How many times have you encountered upon a book whose subtitle or blurb claims that everything you know about something – success, economics, the world – is altogether wrong?
Chances are: too many to remember them all!
Well, “The Fabric of the Cosmos” doesn’t need a subtitle or a blurb with such a claim (though it does have the later).
But we guarantee you that’s what you’ll be saying to the many people to whom you’ll give this book as a gift.
In other words: prepare to be shaken to your very core!
Who Should Read “The Fabric of the Cosmos”? And Why?
You may be one of the many people believing that physics is not about everybody and that only those who understand equations should dabble with it.
“The Fabric of the Cosmos,” however, is so abundant with perfect analogies and appropriate metaphors that, in addition to being “a must-read for the huge constituency of lay readers enticed by the mysteries of cosmology,” it should also be a comprehensible read for almost anyone.
Be warned, though:
If you have come here without at least some average understanding of physics, then your whole worldview is about to be radically altered.
Bear in mind that very few things in this book are scientific speculations (and, obviously, they all come with an appropriate footnote).
Most of it is cutting-edge science.
And it’s thought-provoking and, well, breathtaking!
About Brian Greene
After graduating from Harvard University in 1980, Greene earned a doctorate from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar seven years later. Ever since 1996, he has been a professor at Columbia University.
Published in 1999, his first book, “The Elegant Universe,” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize nonfiction and earned a Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
“The Fabric of the Cosmos” appeared five years later, followed by the children’s book “Icarus at the Edge of Time” (2008) and “The Hidden Reality” (2011).
“The Fabric of the Cosmos PDF Summary”
“The Fabric of the Cosmos” is a gargantuan 5-part 600 pages’ long exposition on the nature of the Universe and some of its most eluding secrets.
So, don’t expect a summary which will do the book enough justice.
We’ll just take a brief look at two of the concepts Greene explores – space and time – and tell you why this very sentence is wrong.
On the flip-side, just like Greene’s previous book (“The Elegant Universe”), NOVA adapted “The Fabric of the Cosmos” into a 4-part documentary series hosted by Greene himself.
As you can see from the full playlist, Greene discusses a few more things:
You may know Sir Isaac Newton as the guy who robbed God of his job when he rendered all motion comprehensible and predictable through his laws of motion.
However, that wasn’t the only thing Newton did.
Among the many other, he also initiated the great debate on the nature of space and time.
In Newton’s opinion, space and time were basically axioms, things which exist in and of themselves as absolutes, “without reference to anything external.”
Newton’s life-long archrival, German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, couldn’t disagree more: “space” and “time,” in his opinion, were no more than language tricks, just convenient words to talk about ordering and positioning.
In other words, according to Leibniz, space and time are relational categories, and we can’t think of them in the absence of objects.
It would be as if we’re talking about an alphabet without letters!
Both parties traded blows, but then, in 1689 Newton delivered the most damaging one: the water bucket argument.
The argument is relatively simple: take a bucket filled with water and hung it by a cord. Then twist the cord tightly on itself and release. The bucket should start spinning rapidly.
Now, even though the relative motion at the first stage is the greatest, the surface of the water will remain flat.
After a while, however, as the water starts to spin in the bucket, its surface will become concave. And it will remain so even when the bucket is stopped.
The concave surface can’t be the result of a relational interaction between the bucket and the water since the water assumes different shapes regardless of whether the bucket is spinning or not.
Leibniz conceded defeat:
I grant that there is a difference between absolute true motion of a body and a mere relative change of its situation with respect to another body.
However, as we found out about two centuries later, Leibniz shouldn’t have: it seems he was the one who was in the right.
First Ernst Mach, in the second half of the 19th century, decided to join the discussion by reintroducing Leibniz’s concerns.
In his opinion, Newton’s experiment doesn’t prove that space and time are absolute, but merely that the water is not moving in relation to its immediate surrounding, i.e., the bucket.
But it can be moving in relation to something else – the fixed stars, for example:
Newton’s experiment with the rotating vessel of water simply informs us that the relative rotation of the water with respect to the sides of the vessel produces no noticeable centrifugal forces, but that such forces are produced by its relative rotations with respect to the mass of the earth and other celestial bodies.
And then came Albert Einstein and simply blew everybody away when he proposed that not only Leibniz and Mach were right, but also that the relativeness of space and time was linked and relational to an absolute: the speed of light.
Think of it this way:
You can measure the speed of an object if you divide the distance it travels over an interval by the duration of that same interval.
However, all experiments suggested that the speed of light is always 671,000,000 mph in a vacuum with respect to any reference frame!
But, how can that be?
Shouldn’t the speed of light from the lights of a moving car be faster than the one from the light bulb over your head: the former moves over a greater distance for a shorter period of time.
Strangely enough – it is not.
And as Sherlock Holmes says, “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
After Einstein, the thing which remained was that space and time must work together to adjust so that the speed of light remains the same!
And that’s how the idea of spacetime was born, a continuum in which space and time are relative, but together they form an absolute.
The consequences of this are too numerous and mind-blowing to list them in a sentence or two.
But be sure the check them out!
Key Lessons from “The Fabric of the Cosmos”
1. Spacetime Is as Real as You
2. Gravity Is a Warp in the Spacetime Continuum
3. Quantum Mechanics Is Incredibly Strange
Spacetime Is as Real as You
Brian Greene has picked just the appropriate title for his work: “The Fabric of Cosmos.”
Because one of the things we’ve realized during the past century or so is that spacetime is real, i.e., there are billions and billions of particles all around you constantly coming into existence and disappearing.
So, thinking about spacetime as fabric may mean something more than a simple analogy!
Gravity Is a Warp in the Spacetime Continuum
Gravity itself is a consequence of the curvature of spacetime, i.e., a warp in the spacetime continuum created by anything that has some mass and energy.
It is gravity which gives us weight.
So that means that if you put a scale under the feet of an object in free fall, the scale won’t register any weight.
Quantum Mechanics Is Incredibly Strange
We didn’t even get to speak of quantum mechanics.
But that may be for the better, because if we speak of it, who knows – we may disturb the whole field.
Believe it or not, quantum particles assume characteristics only when observed!
For now, let’s leave it at that.
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“The Fabric of the Cosmos Quotes”
Our entire existence - everything we do, think and experience - takes place in some region of space during some interval of time. Yet science is still struggling to understand what space and time actually are. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
According to the “Science” magazine, “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is the best exposition and explanation of early 21st-century research into the fundamental nature of the universe as you are likely to find anywhere.
In addition, writing for “The New York Review of Books,” Freeman Dyson – a guy we’ve mentioned here, in relation with another great science communicator – recommended Greene’s book “to any nonexpert reader who wants an up-to-date account of theoretical physics, written in colloquial language that anyone can understand.”
One of the very best books you’ll ever read on any scientific subject.