aberration: Asami Sato from Legend of Korra, looking rather glowy. (give your eyes to the sky)
veronica ([personal profile] aberration) wrote2016-01-08 01:52 am
Entry tags:

Stop telling God what to do

So because I need to write about SOMETHING, I'm going to make some effort to post here, at least, about the books I read. Starting now. In 2016. I'd call it a New Year's Resolution but I... really, really don't want to. Plus I'm reading five books at once (complete with designated categories: 2 nonfiction, 2 long form fiction, 1 short form fiction), which really just means it takes me forever to finish anything. But I did finish something! And it's the first thing I finished in 2016, setting aside that I started it... much earlier in 2015. In any case, it was Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku.

I've enjoyed reading popular press books about theoretical physics and in particular quantum mechanics in the past, even if I don't always follow... everything (as exemplified by my trying to explain quantum entanglement to my mom), and I wish I generally had a better understanding of what I was reading, particularly when it comes to math. But I'd read Brian Greene's works before and really liked them, and for various reasons I was interested in multiverse theories at the moment, and so turned to this.

Like Greene, Kaku can effectively communicate complex theories and findings to a popular audience; in this case in particular he invokes a lot, a lot a lot, of science fiction, generally using it as an extrapolated example of a theory, or really just a possibility. (And I was unfamiliar with a lot of it, and I think more than anything would have appreciated a bibliography of just every sci-fi short story he mentioned.) Much of the book needs to be devoted to relativity, quantum mechanics, and the sought-after "theory of everything," just to reach a basis to get to the multiverse and end-of-universe discussion. A lot of it was the kind of thing I'd read about before, but again, it's a topic I like reading about; I enjoy how quantum mechanics seems to be one of the few fields where any attempt to apply some kind of Occam's Razor-esque logic consistently seems to end in it blowing up in everyone's faces, and I liked yet another retelling of Bohr v. Einstein, a lot because the popular imagination doesn't remember that Einstein spent a lot of time being insistently flat-out wrong, but in his defense that is because the universe is just hilariously ridiculous.

And once Kaku does reach the actual delving-into-multiverse theory part, he pretty much just starts writing science fiction himself, granted without the need for things like plot or characters beyond "an advanced civilization." This makes sense, as multiverse theories are at this point just a way to address currently unanswered questions like "Is the universe observer-dependent?" or "Is there a way it's not totally ridiculous that life can exist at all?" or "Could life survive a dying universe?" and etc. But I had fun with it!

I also don't feel very qualified to judge this book on any kind of academic level, but I will say it felt like he made a concerted effort to draw from many sources and include a variety of opinions, to credit as many people as humanly possible, and to acknowledge shortcomings in the field, particularly when it came to recognizing the accomplishments of women astronomers and physicists. So if you're into reading about this kind of thing (or even, like me, maybe occasionally use ~*~hard~*~ science as a way to get away from … as ironic as this may sound, a messy real world that while, granted, a lot of that mess when into getting me this information, how-the-fuck-is-that-particle-telling-that-other-particle-what-to-do at least allows for some detachment), I'd recommend it.

Also let's be honest, my "various reasons" for reading this book at this time included the Divine Comedy/multiverse theory Hannibal fanfiction I'm still trying to write. I do feel like I have a much better understanding of quantum physics than I do Dante and Ovid talking about... something, while I guess some lizard monster is just running around nearby. (In other words, it will be a very long time before The Divine Comedy appears here.)

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