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:  

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…

The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and em…