Must Read

SLOW Magazine - - Must Read - By Christophe Gal­fard Pub­lished by: Pan Macmil­lan, South Africa

Need­less to say, I was very ex­cited about the jour­ney I was about to go on, and as I be­gan to get to grips with the the­o­ries of th­ese in­tel­lec­tual pioneers, I started to write down some of their in­cred­i­ble thoughts, to make sure I was get­ting it right:

I think I can safely say that no­body un­der­stands quan­tum me­chan­ics.

– Richard Feyn­man, No­bel Prize lau­re­ate for Physics in 1965

The Lord God is sub­tle, but he is not ma­li­cious.

– Al­bert Ein­stein, No­bel Prize lau­re­ate for Physics in 1921

No lan­guage which lends it­self to vi­su­al­iz­abil­ity can de­scribe quan­tum jumps.

– Max Born, No­bel Prize lau­re­ate for Physics in 1954

Those who are not shocked when they first come across quan­tum the­ory can­not pos­si­bly have un­der­stood it.

– Niels Bohr, No­bel Prize lau­re­ate for Physics in 1922

I have sec­ond thoughts. Maybe God is ma­li­cious. – Al­bert Ein­stein Such state­ments, from the found­ing fathers of the field, would be enough to shake the be­lief of even the most con­fi­dent of stu­dents. Still, along­side two hun­dred other young men and women from around the globe, I sat through mind-bog­gling lec­tures and passed what was at the time called the Part III Exam of the Math­e­mat­i­cal Tri­pos, ar­guably the old­est maths exam in the world. It still con­sisted mostly of pure math­e­mat­ics, and the amount of new ma­te­rial we learnt was so great that we had lit­tle time to re­ally think about the phi­los­o­phy of it all. And then came the plunge. Nine months af­ter my ar­rival at Cam­bridge, Pro­fes­sor Stephen Hawk­ing, one of the most fa­mous (and bril­liant) physi­cists of our time, of­fered me the chance to be­come his PHD grad­u­ate stu­dent, to work on black holes and the ori­gins of our uni­verse. Deep think­ing was about to be­come com­pul­sory. So I spent the fol­low­ing sum­mer hav­ing another look at ev­ery­thing I could find out about, well, ev­ery­thing – and I reached pretty much the point you’ve ar­rived at now in the book. With Hawk­ing as a su­per­vi­sor, I was about to put it all to­gether and to reach much, much fur­ther. Now it’s your turn to do the same. What is there left to see? Well, here is a teaser. In 1979, a very spe­cial No­bel Prize in Physics was awarded to three the­o­ret­i­cal sci­en­tists: Shel­don Lee Glashow from the US, Ab­dus Salam from Pak­istan and Steven Weinberg from the US.

For years, sci­en­tists had been try­ing to un­der­stand some rather pe­cu­liar as­pects of the weak nu­clear force that you re­cently saw in ac­tion. And Glashow, Salam and Weinberg dis­cov­ered some­thing in­cred­i­ble: that elec­tro­mag­netism and the weak force are but two as­pects of another force, another field, that ex­isted a long time ago. They found that dur­ing the early days of our uni­verse, at least two of the in­vis­i­ble quan­tum seas that fill our re­al­ity were once just one, the so-called elec­troweak field.

This was an ex­tra­or­di­nary break­through in its own right (hence the No­bel Prize), but it also paved the way for some­thing much, much bug­ger: the tan­ta­liz­ing prospect of uni­fy­ing all the known forces of na­ture into just one force (and there­fore one the­ory).

The quest for such a uni­fi­ca­tion lies be­hind ev­ery­thing you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween now and the end of this book.

With this goal in mind, you will travel to­wards the ori­gin of space and time, within a black hole and even out­side our uni­verse.

In or­der to get there, how­ever, you will first need to fig­ure out what is left when one emp­ties a place of ev­ery­thing it con­tains.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.