Sometimes I think this blog seems to be turning into a book review site! Hey, I read fast… Well I’ve just finished Parallel worlds by Michio Kaku. Kaku explores many different ideas, all tied together under a general cosmology theme.
The book begins by introducing some of the key concepts of spacetime, the big bang, and the development of some of the main ideas in cosmology. It discusses the growing field of experimental cosmology, using gravitational wave detectors, WMAP satellite data, data from other telescopes (Arecibo, Chandra, VLBA) and projects such as the Sloan Sky Survey, which can give us information about the distribution and density of black holes in the visible universe. A lot of information can be gathered indirectly, for example by analysing gravitational lensing around large objects. This information may be able to reveal some clues as to how close we are to a theory of everything with our current generation of string theories, supersymmetry, and M-theory. As an experimentalist I did appreciate this ‘down to earth’ spin in addition to the usual speculation of this type of book.
I find it rather impressive that we are able to answer (or at least ask) questions about physics beyond the largest scales with which we currently are familiar (the size of our universe) and the smallest (the planck length scale) using the same theories and data. I’ve always had a passing interest in string theory. I would however get something a little more mathematical next time, this was very easy reading. I was actually dying to see some equations by the end of it, I think it would have enhanced the book and grounded it a little more. (I’ve got Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong waiting on my shelf to be read at some point, that will probably satisfy my urge for something heavier!)
My other criticism of the book is that it tended to repeat itself a bit in places, especially the more esoteric sections about baby universes and potential escape of civilisation from an accelerating, dying universe. The sections on string theory were also a little confusing in places, mostly because the development of modern string theories was reported ‘chronologically’. This meant that the book kept changing the number of dimensions in the theories, to explain how and why they were ‘in fashion’ at the time. I’d rather have just heard about the latest ones here, the history could have been an entire book in itself…
It also gets a *little* bit too religious for me in places (especially at the end)…..but that doesn’t take much! And it’s mainly due to the presentation of some of the views of current scientists, so I’ll let it off 🙂
I also read Artificial Intelligence – A Beginners Guide by Blay Whitby. It is very basic, but quite nicely written. My main liking of this book came from the fact that it explained the current divided state of the research field into distinct ‘camps’, groups of people that all believe their particular specialization is the true discipline, and explains some of the disagreements between them. It was very easy reading, and a nice introduction to some of the main concepts, but I think I definitely want something more mathematical in this area too. Luckily there’s a good selection of recommended further reading!