Monday, February 25, 2013

Space-time explained!

Book: Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension
Author: Michio Kaku
Published: 1994 (Anchor)
Pages: 334

Basically, the laws of physics exist in more dimensions than we’ve been able to measure in, so we’re just now getting the, like, whole picture of why stuff like the theory of relativity actually works and how all the physical laws smooth out when they have more dimensions to express all their parts.

I’m pretty sure that’s the main point of this book. Have I mentioned that I deprived myself of any sort of physics classes by taking AP biology in high school?

So I’m a terrible person to say what level of skillz this book is for. A lot of it reads like the author is going for a mainstream audience, but he’s so jazzed about the implications that he drops into higher math concepts like they’re a native tongue he has to use to explain feelings we don’t have in English. And his metaphors are terrible because they just add extra layers of confusion to simplifying things. For instance, to illustrate how space and geometry can operate in higher dimensions than the ones we perceive, he goes, “Imagine there’s a place called Flatland where everyone is two-dimensional. If one peeled a Flatlander off the piece of paper where he lived, his fellow flatlanders would think he had disappeared into the sky, whereas you would know that he was transported into the third dimension.” That is just as hard to grasp as talking about how a hypercube folds up in the fourth dimension for us – harder, because you have to go through two levels of imagination - pretending you’re a Flatlander to see things from his point of view before you can pretend to wonder why the hell you’re disappearing into a sky you can’t fully see - instead of one, just wondering why the hell the cube you’re looking at seems to have too many sides crammed into too small a visual field.

But other than spending too much effort pretending to be a stick figure, I loved this book.

Kaku might be sort of shitty at teaching physics 101, but he knows the hell out of the higher concepts and lays them out as straightforwardly as I could tell. He also weaves the histories and controversies and implications and cultural impacts and practical applications of the theories into one loose narrative of how humans are trying to conquer time and matter and how close we are to doing it. Wormholes might be real, you guys. And Duchamp painted a crucifixion scene on a teserac (three-dimensional fold-out of a four-dimensional cube). And the universe will probably end in fire (the Big Crunch of all matter trying to squeeze into the hottest dryer’s tiniest lost gym sock), but probably not before we unite all the theories of matter into enough dimensions so they become one and we understand life, the universe, and EVERYTHING.

I still don’t understand string theory, though, because the section that was labeled “Why Strings?” just said that contrary to string theory’s dissenters, strings can be found naturally all in the physical world, like in the shape of our DNA. …Okay, so that proves…something? I don’t know. Please let me know what I’m missing; I want to write a Doctor Who episode about it.

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