Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reality through the Looking Glass in 'Our Mathematical Universe,' Max Tegmark Takes a Roller Coaster Ride across the Universe

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reality through the Looking Glass in 'Our Mathematical Universe,' Max Tegmark Takes a Roller Coaster Ride across the Universe

Article excerpt

"OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE: MY QUEST FOR THE ULTIMATE NATURE OF REALITY"

By Max Tegmark.

Alfred A. Knopf ($30).

Max Tegmark admits that when asked about his field of study on a long airplane ride, he says one of two things. He will answer "Astronomy" if he wants to engage in conversation with his fellow passenger, but "Physics" if want to be left alone.

As a well-known cosmologist, Mr. Tegmark seems amused given that modern astronomy and physics are closely related with mathematics at the heart of both. In his new book "Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality," Mr. Tegmark argues that it is advances in mathematics that will provide the ultimate answers to nature of reality.

"Our Mathematical Universe" is a delightful book in which the Swedish-born author, now at MIT, takes readers on a roller coaster ride through cosmology, quantum mechanics, parallel universes, sub- atomic particles and the future of humanity. It is quite an adventure with many time-outs along the way, as we follow Mr. Tegmark's personal journey of job applications, rejected papers, close friendships and lost cars.

The book looks at two questions, which at first glance seem to have little in common: what is reality on the largest scale (what is the nature of the universe) and what is reality on the smallest scale (what are subatomic particles made of).

These are difficult questions because humans evolved to think about objects on a human scale. Mr. Tegmark uses clever examples, such as "Cosmic Legos" to help the reader establish appropriate metaphors. But, just when you think you understand the metaphors, he jumps into a discussion "quantum weirdness" and the "collapse of consensus" with glee and delight.

His favorite phrase is "crazy and counterintuitive," which applies not only to modern theories, but also applied to the 1600s, when astronomers started to realize that the Earth circled the sun and not the other way around. Mr. Tegmark notes that the crazy and counterintuitive sun-centric view became accepted when the empirical observations matched the predictions of elliptical orbits. …

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