Thursday, September 27, 2007

BBC IOT - Theories of Everything With Brian Greene

Even In Our Time has its limits. I wrote last April that Lord Bragg was struggling with the Poincare Conjecture, and compared it to my physics reading then ...
... Which brings me to my recent readings in physics. I'm reading Gribbins on Quantum Mechanics (1994) and Brian Greene with another cosmology/string theory overview, the Gribbins book is my personal favorite, but it's a bit dated now. Together though, they make it hard to overlook that physics seems to be getting harder and harder. We have more physicists than ever, and I'd wager there's a Feynman or two in the bunch, but we've been stuck for decades now...
I've been savoring Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos ever since, reading a few pages every day. It's rich stuff! I'll have a post on the book soon, but I confess I'd underestimated the progress of the 90s; quantum speckles on the microwave echoes of Higgs driven inflation is darned impressive.

Which brings me to the podcast I'm listening to now -- Theories of Everything, feature none other than ...
Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia University and author of The Fabric of the Cosmos (Allen Lane, 2004)

John Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge and author of The Constants of Nature (Vintage, 2003)

Dr Val Gibson, particle physicist from the Cavendish Laboratory and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge

Further reading
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (Vintage, 2000)
[jf: odd choice, they should have recommended The Fabric of the Cosmos, his current book]
Theories of Everything by John Barrow (Vintage, 1992)
Now that's ambitious. Alas, Bragg is weakest when he ventures into math and physics, and his guests seemed to be struggling as well. At one point Gibson and Green talk about the relationship of extra dimensions to string theory, but they just miss making the key point -- that while finding extra dimensions won't prove string theory, not finding them will severely weaken string theory.

I was also left with the impression that the "string" metaphor is overdone. Maybe it would work better if Green were to say something like "we've developed very fancy maths that allow us to model both the jittery quantum world and the continuous world of cosmology", and one way to imagine the mathematics is to think that it's describing wee little bits of strings ...

Full points to IOT for courage, but Lord Bragg was traveling in alien territory ...

Update 9/30/07: I wrote this post pretty quickly -- like all my posts. Melvynn stayed lost, but his guests warmed up around the half way mark, so it did turn into a strong episode.

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