Perhaps it's time I came clean. Despite all the popular science books I review, I do not even have a physics GCSE. There's a good reason for this, and I still remember the day when my faith in physics collapsed. My physics teacher, a slightly depressed-looking woman, had drawn a diagram of an electrical circuit on the blackboard. 'Of course,' she said, 'everything I'm teaching you is wrong. Electric current doesn't really flow from positive to negative. But you have to learn it anyway.' When pressed she would not explain further. 'It'll only confuse you,' she said. I was horrified. What's wrong with being confused and uncertain? Isn't that fundamentally what life's all about? So I gave up physics and fled back to the safe, familiar " and uncertain " world of Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Our maths teacher, in contrast, seemed to have an instinctive understanding for the kind of thing that connects artistic people with scientific things. 'If you can cover one side of paper with the same five-sided shape with no gaps,' he told us one day, 'you'll have done something no one has ever managed to do before.' There was romance in that, somehow, and it kept me busy for about a year before I gave up.
Good popular science writers understand something of this romance. After all, the impossible is pretty exciting. Something can be wrong in a very compelling way. Of course, there will always be people who will want to make little electrical circuits and never think about which way the current 'really' flows. But popular science readers want an excuse to think about what really happens as a result of Schrdinger's Cat (God or the multiverse " you decide); a chance to daydream about bigger (and smaller) things than seem possible. Simon Singh understands this, as do Brian Greene, J Richard Gott and Paul Davies. So does Michio Kaku, although he occasionally makes the same mistake that Lisa Randall makes here " not understanding that you can't fob these readers off with the equivalent of 'electricity doesn't flow like that but don't worry about it'.
The problem in this book begins with a ham. Randall is introducing us to the components of our three familiar dimensions before beginning to explain the possibility of more. She says: 'For example, when you order ham at the deli, the three-dimensional lump of ham is readily exchanged for many two-dimensional slices. …