Blogging Brian Greene’s New Book, “The Hidden Reality”

Physicist Brian Greene’s new book just came out, and it’s exceptional. If you want the skinny on what hidden realities there might be behind and beyond our own, you can safely set aside the Bible and just read Brian Greene.

And damn he writes well: clear as a bell, smooth as silk, and, eh, . . . [you can just add your own third positive clichéd phrase here]. 

The following are the central questions he discusses:

  • Do all possible quantum worlds happen? In chapter 1, Greene calls this “the tantalizing Many Worlds approach to quantum mechanics . . .” and he goes into detail on the subject in chapter 8.
  • Is space infinite or bounded? If space is infinite the implications are astonishing and he has a mind-blowing chapter (chapter 2) on what he calls the “Quilted Multiverse” where, beyond our own event horizon (the distance light has been able to travel since our Big Bang), there may well be other universes with their own event horizons. If space is infinite, these other universes are also likely to be infinite in number (as in kingdoms that have no end, amen). And here’s the kicker: given that they would be bounded by the speed of light, there would only be so many possible positions for the atoms in them to configure. This means that, if the number of universes are infinite, there are an infinite number of universes that duplicate this one exactly—right down to you reading this blog right now. (Talk about Nietzsche’s revenge in eternal recurrence!). Which one of them would contain the real you? All and none, grasshopper.
  • What version of parallel worlds comes out of inflation theory? This discussion appears in Chapter 3; it’s a bit complicated, but worth the effort. The bottom line: inflation may not be a one-off thing that just happened early on in the universe; it may be going on elsewhere, in far-flung regions of space. This means that other universes as large as our own may be out there based on inflationary physics alone. What we call “the cosmos” may just be our stretch of the inflationary rubber band, with other inflationary stretches beyond us. And, like us, intelligent beings in one of these other inflationary stretches would have the (mistaken) impression that their universe represented the whole of the cosmos.
  • What’s the latest news on string theory? I haven’t read these chapters yet (string theory is discussed in chapters 4, 5, and 6), but from what I gather in the first chapter, if string theory can unify the laws of nature, then there are a number of kinds of parallel universes that might be derived from it, and Greene discusses each of these in turn.
  • Can we test multiverse hypotheses? (Chapter 7.) Again, I’m not this far into the book, but here’s Brian Greene’s teaser from the introductory first chapter: “Can we test these [multiverse] ideas? If we invoke them to solve outstanding problems, have we made progress, or have we merely swept the problems under a conveniently inaccessible cosmic rug?” Sounds like the question frequently asked of Intelligent Design advocates, doesn’t it?
  • Do we live in a holographic universe? (Chapter 9.) I’m trying to read the chapters in order, but this is the chapter, I confess, that I’m salivating to read. I’ve obsessed on this particular question in a number of blog posts (see here and here for examples) and tried to get my head around its boggling implications (see here), so I’m looking forward to Brian Greene’s take on the subject.
  • Do we live in somebody else’s universe? (Chapter 10.) This also seems like an especially intriguing chapter: do we live in the matrix of somebody else’s intelligent design? How might we know? Presumably this chapter won’t disappoint.

Okay, that’s my overview. I do offer one caution: this book has the potential of making you feel small and out of control. It’s having that effect on me. The Hidden Reality is Copernicanism with a vengeance. And free will seems to be out the window in any of these scenarios. Greek tragedies meditating on fate (such as Oedipus) and John Calvin’s Institutes seem deserving of a read before Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount,” any of Sartre’s books, or Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Maybe these latter examples should simply be thrown away. The fountainhead appears very far from the self. If we do live in one of the multiverses that Greene describes (or even in more than one of them—a logical possibility!) you’re not at the center of anything and you don’t ultimately determine who you are or what you will become. Sorry. 

Okay, here my sermon endeth. I’m only about 60 pages into the book. Back to reading. More anon.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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29 Responses to Blogging Brian Greene’s New Book, “The Hidden Reality”

  1. Christ's Angel says:

    That someone actually prints such crap is one thing, but then again we are reminded in the Bible : “know ye not that we shall judge even the angels”.

    A better title for the book is “The Hidden Reality for Your Money (another way to bleed your pocket book)”. Or how about “The Universe Versus the Multiverse from One Who Doesn’t Yet Comprehend the Word ‘Universe’ as Copacetic But is Willing to Take Your Money For It While Wasting Paper”.

    Such writing is clearly evident of the statement “Jesus, I Don’t Trust in You, Give Me More Money.”

    • Printing theories based on scientific data is crap, but your mythology is a worthwhile publication. It would be funny if it were not so sad. What is sad is that there are a lot of Americas that are as ignorant and delusional as you who think that their unsubstantiated BELIEF is more relevant than free thought based on scientific data.

      • Christ's Angel says:

        It is only so sad because you temporarily put your belief into a lie, only to find out later that you have been deceived. You write as if you have been to every point in the Universe that you detest, rather than keeping an open scientific mind for the data contained in it. (And that you’d rather make a buck at while so doing)

      • It is always funny to hear a Christian telling others that they believe in a lie. The big lie is Christianity.

      • Christ's Angel says:

        You even pretend to laugh. The universe is real. We have only seen about 1% of the floor of the earths’ oceans, and far less of the universe. Where is all this scientific data of which you write? “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard of the wonders God has in store for those who believe in Him.” That is where the data is, stored up for His revealing in His time, for “I am the Lord, Thy God.”

        The universe is infinite. Maybe you should read that again. THE UNIVERSE IS INFINITE.

      • Yes, the universe is virtually infinite. And we have not one iota of evidence that there is a god. I am not claiming these theories are absolutely correct, I was pointing out the ignorance of discarding scientific data and theories while accepting your silly religion, which has no evidence.

        What you accept is not measured by evidence. If it was then you would not be Christian and you would look at these theories as I do, interesting concepts that may or may not pan out. Your measure of truth is what you believe, regardless of evidence. Your stance is as arrogant as it is ignorant.

      • Christ's Angel says:

        So now it’s ‘virtually’ infinite. We’re all back to your video gaming, your “mommy bring me potty and more potato chips” episode. Grow a brain, boy!

      • The person who believes in the invisible man in the sky is asking others to grow a brain. That is rich!

      • Christ's Angel says:

        I’ll acquiesce if you can tell me how multiverses can improve public transportation. Fair enough?

  2. Ooh, this looks good. His “The Elegant Universe” has been recommended to me as a much better book than Hawking and Mlodinow’s latest. (My review of that here http://spritzophrenia.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/hawkings-grand-design-cosmology-still-needs-god/ )

    The last I heard, multiverse theory is still in the realm of speculation, and there are no experiments that could prove it. Hence some physicists are opposed to the theory. Does Green talk about this at all?

    • Whoops, just noticed that’s chapter 7.

    • santitafarella says:

      Spritzo:

      Green’s book on this subject is a “must read.” It’s written really clearly, and, from what I’ve read so far, he’s making a really good case for the plausibility of multiverses. (Perhaps even more than one kind!) I haven’t gotten to chapter seven yet.

      —Santi

      • The only way that a multiverse can exist is within the ‘confines’ of the infinite universe. I put “confines” in single quotes as the delusional tend to imagine walls where there aren’t any.

        As a theory or a reality, multiverses and universes are only possible in accordance with “What is impossible with men, shall be possible with God.”

    • Pawlly Phonic says:

      Scientific theories can never be proved, only proved wrong. If they’re good theories this never happens, or only happens to the extent that the theory needs to be refined, or an new underlying theory shows up that gives a more precise explanation (Newton-Einstein).

      (BTW for C’s A- A religion, on the other hand, can never be proved wrong. It can only be proved right. But that never happens.)

      The reason most of the multiverse versions aren’t accepted is that while they add a great “wow factor” to theories they are associated with, they are merely possible results that cannot be tested- cannot be proved wrong. Also they do not explain anything. So while they have great SF appeal and are entertaining to speculate about, they don’t help scientists move forward in their desire to increase our knowledge.

      And some of them introduce complications and, shall we say, embarrassments, far beyond their usefulness. The first one, in Chapter 2, calls for an infinite sized universe. While scientists have been using this in their computations (“it’s so big it might as well be infinite”), in this context it requires acknowledging that such a universe must have existed before the big bang, and that all matter AND space was not in the singularity. When you’ve been pounding the opposite into students for decades…

      But one of the versions does explain a lot- in fact, much of the most weirdness of quantum theory. And it’s been around for about 50 years and the many attempts to prove it wrong have failed. This one is Hugh Everett’s infinite parallel universes (Chapter 8, though Greene’s description is not the best I’ve seen), taking Feynman’s Sum Over Paths to its logical conclusion.

      This one is slow to be accepted but seems to be steadily gaining ground. The slowness is partly due to scientists having grown comfortable with quantum weirdness and not wishing to exchange it for the weirdness of “infinite parallel universes”. The other part is due to them having the out that they “believe in the “Copenhagen interpretation”. Uh, yeah, but the Copenhagen interpretation just describes, doesn’t explain, what happens- the wave function collapses. The parallel universe version in Chapter 8 explains why.

      • Christ's Angel says:

        Only One religion is being proven right.

        There are others that choose to buy really expensive and rather useless toilet paper all the while.

  3. Catherine Lilly says:

    I’m glad to see a blog on this book. I just read the first several chapters. I have a background in mathematics but I was interested in getting all the multi-verse metaphors in one place, because I was conflating them in my mind. I was so disappointed in the chapter on the quilted multiverse! The infinity of the “universe” does not imply that there is a repetition of “me’ somewhere. For example, in this infinite sequence (1, 2,3,2,3,2,3,2,3,….) there are an infinite number of occurence of 2 and 3 but only one 1. Something is repeated an infinite number of times but it is not necessary that every state be repeated an infinite number of times. This is the basic rebuttal to Nietzsche’s Eternal Reoccurance. I’m disappointed that Greene missed this.

    • Doug Leary says:

      Catherine – Thank you so much for posting that! I heard Greene talking about the quilted multiverse on the radio a few days ago, and was stunned when he used the analogy that if you shuffle a deck of cards enough times the same orderings are “bound” to repeat because the deck is finite. I can understand reading this in some random science blog, but it’s extremely disappointing that a highly regarded theoretical physicist would make that mistake (and repeat it for emphasis!). Unless maybe we’re living in one of the universes where pigs can fly.

    • If Greene is a modernist, he won’t admit to his error, but will try to play it up with his fellow modernist friends like douche-bags Jared Rodriguez and Santi. As long as he knows he has some suckers in his crotch 24/7 he’ll use that to promote his filthy lies. When they’re no longer any use he’ll pretend to be more intelligent and try to use his error to show this, you know, like, “Look at me, I’m so smart, I make an occasional error.”, which is what JR is already pushing without admitting to error. If they admit to error, their charade is over, and their fight or flight response is such that they will play the part to its end in an effort to avoid this. The visiousness of the modernist knows no restraint when in full swing. They are so hell bent on having their way that they care little as to the damage they do. The fact that they seek to malign the meaning of Catholic, that is, Universal, knowingly or unknowingly, matters little to them because their root motivation, though well hidden in their not so well hidden expressed mental superiority, is pride, and particular to the use of multiverse and selling it, greed, as well. Ultimately, they are saying “Look at me, look at us. Look at my pudend, look at our pudends. (aside : we’re filthy, fagot queers you scumbags)”

      The entire concept of multiverse with respect to universe can be seen as a remanifestation of the devil ‘legion’. It can also be seen as the ‘gates of hell’.

      • LOL, that is a mighty Christian thing of you to say. Looks like you are as bad at being a Christian as you are at rational thinking. You believe something for which there is no material evidence. Your belief is a delusion. Deal with it.

      • You’re delusional.

      • I am not the one who believes in fairy tales.

      • One who knows all. says:

        @ “Jared Rodriguez ” You spout the same old anti Christian propaganda I hear from almost every atheist I meet or see on the internet. Go back to your ‘The God Delusion’ book club meetings you secular baboon.

        @”Christ’s Angel ” YOU ARE A MORON. You make normal rational Christians look bad. Now the multi verse theory, if anything does not sling any evidence towards or away the existence of God, or the ability of little Jesus to walk on water. If anything, one could find passages from the new testament to promote the multi verse theory.

        @”santitafarella”

        Your review was very nice. I just bought Brian’s book from Borders, and I’m responding to you on my phone while driving home (shhhhhh!)

        While I did like your little review, I found this statement

        “you’re not at the center of anything and you don’t ultimately determine who you are or what you will become. Sorry. ”

        Not only does this statement contradict everything Brian says in the book, it is just silly, and goes against everything that goodness and individuality stand for. You are at the center of more than you think. Consciousness is a very complex thing, and more and more evidence shows that there is more to our existence than what our senses can pick up, maybes even an afterlife. The existence of one would not seem to far fetched considering the existence of an infinite number planes of existence. Have a good Christmas.

      • @OneWhoKnowsAll

        I spout the same arguments against Christianity that Christians continue to be unable to address, that is true. Should I go look for even more things that religion fails at? Why? Until religion can answer the simplest, basic questions as validation there is no need to go deeper. Feel free to defend your faith. You are as bad a Christ’s Angel.

      • @OneWhoKnowsAll

        Well, you’re on. Show us where multiverse theory is supported in the New Testament. Otherwise, your message is a texting drive-by assault.

  4. 50. It is also the duty of the Bishops to prevent writings of Modernists, or whatever savors of Modernism or promotes it, from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No books or papers or periodicals whatever of this kind are to be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be not less than that which is caused by immoral reading– nay, it would be greater, for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not evilly disposed themselves, are ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, and strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the profit of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in gradually preparing the way for Modernism.

  5. caroline says:

    Don’t put everything you have in your ignorance or in the things you have heard your whole life, put the effort into searching for the answers YOURSELF. Keep in mind I’m not speaking for religion but for the Bible.

    Can somebody answer me this; when has the Bible EVER been disproved? Since the Bible’s beginning, scientists, archeologists, theorisists, have been spending their lives trying to find something contradicting in the Bible. There has never been one miniscule detail found to be untrue. Not even a date or a name. Ironically, it’s those same people that continue to find evidence as to why the Bible is true.

  6. Believer says:

    Fact there is no scientific evidence how something can be created from nothing. well done christ’s angel. the heavens display the glory of GOD

  7. Believer says:

    Take a look at the image in the x structure of the whirlpool galaxy. There is the answer to all Questions,

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