Friday, March 31, 2006

Review: The Cosmic Landscape

Leonard Suskind is one of the co-inventors of string theory, but this book is not, strictly speaking, an explanation of string theory. Rather, Suskind uses the book as a platform to explain and evangelize the Anthropic Principle as an explanation of why the world we exist is the way it is.

What's wierd about modern physics is that it seems to be exceedingly complicated. Considering that up till the invention of quantum mechanics, all the physics that was known were really short and simple, this is a strange turn of events. Suskind deserves kudos for not attempting to oversimplify string theory, Feynman diagrams, or the strange world of quantum mechanics. In fact, he has one of the best explanations of Feynman diagrams I've read to date. His explanation of the many-worlds interpretation and the megaverse/multiverse is also thorough, fair-minded, and extremely well put. Science Fiction fans will find a lot to enjoy in this book.

Ultimately, though, my recent foray into modern physics is disappointing. There are no deep insights, no grand theories that explain anything. String theory itself makes no predictions:

Throughout this book I have dismissed beauty, uniqueness, and elegance as false mirages. The Laws of Physics (in the sense that I defined them in chapter 1) are neither unique nor elegant. It seems that the world, or our part of it, is a Rube Goldberg machine...

... I often joke that if the best theories are the ones with the minimum number of defining equations and principles, String Theory is by far the best --- no one has ever found even a single defining equation or principle! String Theory gives every indication of being a very elegant mathematical structure with a degree of consistency far beyond any other physical theory. But nobody knows what its defining rules are, nor does anyone know the basic "building blocks" are.
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