string theory where Greene is introducing it and discussing how it might reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, he starts to segue into reconciling aspects of string theory with itself — looping back (like its own subject strings) on itself in a perverse recursion full of mathematical adjustments and jargon.

    in the midst of discussing how this New Science, and where you expect it to loop back on the promised explanations for the Old Science, Greene veers off into a series of anecdotes about "this one time at Harvard..." and/or "once at Princeton we stayed up all night and..." — which really just seemed a little gratuitous.

    By the time I realized what was happening, my attitude was already tainted. Perhaps I could have extracted more of the science if my cynicism hadn't kicked in so virulently and so early on in the reading. Perhaps spending more time with the end-notes will prove fruitful. Or perhaps on a future, subsequent follow-up reading I will discover that I was right the first time and we have 150 or so pages of incredible science writing and the remainder is chintzy vanity project[‡:].

    ★★★★★

    ★★★☆☆

    ★★☆☆☆

    ---

    [*:] Let's hear it for faith-based science?

    [†:] This is partly me being overly critical of Greene's (in my opinion) cavalier treatment of the Calabi-Yau concepts immediately following their introduction. There are some end-notes and citations for further reading, and he does attempt to dedicate some space in the main text to the idea — but his "dumbing down" of the Calabi-Yau manifolds to the "ant in the garden hose" analogy just doesn't really address it with sufficient vigor. Not after the incredible work he did in the earlier chapters

    explaining relativity and quantum mechanics. I suppose I may have been more satisfied with something along the lines of "you have your time dimension, your three 'regular' space dimensions, and then these other six are really dedicated to providing reference points to describing the shape and vibration of the string IN THE THREE DIMENSIONS YOU ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH" — but no such explanation was there. If that's even really what he might have meant.

    [‡:] Which I mean in the nicest possible way...? To be fair, Greene leaves plenty of room throughout the text to permit himself (and his colleagues studying superstring theory) to be "wrong". It reminds me of when Robert Wright hedges his bets in

    , saying that the evolutionary psychology approach (as championed by himself, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Robert Trivers, and others) is a strong one that explains a whole lot but you better be careful before you go painting too broad of a stroke with those kinds of theories... Greene seems to do similar hedging, admitting that aspects of superstring theory seem tenuous (esp. when you consider how many "adjustments" they perform while "fine-tuning" a given aspect of the theory(s)) and that they (as scientists) are wise to temper their enthusiasm, to not lose sight of goals like "experimental verification". But then there's Greene's enthusiasm — which can easily electrify the reader but also just as easily undermine all of that careful hedging.

  • Stephen
    Aug 30, 2008

    4.0 to 4.5 stars. There is a great quote to the effect that "if you can't explain a subject in non-technical terms so that a lay person can understand it than you haven't really mastered the subject yourself." On that basis, it is clear that

    has DEFINITELY mastered the subject of general relatively, quantum dynanmics and string theory (at least to the extent present technology allows). For such a complicated and often "non intuitive" subject, Greene does an excellent job of laying o

    4.0 to 4.5 stars. There is a great quote to the effect that "if you can't explain a subject in non-technical terms so that a lay person can understand it than you haven't really mastered the subject yourself." On that basis, it is clear that

    has DEFINITELY mastered the subject of general relatively, quantum dynanmics and string theory (at least to the extent present technology allows). For such a complicated and often "non intuitive" subject, Greene does an excellent job of laying out in understandable terms: (1) the evolution of special relativity into general relativity; (2) the basics of quantum dynamics; (3) the fundamental conflict between general relativity and quantum dynamics; and (4) the amazing development of string theory and (5) the prospects for string theory to be able to resolve the conflcit between general relativity and quantum mechanics and come up with a Unified Theory of Everything (the fabled TOE).

    Now even with Greene's fantastic explanations, once we got beyond the basics of string theory and onto such concepts as 10 "spatial" dimensions, mirror symmetry and Calabi-Yau manifolds, there were times when the subject matter was just difficult to grasp on an intuitive level. However, Greene was quick to point out that the reader (i.e., me) was not alone in that confusion and it did not prevent me from walking away with a much better understanding of these difficult topics. It also made me interested in learning more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

  • Manny
    Dec 16, 2008

    When I read this book, I remember thinking it was pretty interesting, but I am surprised how few insights I have retained... to be honest, hardly any. Smolin's

    , which I read much more recently, suggests that string theory is in big trouble, and right now I am more tempted to side with Smolin.

    There's this old Nasrudin story, where he's somehow ended up as judge in a court case. The D.A. really makes a good case, and Nasrudin can't r

    When I read this book, I remember thinking it was pretty interesting, but I am surprised how few insights I have retained... to be honest, hardly any. Smolin's

    , which I read much more recently, suggests that string theory is in big trouble, and right now I am more tempted to side with Smolin.

    There's this old Nasrudin story, where he's somehow ended up as judge in a court case. The D.A. really makes a good case, and Nasrudin can't restrain himself. "Yes, you're right!" he shouts. Then the defense lawyer gets up and makes his pitch, and Nasrudin is equally impressed. "Yes, you're right!" he shouts again. The court recorder clears his throat and leans over towards Nasrudin. "Your honor," he says respectfully, "they can't

    be right!". Nasrudin shakes his head. "Yes, you're right!" he agrees.

    Well, between Greene and Smolin I feel a bit like Nasrudin, but luckily I am not the judge here. Am I just agreeing with Smolin because I heard him most recently? Maybe. But trying to correct for that, I still think that there is a reason why Smolin seems more convincing and memorable, and why very little of what Greene says has stuck. String theory has become so divorced from experimental reality that it rarely if ever gives you that feeling you get from good science, of suddenly grasping a real physical phenomenon that you have known about for a while, but not understood.

    I guess the example that makes me least happy is supersymmetry, according to which every particle has a supersymmetric partner. Compare this with the discovery of the periodic table in the late 19th century, or the development of the Standard Theory in the 60s and 70s. There, insightful people gradually realized that objects (atoms in the first case, subatomic particles in the second) were related in a complicated pattern. Most of the time the pattern fit, but there were a few holes, and they were later able to find the things (new elements, new particles) that filled in the holes! I was astonished to read that there is

    which has a known supersymmetric partner - so far, it's all hypothesis, and perhaps none of these "selectrons", "photinos" etc actually exist. I'm not saying that this means supersymmetry is wrong; I'm just saying it means I don't find it exciting.

    Maybe next year they will get the LHC working, discover a whole slew of supersymmetric partners (even one would be a lot), and put string theory on a proper experimental footing. If that happens, I'm sure I'll go back to reading books on this subject; I won't be able to stop myself. But until then, well, it may be beautiful math, but I feel no emotional connection to it. I'd love to hear from people who disagree, and can explain to me just what it is I'm missing out on.

    __________________________________

    We had another particle physicist over for dinner last night. He'd come mainly to play chess, but when I found out that he was involved in looking for supersymmetric particles I took the opportunity to ask how it was going. Well: assuming he's to be trusted, and he sounded pretty knowledgeable on the subject, we should know pretty soon. The LHC is now up to high enough energies. They're collecting data. If supersymmetric particles exist, there is every reason to suppose that we'll have clear evidence of them within a year or two.

    I wondered what would happen if they

    find any supersymmetric particles? Would the theoreticians just retreat into saying that they needed a more powerful collider? Not so, said my informant; if the particles can't be found at the current range of energies, the predictions were wrong. Sounds like we're finally getting a straight up-or-down vote.

    String theory, you can run but you can't hide!

    __________________________________

    I knew it was too good to be true. We had yet another particle physicist over, whose PhD topic had been something to do with searching for a supersymmetric quark. I asked her if it really was the case that we'd soon know if supersymmetric particles existed.

    Alas, it turns out that, although the energies they're now reaching in the LHC are indeed sufficient to find supersymmetric particle according to the mainstream versions of string theory, there are other versions which predict higher energies - energies which are outside the LHC's range.

    "Of course," she added, "the mainstream version is the one that contains the original motivation for supersymmetry. If they retreat to one of the other versions, then most of the rationale disappears. But people have a lot riding on string theory."

    "That's terrible!" I said indignantly. She just shrugged her shoulders.

    __________________________________

    Browsing the physics section at the South Australian State Library earlier this week, I picked up a copy of Becker, Becker and Schwarz's

    (2007). The introduction says clearly that supersymmetry is essential to string theory/M-theory, and moreover that the LHC should be able to reach high enough energies to produce supersymmetric particles, if they do in fact exist. Consulting Google Scholar, my impression is that the book is highly respected: I see 661 citations.

    Eight years later, no supersymmetric particles have been observed. But no doubt string theorists have an explanation for this inconvenient fact.

    __________________________________

    Hey, if you think

    being mean to those poor string theorists, just look at what Randall Munroe said the other day!

  • Szplug
    Mar 03, 2010

    Greene's eminently readable attempt to explain the possibilities for

    to provide the linchpin for the long-awaited-and-desired merger of gravity with the two nuclear and electromagnetic forces into a Grand United Theory. Frankly, the entire idea of

    dimensions—of a universe containing perhaps ten, twelve, eighteen dimensions, of which we are only capable of perceiving four—is suitably mind-blowing and humbling at the same time; and although Greene's low-culture themed

    Greene's eminently readable attempt to explain the possibilities for

    to provide the linchpin for the long-awaited-and-desired merger of gravity with the two nuclear and electromagnetic forces into a Grand United Theory. Frankly, the entire idea of

    dimensions—of a universe containing perhaps ten, twelve, eighteen dimensions, of which we are only capable of perceiving four—is suitably mind-blowing and humbling at the same time; and although Greene's low-culture themed analogies that frequently pop-up to help elucidate the complex concepts he is trying to convey may irritate at times, he does a bang-up job in making it understandable without blotting the outlines in thick

    or mathematics. Surfer-Dude physicist Garrett Lisi submitted an

    based upon the stunningly beautiful symmetry of Lie Groups as an alternative to String Theory a couple of years after the publication of Greene's follow-up

    ; it will be interesting to see how Lisi's proposal affects the future of string/superstring theory as the most likely path towards that elusive group-wedding of the four forces. I believe that several physicists have now concluded that Lisi's theory doesn't hold up, but I'm intrigued by the rumblings I've encountered by others who consider

    to be a corridor that is proving of a confining narrowness, one that has consumed a disproportionate amount of the energy from some of the top minds in this field in pursuit of a theory that more and more appears irreconcilably inelegant and complex for the unifying end that it is meant to achieve. I have some potentially stunning books on the shelf awaiting my attention—in particular, Lisa Randall's

    , Michio Kaku's

    , Michael Fayer's

    , and Lee Smolin's

    —all of which I have unfortunately neglected for some time now, but are ripe with the promise of immense rewards to the mind when their contents are finally consumed.

    Personally, one of the most stimulating moments in the

    was Greene's articulation of how we, as humans, are

    ; thus tickling my brain with the thought that

    —immune to the mundane effects of forward-marching time—is a bridge towards an omnipotent godhead. If light is moving at the speed of light through space—not time—is it possible that its entire permutation from

    through to

    would be accessible in a single given moment of time, i.e, if some manner of consciousness—not necessarily as we conceive of it—was to exist at that level of configuration, would the entirety of past, present, and future—the ticking tenure that provides the structural frame for the playing out of human existence—be available? At temporal lightspeed, can any photon wave/particle duality be positionally known within Space-Time as it cannot to our Time-delimited minds? Would access to this particular modular level of existence—as alien as it may be to comprehend—be the beginnings of omniscience and the hierarchical understanding of how the universe plays out/was meant to play out/will play out? As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass becomes infinite—would the same exponential assault waylay ever-present light as it approaches the speed of time? Would fulgent awareness become infinitely sluggish or limited as it neared this clock-marked barrier? From the—for lack of a better word—

    of Lightspeed, would there exist differing quantum pathways that wend throughout the four perceivable dimensions, and from a

    enough level, will they appear identical at select points of chronological evolution? Thanks Brian, for zapping me like you did into further confused wonder.

  • Marvin
    Mar 17, 2011

    Do I understand string theory? Not sure.

    Do I understand M theory? A little bit but don't ask for any algebraic reasoning.

    Do I know exactly what a Calabi-Yau is? Not really but I think they look a little like the hair balls from my cat.

    This is the second time I've equated quantum physics and all its detours to a hair-ball. That's because I can study a hair ball and still have no idea what it is for and why they exist. String Theory and the elusive TOE is in the same category. I could go on my en

    Do I understand string theory? Not sure.

    Do I understand M theory? A little bit but don't ask for any algebraic reasoning.

    Do I know exactly what a Calabi-Yau is? Not really but I think they look a little like the hair balls from my cat.

    This is the second time I've equated quantum physics and all its detours to a hair-ball. That's because I can study a hair ball and still have no idea what it is for and why they exist. String Theory and the elusive TOE is in the same category. I could go on my entire life not knowing about them but now that I do, I need to know why. Newton, Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, and my cat can't all be right. Or can they?

    That is essentially the dilemma of string theory and the book. Greene does a great job of putting everything in layman's term but there is a point which he must exceed the intellectual ionosphere and soar into the incalculable. I really like this type of book. The challenge is the fun. But rest assured when the scientists get their act together and write an Idiot's guide to The Unified Theory Of Everything, I'll be the first in line.

    P. S. Hair balls and string theories have something else in common. Once you tore one apart, you can never get your hands clean.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Aug 29, 2011

    To think I put all that effort to understand a discredited theory...

  • يونس عمارة
    Aug 23, 2013

    لنقل ان الفيزياء تنقسم الى نظريات .

    فيزياء كلاسيكة ، فيزياء حديثة .

    الفيزياء الكلاسيكة تفسر الكون على اساس معادلات نيوتن وهي صادقة لحد كبير في التنبوءات ومازالت تستعمل وتدرس في المدارس لحد الآن.

    الحديثة تنقسم الى عدة اقسام : نظرية النسبية العامة والخاصة . نظرية الكم ، نظرية الاوتار الفائقة التي ادعت انها جمعت كل النظريات السابقة ..هناك ايضا سيناريوهات اخرى منها نظرية –ام و عدة اقتراحات اخرى تسمى بنظريات كل شيء ..

    ان رأيت ان الامر صعب –كما ظهر لي من قبل – فاقرا كتاب (الكون الانيق ) لبرايان غرين ويكفي

    لنقل ان الفيزياء تنقسم الى نظريات .

    فيزياء كلاسيكة ، فيزياء حديثة .

    الفيزياء الكلاسيكة تفسر الكون على اساس معادلات نيوتن وهي صادقة لحد كبير في التنبوءات ومازالت تستعمل وتدرس في المدارس لحد الآن.

    الحديثة تنقسم الى عدة اقسام : نظرية النسبية العامة والخاصة . نظرية الكم ، نظرية الاوتار الفائقة التي ادعت انها جمعت كل النظريات السابقة ..هناك ايضا سيناريوهات اخرى منها نظرية –ام و عدة اقتراحات اخرى تسمى بنظريات كل شيء ..

    ان رأيت ان الامر صعب –كما ظهر لي من قبل – فاقرا كتاب (الكون الانيق ) لبرايان غرين ويكفيك ذلك لكي تفهم كل هاته المصطلحات حتى لو كانت ثقافتك الفيزيائية عادية ، ان كنت تريد الفهم حقا فزد اطلع على سيتفن هونكينغ في' الكون في قشرة جوز' .وكتاب من الذرة للكوارك ..والمنظمة العربية للترجمة باشراف الدكتور جابر عصفور فعلت خيرا باخراج كل هاته الروائع بصفة ممتازة جدا ..

    الكون الانيق كتاب ممتاز جدا لدرجة كبيرة ولو كانت لي القدرة لجعلت كل الذين يدرسون الفيزياء يقرئونه اجباريا بدل الكتب البيداغوجية التافهة التي توزع عليهم ..لقد قال (هل وجود الجسيمة الأولية نهاية الطريق ؟ ابدا، انها بداية الطريق –الطويل – نحو بناء نظرية كل شيء).

    انا اعتقد ان كل الفيزيائيين الذين مارسوا معادلات الكم و مجال هيغز والنموذج المعياري للجسميات والنسبية ونظرية الاوتار الفائقة وطول بلانك ومعادلات شرونديجر .. مؤمنون بالله في اعماق انفسهم ..

    انه كون باهر لدرجة لا تصدق انه رائع ومدهش ومميز وليس عشوائيا .. ممتعا مسليا ممتازا غامضا مليئا بالاسرار مشوق مثير وكل الصفات الرائعة التي تجعلك متحمساً ..لذا لا غرابة في ان سمى كتابه (الكون الانيق (..انه ببساطة كذلك ..

    من مقال لي : بوزون هيغز : الرابط للمقال الكامل هنا :


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