The Fabric of the Cosmos : Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

by Brian Greene

Hardcover, 2004




New York : A.A. Knopf, 2004.


Using humor, everyday examples and computer animation for the more abstract concepts, author and physicist Brian Greene explains complex theories of the universe and the focus of his research, string theory.

User reviews

LibraryThing member stellarexplorer
For months, I avoided writing something about Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. It was complex and only suited to summary in the most superficial way. Or so I tell myself. More likely, I am not up to the task. The book is an introduction to the current scientific understanding of the nature
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of space and time, emphasis on the former. While I wouldn't describe it as technical per se -- lacking the mathematics that would further illuminate but also complicate the material -- it is nonetheless challenging. The material requires the motivated nonphysicist to persist and focus, and the effort is well rewarded.

Greene offers a substantive review of quantum mechanics and general relativity, both necessary to examine current conceptions of space and time. The punchline, at the risk of imprecision, is that we cannot look at space in a common sense way at all. There are important ways in which space does not involve a conventional notion of locality; quantum phenomena resist explanations that rely on the familiar behavior of quotidian reality; at the smallest dimensions space and time themselves seem to lose meaning; ultimately there is no such thing as “empty” space, as what appears empty is actually roiling with the energy of quantum fluctuations.

Having established this basis, Greene uses these concepts to paint a picture of cosmic inflation and quantum loop gravity theories, aiming to show how these prominent approaches account for space itself and the vastness of the universe.
Where is the controversy, one might ask? Ultimately, the trajectory of the book leads to Green's great personal interest in physics, string theory. We see how this theory, if true, might address some of the current mysteries in our understanding of space and time. But there are those for whom them’s fightin’ words. Some argue that string theory lacks the quality of falsifiability, and as such cannot be taken seriously. If you are a staunch adherent of this position, you no doubt do not need to be reading this review.

The book was excellent and I highly recommend it. I found it all rather thrilling.
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LibraryThing member divisionbyzer0
In terms of popular science books, this one is simply extraordinary. Brian Greene's writing makes exceedingly difficult and advanced concepts fairly accessible to the lay person.

In particular I like how he starts off by tipping his hat to Camus' existensialist dillema but then disagreeding with his
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idea that knowledge from the sciences can't in fact make a difference. I'm not sure I agree, but I think Greene's appreciation of camus, and his belief that science can make a difference helps to illustrate his passion as a scientist.

While this book covers a lot of general physics the focus is on the implications for our conceptions of space and time, as the title strongly suggests.

I have not yet finished this book, but by less than half way through I have been introduced to a number of topics that I have never really come across in the popular writings of other physicists like Drs Feynman, Weinberg, or Hawking. Greene goes thru special and general relativity and orthodox qm i a delightful manner, showing all the important features, and tho he notes that he agrees with the orthodoxy on philosophic points he does not do disservice to disagreeing views, which he makes note of in the book, as well as in some of the more technical notes.

We also go through some more intricate matters which one does not ordinarily see outside of a philosophy of physics book such as the relational v absolutist stance on space "newtons bucket", Mach's response, and Einstein's update, following which we get an overview on block space-time, and how this is reconciled with the relativistic views of different observers as different angled cuts of the single block. I have never seen this approach or metaphor thoroughly hammered out in any work on popular physics. Green also argues eloquently using the notion of "updating now moments of different observers" that SR discrepancies can be seen over extremely wide spatial separations at even extremely low velocities.

Next we get overviews of entanglement and the implications for space, including some difficult ideas on the matter from eminent researches such as John Bell, David Bohm, as well as Alain Aspects results. While the mathematical details may not be all here in their full rigor, the essence of the ideas surly is.

Right now I am learning that probabilistic reasoning applied with the time reversal invariance of the laws of physics entail that entropy should be higher in the past as well as the future!

This is mind numbing stuff!

I also like the humor and references to pop culture (simpsons, etc).

Read it and enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member acrn
Slightly worse than it's "predecessor", but then we all know that it would be hard to beat one of the best science books out there.

More dense, the advances in the theories are really took into context without sounding too draconian to strangers like me.
LibraryThing member EmreSevinc
Carl Sagan and his Cosmos marked my childhood with great memories in 1980s, and it's great to see the tradition of successful scientists laying out a great narrative is alive and ticking in books such as this one by Brian Greene.

I'm a bit late to the party, so reading the book felt like a time
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travel. Having read it more than a decade after it's been written, I know that Higgs boson has been discovered, gravitational waves have been detected, and NASA's Gravity Probe B mission has been accomplished. Does that fact take anything away from the book's worth? Well, it depends on your perspective, but I would say "no, not at all!". Lacking the descriptions stellar scientific achievements that occurred in the last 13 years, the book is still a very good exposition of our current understanding of our universe and reality.

My only criticism can be summarized as the following: it's good for a popular science book to stay away from the technicalities of complex physics theories, but I think putting a bit of math in the end notes hardly helps, simply referring to the relevant sources for details would make it more concise. Moreover, I'd expect a more thorough description of loop quantum gravity, instead of a mere few pages of introduction and a very short comparison with string theory.
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LibraryThing member wouterzzzzz
The second book on string theory by Greene, and actually much easier to read. It is probably a good idea to start with this book, and not "The Elegant Universe". Towards the end of the book, some very intriguing theries are discussed, these alone are worth reading this book. It will probably keep
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you wondering about the world (or rather, universe) we live in for quite a while.
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LibraryThing member fpagan
Major effort and (as science books go) bestseller, describing the current frontier of fundamental physics (and cosmology). Exceptionally clear and thought-inducing.
LibraryThing member neurodrew
Another fat book on the physics of cosmology and relativity, explaining, in some vague way, current theories and problems of grand unified theories and cosmology. Absorbing and pleasant to read, but leaves me with a curiously unfufilled feeling, as though I was window shopping rather than learning
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things. I read about the quantum measurement problem, about paradoxes of collapsing wave functions, and again about 11 dimensional strings as a way of unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics.
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LibraryThing member chersbookitlist
follow up to his prior book, The Elegant Universe. This one is a little more simplistic in some ways, using very imaginative analogies to explain complex theoretical physics principles. I found it very enjoyable and a nice companion book to The Elegant Universe.
LibraryThing member TheBooknerd
I like the fluidity of Greene's writing, especially since he skips all the "unnecessary" details like calculations and such. However, I don't quite agree with some comments that this book is accessible to even people who have never before studied physics. Greene may have simplified, but the book is
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still rather academic in my opinion.
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LibraryThing member KApplebaum
What an amazing book. Brian Greene is amazing, too -- he can take incredibly complex concepts, and write about them in a way that someone who doesn't have a PhD can understand.
LibraryThing member briandarvell
This book gives a wonderful, detailed overview of the current state of thinking regarding certain areas of the theoretical physics world. Although I found much of the book extremely interesting, and I was constantly going to Wikipedia and other sources for more info, I still found much of the book
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extremely drawn out. It could have been much shorter.

In particular, my favorite areas of the book were:
- The description of Einstein's General and Special Theories of Relativity
- The sections on Cosmology related to the Big Bang and Inflationary Theory
- Quantum Fluctuations and elementary particles
- Parts of the String Theory section and membranes
- Time travel theories

The most laborious section in my mind was Greene's slow approach to entropy. Anyone with even some level of scientific study would have found this section to be boring and plodding. I can understand the need for covering entropy in his overall approach to "time's arrow" but it should have been seriously reduced in word count.

I would recommend this book to people with more than passing interest in space, quantum mechanics and physics. It makes for an excellent overview for a general reader but perhaps with some searching, books of similar quality (and shorter) could also be found.
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LibraryThing member mumfie
Finally finished this book! It's taken me six months to read this on and off.

Brian Greene writes very clearly, using imagery that is easy to understand for the armchair reader. The book does require concentration and the assimilation of one part before moving on to the next, which is why I only
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read it in small doses. However it is well worth the effort, providing a clear overview of 'the fabric of the cosmos' from Newtonian physics to superstring theory and beyond.

It is, quite simply, a riveting read.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
When I studied physics 40-something years ago, relativity and the wave/particle duality was the pinnacle of scientific weirdness. Things have moved on and the weirdness has grown. Quantum theory appears to deliver communication at a distance between widely separated entangled particles. The
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"inflationary" period very soon after the big bang was repulsive gravity!? String theory replaces particles as "points" with a infinitesimal vibrating string.
Brian Greene covers all this and more in a readable popularisation of current physics and cosmology. He is a skilful de-mystifier and I fear that the fog that remains in my mind at the end of his book is the result of my limitations, not his. Read November 2012.
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LibraryThing member MarjorieThelen
I guess you'd say I'm currently reading this book. It is the kind of book one reads in small doses over several years. The ideas are so mind expanding they make me a little crazy. Greene is a superb writer for the non-science person. I read The Hidden Reality this year. I also saw NOVA's recent
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four part series with Greene as narrator on the same subject. Well-done. I also have The Elegant Universe on DVD. I would recommend any of his books.
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LibraryThing member wweisser
For pop science you could do much worse than this.
LibraryThing member Anbarrineau
I really enjoyed this book, and I would have given it 4 stars but I almost wish it had been more scientific. At times it felt like the use of metaphor was too distracting from the scientific concepts being explained and I came away with no real understanding of the topic but instead a rather
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convoluted concept about frogs in a hot metal bowl filled with worms...I will leave you to figure out what concept that was regarding....
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LibraryThing member hcubic
This is a terrific book. I thoroughly enjoyed every page written by distinguished string theorist Brian Greene, who also wrote the book and Nova TV series, "The Elegant Universe", which is available in paperback. Some of the string theory in "The Fabric of the Cosmos" is repetitive of the content
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of the earlier book. This guy not only knows his stuff, but he also explains very difficult physics using examples and analogies that are inventive and humorous (for example, characters and situations from "The Simpsons" pop up in several different contexts). Do not get the idea that "The Fabric of the Cosmos" deals only with arcane particle phenomena that are completely irrelevant to everyday life, or that it oversimplifies to the level of cartoons. On the contrary, Professor Greene elevates the reader's thinking to the ultimate nature of reality. Over the past couple of years, I have read a number of books that purport to bring relativity, quantum mechanics, and cosmology to the non-physicist, but this is the one that I enjoyed the most. The only thing I would criticize about it is that the black-and-white illustrations (and there aren't a lot of them) don't seem to have been reproduced very well.
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LibraryThing member nmarun
I'm not a Physicist, so Quantum Mechanics is not what I would've done / learned as part of my regular 'work life'. But this documentary explains the basics of Quantum world in a way that is easily absorbed by non-Quantum people (or 'lay men' according other Quantum physicists).

The new and
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open-ended perspective regarding Multiverses is simply mind boggling and yet I'm curious to know more about it.

The visuals and graphics used in the documentary uncomplicates the understanding of these intricate and composite theories.

But I've got to say this, I felt a lot better reading these concepts in The Elegant Universe by the same author.

"One of the wonderful things about Science is, it is about evidence and not about belief."
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LibraryThing member jmcgarry2011
This is his second book. I finished this book around the same time I was watching the new Cosmos series on Fox. (It's hard to believe that Seth McFarlane, the man behind Family Guy, is one of the producers of the new Cosmos. I'm still waiting for Stewie to show up, or for a Cosmos parody on Family
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Guy. But I digress.) Like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson on Cosmos, Brian Greene is attempting to make science understandable to those of us who don't have advanced science degrees. Dr Greene uses a lot of pop culture references to illustrate his points. He seems to have a special fondness for the Simpsons. It's a little more complex, though. He's trying to explain the basics of string theory, with its theories of 10-dimensional space and quantum lengths. It can be a little slow going at times. He saves most of the mathematical equations for the footnotes. I'm not sure it's fully understandable to everyone. I had trouble with it myself. Some updates from the text. The large Hadron collider was finished, and the Higgs particle was discovered. Also, scientists recently discovered ripples from the original big bang. Dr Greene knows about pop culture. (He's appeared on the TV show The Big Bang Theory making fun of himself.) He does well in this book. It's just the subject matter that can be daunting.
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LibraryThing member tlockney
Marking this as finished even though technically I still have two more chapters left -- they're even chapters I look forward to reading. But I know I'll be coming back to this and I wanted to move on to other reading for now.

Having said that, this seems like a good overview of the current (well, as
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of the date of publication) state of the game in physics. I can't say that for certain of course, but it left me feeling like I had some understanding (not enough -- hence my suggestion I might return to it) of the current issues and the current focus of research for cosmology.
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LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Good book with some astounding thoughts on where physics and the study of space-time are going. Above my head but there are pearls of information that suggest the immensity and the unseen reality about us all. But a long read.
LibraryThing member justindtapp
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality "Every moment in time just is." That is a huge thing to wrap your mind around. Every moment in space-time just exists. While we experience the "arrow of time," the feeling of moving forward (which Greene explains) every moment
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already exists in the universe, and always will. When I saw an episode on NOVA made from this book I knew I had to read it. The episode I saw was "The Illusion of Time," and it blew me away. Watch it at the link and you'll be a 25-point Calvinist.

Mathematics might be the highest form of worship; every Christian should read books such as this one about cosmology. The more we learn about the universe, the more improbable a self-existing first cause seems. As Greene points out, the universe we see now is dramatically less probable, statistically speaking, than one that developed from complete randomness. That the universe originated with a low-entropy (Big Bang) event is also highly improbable, but yet we know it happened.

The universe started at a size smaller than the period on the end of this sentence. It had incredible symmetry, such that perhaps all of the forces we know today were combined together in one force. The laws of physics break down at that point, there's the incompatibility of quantum mechanics and generaly relativity such that we have a "fuzzy patch." But newly-discovered inflationary theory tells us much of what happens after the first moment, exactly how the universe began its incredible rapid expansion. (See Greene's recent article in Smithsonian Magazine).But, the "fuzzy patch still looks fuzzy."

Galaxies are now moving apart from each other at high rates of speed. We discover planets and learn more about the makeup of the universe every day. The last third of the book deals with super string theory, which Greene also details more thoroughly in The Elegant Universe (some parts seem to be repeated verbatim in both works; I imagine all of his books essentially say the same things in different ways... one has to make money somehow).

How many dimensions does space have? 10? More? Why did only 3 dimensions experience inflation after the Big Bang? What about curled dimensions? M theory? Planck length? Those are the tedium in the second half of the book.

He does delve into the possibility of Star Trek-like teleportation, showing the recent advances in research that indicate this may one day be possible. Just this week the Army confirmed that it can teleport quantum data, for example.There is also an explanation of the theoretical and mathematical impossibilities of time travel-- traveling backwards in time. These are amusing aspects.

Greene frequently uses Simpsons characters in his analogies. It is not nearly as analogic in language as The Elegant Universe, but it's mostly understandable. The second half of the book gets pretty heavy, though, an audio version is the only way I could get through it. When you get bogged down in quantum mechanics it helps to have the audio keep pushing you on to the main point.

I really should not judge a book by one that followed it, but I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.
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LibraryThing member SashaM
I fully admit i struggled with some of the concepts discussed in this book - Brian Greene makes it as friendly as possible but some of the terminology just went over my head - still I did finish with a better understanding than I started with.
I found that the multiple ways of describing various
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concepts sometimes useful but mostly repetitive. But I can see why they are there as everyone will interpret situations diferently.
The second half of the book which goes into quantum theory and supersting theory the most difficult to understand but i think this is mostly because the concepts are so alien to our everyday understanding of life.
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LibraryThing member ashishg
Brian Greene's work is comprehensive collection of scientific understanding with regard to origin of universe, grand unification, and concept of space/time. Book presumes basic awareness of key concepts (which aren't difficult to have if one has passing interest in this topic) but provides very
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detailed and scientific approach to whole lot of ideas and experiments designed to test those ideas. In the end, book is mind-blowing and leaves one marveled at world we inhabit. I was familiar with key themes but systematic approach still helped deepen the appreciation of, for example, experiments in LHC or multiverse theory. Recommended read for one interested in this topic.
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LibraryThing member yonas
An unbelievable insight into the very fabric of what we consider to be "reality." This book will undoubtedly change the way you think about our "three dimensional" universe forever.



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