Publication date: 7/11/2013
Not certain whether your clarity about Special Relativity can help you navigate the mysteries of the universe?
Read the newly released book The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality by Dave Goldberg. A Drexel University physics professor and award-winning creator of A User’s Guide to the Universe, Goldberg has made it his mission to debunk the notion that understanding physics is a genius-only contact sport.
Goldberg’s fun thought experiments certainly parse the laws of physics in the book for a highly-motivated audience (particularly sci-fi nerds) with sotto voce asides in the footnotes.
If this enjoyable book contributes one salient thing to the discussion of unifying principles of symmetry, it would be to introduce a worthy contemporary of Albert Einstein, Emmy Noether.
“Suppose you and your friends wanted to form a Fantasy Physics League—you know, the way kids do. Or indoor kids at any rate. Who would you want for your roster? Some overly sensitive person (me) might, at this point, have the gall to note that most of your roster, perhaps all of it, consists entirely of dead white men.”
According to Goldberg, Noether should be celebrated as a biggie of the modern scientific age despite the fact that few physics aficionados and students are familiar with her contributions. She did more to explain how the universe ultimately works with mathematical proof and the theorem that so long as the laws of physics are constant, energy cannot be created or destroyed.
With a well-placed imagine or suppose or picture this, Goldberg sets out to show that our mere existence is owed to some sort of symmetry violation at the beginning of the universe (and rows of identical spinning tops). In his chapter on relativity, he doesn’t neglect to mention the improbability of an ansible, a device out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction that can send instantaneous messages across the galaxy.
Goldberg takes a clever and engaging left turn to make clear that science must accept the physical limitations of the universe. He writes, “The same limit that prevents us from reaching warp speeds also, potentially, prevents us from being invaded. Now, that’s a silver lining.”
To be fair, Goldberg does supply a handy schematic for building a teleporter device.
“Gene Roddenberry got only a few details wrong. In real teleportation your atoms aren’t sent from the transporter pad down to the planet. Instead, following the teleportation, there’s a you-size pile of chemicals on the from pad and the destination pad builds a new you out of a chemistry set at the other end. Beyond that, Star Trek could totally happen.”
Imploring readers not to identify the Higgs boson as the God Particle, Goldberg shakes apart the Standard Model’s photons, gluons, W and Z particles and hypothetical gravitons and their fates as transmitters of the fundamental forces.
Goldberg takes compulsive leaps to ensure science hobbyists will get his presentation of complex physics topics. Consider what happens to space-time at the event horizon of a black hole via his mashup of Lewis Carroll and the Planet of the Apes.
“Because she’s apparently not averse to jumping into rabbit holes and such, let’s send Alice. Take a very sturdy rope and dangle her just outside the event horizon. She will think just a few minutes have passed, but by the time she climbs out, thousands of years may have passed for the rest of the universe. By that time, damn dirty apes could rule the earth!”
Did I mention that Goldberg’s annotations are worth reading for the diversion? His footnote to a discussion of Theories of Everything: “*Which, admittedly, sound like the sort of things you might think up in a lair hollowed out of the side of a mountain.”
The Universe in the Rearview Mirror by Dave Goldberg is a worthwhile read, an irreverent science guide on how unsung symmetry shapes space, time and everything in the cosmos.
Category: Nonfiction, Science