BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

More science ...

Those of you paying "stalking level" attention to my journal may recall that a while back I was enthused for having gotten a number of books from B&N's web site for two bucks a piece (I do so love a deal), and this was another of that bunch of books.

Frankly, I still don't quite "get" how/why Timothy Ferris' The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report ended up in that deep-discount category, unless there's a new edition out and they were clearing out the old ones (I'm just guessing in that Amazon lists the cover price on this as two bucks more than what's printed on the copy I have). It's obviously still in print, and the cover boasts it being a "national bestseller", so maybe I just lucked out!

I really need to improve my "bookmarking" for things like this, as I will end up with a half a dozen slips of paper stuck in a book, but then not really be sure what it was that I was trying to point out. Sometimes it's a fascinating fact, sometimes a particularly lush bit of prose, sometimes ... well, you get the picture. I know that one of my marks in this (in the endnotes) was to reflect on the factoid that Hugh Everett (the scientist who came up with, in his doctoral dissertation, the "many worlds" concept that every act of quantum measurement splits the universe into multiple copies, each reflecting the possible states of that measurement, and thus provided the time stamp of "pre- or post-Everett" discussions on the subject) ended up leaving "regular" physics to work with defense contractors for a couple of decades, and was just about to "come back in from the cold" (as his theories had held up over time and he was finally being invited to seminars, etc.) and re-join the Theoretical Physics brotherhood when he had a sudden heart attack in 1982 and died. How about that for some conspiracy-theory fodder? Even more so, just what military projects would have been benefiting from 25 years of his work?

Anyway, aside from that little doozie, I don't recall specifically what I was wanting to bring up here to enlighten you on The Whole Shebang other than one additional datum that, according to Ferris, there is, in the "observable universe" one supernova occurrence per second, which sure makes me want to buy a telescope ... oh, and an observation that when Ferris gets into the concept of "cosmic evolution" (yes, it does seem to be a bit convoluted), he postulates that "Every evolutionary process has three aspects - one conservative, another innovative, and the third selective." which could have been pulled directly from Gurdjieff's writings! I have no idea if Ferris has read any "Fourth Way" materials, but I sure get excited when stuff dovetails like this.

Over-all, The Whole Shebang is "yet another Cosmology book" (of which I've probably read a dozen or more), so much of this was, for me, yet another look at stuff I've been familiar with for a while. To his credit, Ferris has structured this in a rather interesting and useful format, going from the Big Bang, through the expansion, to a look at possible universal geometries, how all this relates to chemistry and the elements, what "dark matter" might be and why we're pretty sure 90% of the universe is made of it, how the universe may be structured, how what's in it has "evolved", a look at "symmetry", how the universe is growing, some of the concepts of this just being one of many universes, the whole "quantum weirdness" thing, a look at the assorted "anthropic" arguments, and even a theological coda.

As familiar as I am with much of this stuff at this point, there are always things in these books which surprise me, and this was no exception. In this case the most challenging bit was the work of Hartle and Hawking to try to devise a mathematical scenario that would avoid a singularity at the very beginning of everything, creating "world line" diagrams where the "vanishing point" singularity gets "smeared" and one is left with what looks like some badly mangled paperclips (trust me, it's fascinating, see p.253). Frankly, there was enough stuff flying around my head (ala Dennis Miller's "sub referencing"), that I was spinning out scenarios dealing with stuff (not covered in here) like String Theory's 11D space, and how that might explain/enable "action at a distance" questions in the cosmological models being covered in Ferris' text. I always appreciate a book that forces me to make diagrams!

If this sounds like your cup of tea, The Whole Shebang is still in print, and should be available somewhere near you, but it is also out there for cheap ... while the B&N sale from whence I got my copy is long gone, the Amazon new/used guys have at least one "like new" copy of the paperback for 1¢ and "like new" copies of the hardback for as little as a buck. Such a deal!

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Tags: book review
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