Skip to main content

In Search of the Multiverse – John Gribbin ****

There’s an old saying along the lines of ‘there’s speculation, then there’s more speculation, and then there’s cosmology.’ When it comes down to the likes of thebig bang, while there are alternative theories, it’s arguable that there’s a lot of evidence to make it likely. But what old statesman of science writing John Gribbin does here is launch off with a swallow dive into the deep end of the cosmology speculation pool.
To be fair, this isn’t how Gribbin seems to see it. He argues that some aspects of the multiverse – the idea that there isn’t a single universe but multiple versions of it, whether in a quantum ‘many worlds’ form or through multiple bubbles of inflation happening in a wider multiverse of which our entire universe is just one bubble – are almost inevitably true. This isn’t, in fairness, a view held by all physicists, but he makes a good stab at persuading us that this is the right line to follow.
What is beyond doubt is that Gribbin tells a fascinating story and beguiles us with the many possibilities for multiverses. Sometimes he raises an idea just to dash it. He doesn’t like the ‘bouncing branes’ idea, because he wants more richness than just a single repeating collision. And he finds the idea of virtual ‘Matrix style’ universe running on a higher intelligence’s computers too unlikely. But throughout Gribbin presents us with an entertaining and mind-stretching collection of ideas.
I’m not totally comfortable with everything in the book. Gribbin is too loose with his approach to infinity, employing the concept in a way that is mathematically dubious. He is also prone to make giant leaps of logic that may have an underlying detail we don’t see – but without that detail they are baffling. So, for instance, he says when referring to the first, small examples of a quantum computer in action he says ‘This proved that quantum computing works, proved that Shor’s algorithm works, and makes it very difficult to doubt the existence of the Multiverse.’ That last part is a huge leap that really isn’t obvious to the reader.
I was also a little concerned by Gribbin’s explanation of entropy. He describes a block of ice melting and says there is then less order – which means less information and less complexity. Yet without more explanation, the ‘less information’ bit doesn’t make a lot of sense. You need a lot less information to describe a regular block of ice, which you can describe at a molecular level using some simple formulae, than you do a fluid, where you would have to describe the position and state of every single molecule. It’s not that he’s wrong, but the example is confusing.
So we could have done with a little more clarity in places -and that’s why the book gets four stars rather than five – yet this remains an engaging voyage around the manifold possibilities for the multiverse that many will enjoy.
Paperback (US edition is hardback):  
Also on Kindle:  


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…