The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos - Brian Greene (2011)


If there was any doubt at the turn of the twentieth century, by the turn of the twenty-first, it was a foregone conclusion: when it comes to revealing the true nature of reality, common experience is deceptive. On reflection, that’s not particularly surprising. As our forebears gathered in forests and hunted on the savannas, an ability to calculate the quantum behavior of electrons or determine the cosmological implications of black holes would have provided little in the way of survival advantage. But an edge was surely offered by having a larger brain, and as our intellectual faculties grew, so, too, did our capacity to probe our surroundings more deeply. Some of our species built equipment to extend the reach of our senses; others became facile with a systematic method for detecting and expressing pattern—mathematics. With these tools, we began to peer behind everyday appearances.

What we’ve found has already required sweeping changes to our picture of the cosmos. Through physical insight and mathematical rigor, guided and confirmed by experimentation and observation, we’ve established that space, time, matter, and energy engage a behavioral repertoire unlike anything any of us have ever directly witnessed. And now, penetrating analyses of these and related discoveries are leading us to what may be the next upheaval in understanding: the possibility that our universe is not the only universe. The Hidden Reality explores this possibility.

In writing The Hidden Reality, I’ve presumed no expertise in physics or mathematics on the part of the reader. Instead, as in my previous books, I’ve used metaphor and analogy, interspersed with historical episodes, to give a broadly accessible account of some of the strangest and, should they prove correct, most revealing insights of modern physics. Many of the concepts covered require the reader to abandon comfortable modes of thought and to embrace unanticipated realms of reality. It’s a journey that’s all the more exciting, and understandable, for the scientific twists and turns that have blazed the trail. I’ve judiciously chosen from these to fill out a landscape of ideas that peak by valley stretches from the everyday to the wholly unfamiliar.

A difference in approach from my previous books is that I’ve not included preliminary chapters that systematically develop background material, such as special and general relativity and quantum mechanics. Instead, for the most part, I introduce elements from those subjects only on an “as needed” basis; when I find in various places that a somewhat fuller development is necessary to keep the book self-contained, I warn the more experienced reader and indicate which sections he or she may safely skip.

By contrast, the last pages of various chapters segue to a more in-depth treatment of the material, which some readers may find challenging. As we enter those sections, I offer the less experienced reader a brief summary and the option to jump ahead without loss of continuity. Nevertheless, I’d encourage everyone to read as far into these sections as interest and patience allow. While the descriptions are more involved, the material is written for a broad audience and so continues to have as its only prerequisite the will to persevere.

In this regard, the notes are different. The novice reader can skip them entirely; the more experienced reader will find in the notes clarifications or extensions that I consider important but deem too burdensome for inclusion in the chapters themselves. Many of the notes are meant for readers with some formal training in mathematics or physics.

While writing The Hidden Reality, I’ve benefited from critical comments and feedback offered by a number of friends, colleagues, and family members who read some or all of the book’s chapters. I’d like to especially thank David Albert, Tracy Day, Richard Easther, Rita Greene, Simon Judes, Daniel Kabat, David Kagan, Paul Kaiser, Raphael Kasper, Juan Maldacena, Katinka Matson, Maulik Parikh, Marcus Poessel, Michael Popowits, and Ken Vineberg. It is always a joy to work with my editor at Knopf, Marty Asher, and I thank Andrew Carlson for his expert shepherding of the book through the final stages of production. Jason Severs’s wonderful illustrations greatly enhance the presentation, and I thank him for both his talent and his patience. It is also a pleasure to offer thanks to my literary agents, Katinka Matson and John Brockman.

In developing my approach to the material I cover in this book, I’ve benefited from a great many conversations with numerous colleagues. In addition to those already mentioned, I’d like to especially thank Raphael Bousso, Robert Brandenberger, Frederik Denef, Jacques Distler, Michael Douglas, Lam Hui, Lawrence Krauss, Janna Levin, Andrei Linde, Seth Lloyd, Barry Loewer, Saul Perlmutter, Jürgen Schmidhuber, Steve Shenker, Paul Steinhardt, Andrew Strominger, Leonard Susskind, Max Tegmark, Henry Tye, Curmrun Vafa, David Wallace, Erick Weinberg, and Shing-Tung Yau.

I started writing my first general-level science book, The Elegant Universe, in the summer of 1996. In the fifteen years since, I’ve enjoyed an unexpected and fruitful interplay between the focus of my technical research and the topics that my books cover. I thank my students and colleagues at Columbia University for creating a vibrant research environment, the Department of Energy for funding my scientific research, and also the late Pentti Kouri for his generous support of my research center at Columbia, the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics.

Finally, I thank Tracy, Alec, and Sophia for making this the best of all possible universes.