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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (Anglais) Broché – 8 février 2005

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Chapter 1: Roads to Reality


None of the books in my father’s dusty old bookcase were forbidden. Yet while I was growing up, I never saw anyone take one down. Most were massive tomes–a comprehensive history of civilization, matching volumes of the great works of western literature, numerous others I can no longer recall–that seemed almost fused to shelves that bowed slightly from decades of steadfast support. But way up on the highest shelf was a thin little text that, every now and then, would catch my eye because it seemed so out of place, like Gulliver among the Brobdingnagians. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure why I waited so long before taking a look. Perhaps, as the years went by, the books seemed less like material you read and more like family heirlooms you admire from afar. Ultimately, such reverence gave way to teenage brashness. I reached up for the little text, dusted it off, and opened to page one. The first few lines were, to say the least, startling.

“There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” the text began. I winced. “Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind nine or twelve categories,” it continued, “comes afterward”; such questions, the text explained, were part of the game humanity played, but they deserved attention only after the one true issue had been settled. The book was The Myth of Sisyphus and was written by the Algerian-born philosopher and Nobel laureate Albert Camus. After a moment, the iciness of his words melted under the light of comprehension. Yes, of course, I thought. You can ponder this or analyze that till the cows come home, but the real question is whether all your ponderings and analyses will convince you that life is worth living. That’s what it all comes down to. Everything else is detail.

My chance encounter with Camus’ book must have occurred during an especially impressionable phase because, more than anything else I’d read, his words stayed with me. Time and again I’d imagine how various people I’d met, or heard about, or had seen on television would answer this primary of all questions. In retrospect, though, it was his second assertion –regarding the role of scientific progress–that, for me, proved particularly challenging. Camus acknowledged value in understanding the structure of the universe, but as far as I could tell, he rejected the possibility that such understanding could make any difference to our assessment of life’s worth. Now, certainly, my teenage reading of existential philosophy
was about as sophisticated as Bart Simpson’s reading of Romantic poetry, but even so, Camus’ conclusion struck me as off the mark. To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life’s arena–the universe. I remember thinking that if our species dwelled in cavernous outcroppings buried deep underground and so had yet to discover the earth’s surface, brilliant sunlight, an ocean breeze, and the stars that lie beyond, or if evolution had proceeded along a different pathway and we had yet to acquire any but the sense of touch, so everything we knew came only from our tactile impressions of our immediate environment, or if human mental faculties stopped developing during early childhood so our emotional and analytical skills never progressed beyond those of a five-year-old–in short, if our experiences painted but a paltry portrait of reality–our appraisal of life would be thoroughly compromised. When we finally found our way to earth’s surface, or when we finally gained the ability to see, hear, smell, and taste, or when our minds were finally freed to develop as they ordinarily do, our collective view of life and the cosmos would, of necessity, change radically. Our previously compromised grasp of reality would have shed a very different light on that most fundamental of all philosophical questions.

But, you might ask, what of it? Surely, any sober assessment would conclude that although we might not understand everything about the universe–every aspect of how matter behaves or life functions–we are privy to the defining, broad-brush strokes gracing nature’s canvas. Surely, as Camus intimated, progress in physics, such as understanding the number of space dimensions; or progress in neuropsychology, such as understanding all the organizational structures in the brain; or, for that matter, progress in any number of other scientific undertakings may fill in important details, but their impact on our evaluation of life and reality would be minimal. Surely, reality is what we think it is; reality is revealed to us by
our experiences.

To one extent or another, this view of reality is one many of us hold, if only implicitly. I certainly find myself thinking this way in day-to-day life; it’s easy to be seduced by the face nature reveals directly to our senses. Yet, in the decades since first encountering Camus’ text, I’ve learned that modern science tells a very different story. The overarching lesson that has emerged from scientific inquiry over the last century is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality. Lying just beneath the surface of the everyday is a world we’d hardly recognize. Followers of the occult, devotees of astrology, and those who hold to religious principles that speak to a reality beyond experience have, from widely varying perspectives, long since arrived at a similar conclusion. But that’s not what I have in mind. I’m referring to the work of ingenious innovators and tireless researchers–the men and women of science–who have peeled back layer after layer of the cosmic onion, enigma by enigma, and revealed a universe that is at once surprising, unfamiliar, exciting, elegant, and thoroughly unlike what anyone ever expected.

These developments are anything but details. Breakthroughs in physics have forced, and continue to force, dramatic revisions to our conception of the cosmos. I remain as convinced now as I did decades ago that Camus rightly chose life’s value as the ultimate question, but the insights of modern physics have persuaded me that assessing life through the lens of everyday experience is like gazing at a van Gogh through an empty Coke bottle. Modern science has spearheaded one assault after another on evidence gathered from our rudimentary perceptions, showing that they often yield a clouded conception of the world we inhabit. And so whereas Camus separated out physical questions and labeled them secondary, I’ve become convinced that they’re primary. For me, physical reality both sets the arena and provides the illumination for grappling with Camus’ question. Assessing existence while failing to embrace the insights of modern physics would be like wrestling in the dark with an unknown opponent. By deepening our understanding of the true nature of physical reality, we profoundly reconfigure our sense of ourselves and our experience of the universe.

The central concern of this book is to explain some of the most prominent and pivotal of these revisions to our picture of reality, with an intense focus on those that affect our species’ long-term project to understand space and time. From Aristotle to Einstein, from the astrolabe to the Hubble Space Telescope, from the pyramids to mountaintop observatories,
space and time have framed thinking since thinking began. With the advent of the modern scientific age, their importance has been tremendously heightened. Over the last three centuries, developments in physics have revealed space and time as the most baffling and most compelling concepts, and as those most instrumental in our scientific analysis of the universe. Such developments have also shown that space and time top the list of age-old scientific constructs that are being fantastically revised by cutting-edge research.

To Isaac Newton, space and time simply were–they formed an inert, universal cosmic stage on which the events of the universe played themselves out. To his contemporary and frequent rival Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, “space” and “time” were merely the vocabulary of relations between where objects were and when events took place. Nothing more. But to Albert Einstein, space and time were the raw material underlying reality. Through his theories of relativity, Einstein jolted our thinking about space and time and revealed the principal part they play in the evolution of the universe. Ever since, space and time have been the sparkling jewels of physics. They are at once familiar and mystifying; fully understanding space and time has become physics’ most daunting challenge and sought-after prize.

The developments we’ll cover in this book interweave the fabric of space and time in various ways. Some ideas will challenge features of space and time so basic that for centuries, if not millennia, they’ve seemed beyond questioning. Others will seek the link between our theoretical understanding of space and time and the traits we commonly experience. Yet others will raise questions unfathomable within the limited confines of ordinary perceptions.

We will speak only minimally of philosophy (and not at all about suicide and the meaning of life). But in our scientific quest to solve the mysteries of space and time, we will be resolutely unrestrained. From the universe’s smallest speck and earliest moments to its farthest reaches and most distant future, we will examine space and time in environments familiar and far-flung, with an unflinching eye seeking their true nature. As the story of space and time has yet to be fully written, we won’t arrive at any final assessments. But we will encounter a series of developments–some intensely strange, some deeply satisfying, some experimentally verified, some thoroughly speculative–that will show how close we’ve come to wrapping our minds around the fabric of the cosmos and touching the true texture of reality.

Classical Reality

Historians differ on exactly when the modern scientific age began, but certainly by the time Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton had had their say, it was briskly under way. In those days, the new scientific mind-set was being steadily forged, as patterns found in terrestrial and astronomical data made it increasingly clear that there is an order to all the comings and goings of the cosmos, an order accessible to careful reasoning and mathematical analysis. These early pioneers of modern scientific thought argued that, when looked at the right way, the happenings in the universe not only are explicable but predictable. The power of science to foretell aspects of the future–consistently and quantitatively–had been revealed.

Early scientific study focused on the kinds of things one might see or experience in everyday life. Galileo dropped weights from a leaning tower (or so legend has it) and watched balls rolling down inclined surfaces; Newton studied falling apples (or so legend has it) and the orbit of the moon. The goal of these investigations was to attune the nascent scientific ear to nature’s harmonies. To be sure, physical reality was the stuff of experience, but the challenge was to hear the rhyme and reason behind the rhythm and regularity. Many sung and unsung heroes contributed to the rapid and impressive progress that was made, but Newton stole the show. With a handful of mathematical equations, he synthesized everything known about motion on earth and in the heavens, and in so doing, composed the score for what has come to be known as classical physics. In the decades following Newton’s work, his equations were developed into an elaborate mathematical structure that significantly extended both their reach and their practical utility. Classical physics gradually became a sophisticated and mature scientific discipline. But shining clearly through all these advances was the beacon of Newton’s original insights. Even today, more than three hundred years later, you can see Newton’s equations scrawled on introductory-physics chalkboards worldwide, printed on NASA flight plans computing spacecraft trajectories, and embedded within the complex calculations of forefront research. Newton brought a wealth of physical phenomena within a single theoretical framework.

But while formulating his laws of motion, Newton encountered a critical stumbling block, one that is of particular importance to our story (Chapter 2). Everyone knew that things could move, but what about the arena within which the motion took place? Well, that’s space, we’d all answer. But, Newton would reply, what is space? Is space a real physical entity or is it an abstract idea born of the human struggle to comprehend the cosmos? Newton realized that this key question had to be answered, because without taking a stand on the meaning of space and time, his equations describing motion would prove meaningless. Understanding requires context; insight must be anchored.

And so, with a few brief sentences in his Principia Mathematica, Newton articulated a conception of space and time, declaring them absolute and immutable entities that provided the universe with a rigid, unchangeable arena. According to Newton, space and time supplied an invisible scaffolding that gave the universe shape and structure. Not everyone agreed. Some argued persuasively that it made little sense to ascribe existence to something you can’t feel, grasp, or affect. But the explanatory and predictive power of Newton’s equations quieted the critics. For the next two hundred years, his absolute conception of space and time was dogma.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“Send[s] the reader’s imagination hurtling through space on an astonishing ride. . . . He is both a skilled and kindly explicator. His excitement for science on the threshold of vital breakthroughs is extremely contagious.” —The New York Times

“The best exposition and explanation of early 21st-century research into the fundamental nature of the universe as you are likely to find anywhere.” —Science

“Perhaps the single best explainer of abstruse science in the world today. . . . Greene has a gift for finding the right metaphor.” —The Washington Post

“I recommend Greene’s book to any nonexpert reader who wants an up-to-date account of theoretical physics, written in colloquial language that anyone can understand.” —Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books

“As pure intellectual adventure, this is about as good as it gets. . . . Even compared with A Brief History of Time, Greene’s book stands out for its sweeping ambition . . . stripping down the mystery from difficult concepts without watering down the science.” —Newsday

"Greene is as elegant as ever, cutting through the fog of complexity with insight and clarity. Space and time, you might even say, become putty in his hands." —Los Angeles Times

“Highly informed, lucid and witty. . . . There is simply no better introduction to the strange wonders of general relativity and quantum mechanics, the fields of knowledge essential for any real understanding of space and time.” —Discover

“The author’s informed curiosity is inspiring and his enthusiasm infectious.” —Kansas City Star

“Mind-bending. . . . [Greene] is both a gifted theoretical physicist and a graceful popularizer [with] virtuoso explanatory skills.” —The Oregonian

“Brian Greene is the new Hawking, only better.” —The Times (London)

“Greene’s gravitational pull rivals a black hole’s.” —Newsweek

“Greene is an excellent teacher, humorous and quick. . . . Read [your friends] the passages of this book that boggle your mind. (You may find yourself reading them every single paragraph.).” —Boston Globe

“Inexhaustibly witty . . . a must-read for the huge constituency of lay readers enticed by the mysteries of cosmology.” —Sunday Times

“Relish this exhilarating foray into the alien terrain that is our own universe.” —Booklist, starred review

“Holds out the promise that we may one day explain how space and time have come to exist.” —Paul Davies, Nature

“Greene takes us to the limits of space and time.” —The Guardian

“Exciting stuff. . . . Introduces the reader to the mind-boggling landscape of cutting-edge theoretical physics, where mathematics rules supreme.” —The News & Observer

“One of the most entertaining and thought-provoking popular science books to have emerged in the last few years. The Elegant Universe was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Fabric of the Cosmos deserves to win it.” —Physics World

“In the space of 500 readable pages, Greene has brought us to the brink of twenty-first-century physics with the minimum of fuss.” —The Herald

“If anyone can popularize tough science, it’s Greene.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Greene is a marvelously talented exponent of physics. . . . A pleasure to read.” —Economist

“Magnificent . . . sends shivers down the spine.” —Financial Times

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4.3 étoiles sur 5
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Like a powerful refresher course on special and general relativity, and all their implications for cosmology. Un excellent livre, accessible pratiquement à tous, mais également une source de réflexion pour ceux qui manient avec dextérité les équations fondamentales -- relativité, mécanique quantique, etc
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bon livre de vulgarisation qui donne un panorama très large des dernières avancées en physique; le style est vivant et le livre donc facile à lire, malgré l'aridité de certains des domaines de la physique des particules qui sont abordés.
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Par TT le 22 janvier 2013
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Excellente vulgarisation très didactique de l'état actuel des connaissances en la matière.
Le meilleur depuis "A brief history of time" de Stephen Hawking.
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Présentation des approches et modèles possibles pour expliquer l'univers. A la portée de tous mais ça génère plein de questions.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5 496 commentaires
619 internautes sur 632 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Record Setting 5 mars 2004
Par David Kegen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I've never written a review before, but I have enjoyed browsing reader's comments on books I read or teach from. While reading the review that claims this new book to be a "dumbing down" of The Elegant Universe, and to have "no new material", I felt I had to set the record straight. For the record: I teach Physics for Poets class in a local community college, and use The Elegant Universe as one of our books. Next year I will add Fabric of the Cosmos to the syllabus since it has at least 80% new material, and the overlap with The Elegant Universe is done in a new way that I have not seen in any other book, The Elegant Universe or otherwise. The reviewer says that "200 pages are spent reviewing Newton and Einstein" which is a factual error. It is just over 50 pages, and a fascinating new angle known as Mach's principle is used.
For the reviewer to say that "spooky action at a distance" is in Elegant, is also a factual error. He must be thinking of another book. This (huge) subject, entanglement, was not covered in the Elegant Universe as I know for sure, since in the past I have had to assign other books for these ideas. I might add that the discussion of entanglement in Fabric goes far ahead of any other since it proves Bell's theorem, without math! I didn't think that was possible! The main theme of The Arrow of Time which runs through Fabric, is not touched on at all in Elegant, nor are the questions of whether space and time are real or just ideas.
If someone is looking for a direct sequel to Elegent, this is not that book. Fabric is a monumental work of its own and should be read as such.
For other suggested readings: Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps, Janna Levin's How the Universe Got its Spots.
197 internautes sur 201 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The One Book to Read 17 mars 2004
Par George Shermann - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I loved The Elegant Universe.
I loved The Fabric of the Cosmos even more.
In showing the state of the art of unified theories, The Elegant Universe explained alot of physics with unsurpassed clarity. Yet, there were discoveries I had read something about in other books that The Elegant Universe did not discuss, and I longed for Brian Greene to bring his powers of explanation to these subjects too. (I even wrote him an email saying so).
The Fabric of the Cosmos answers my longing in abundance.
This book not only covers relativity but also the long debate about Mach's principle and what "space" means. It covers quantum mechanics, but goes further by taking on the debate regarding observers and measurment, and provides the clearest, most understandable discussion of quantum entanglement (the "EPR paradox) that I have ever seen in print or any other format. The chapters on cosmology are equally great, and the final sections bring the work on unification and string theory right up to the moment.
I can't say this is an easy book, perhaps a little easier than
The Elegant Universe, but definitely a challenge. It is worth it. By the end, the poetry of the universe is yours to behold.
140 internautes sur 144 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The book I've been waiting for. 5 mars 2004
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I happened by chance on The Elegant Universe two years ago during one of my "learn the newest" in physics stretches. I'd read many popularizations to that point, but none could hold a candle to The Elegant Universe. The chapters on relativity and quantum mechanics were, arguably, the clearest treatment
of these subjects ever written, and that really says something since this subject has been written about endlessly. I knew little about string theory at the time but found Greene's encapsulation of
the theory to be among the best popular science writing I've read.
So I was so happy when I saw he had a new book
out. Having now finished it, I am even happier. It is
a phenomenal successor to The Elegant Universe; in some ways
I liked it even better.
Greene's crystal clear and never
a dull moment prose are out in force, with his uncanny ability to anticipate the questions the reader (or at least
this reader) will have regarding material one page, and answer them on the next. There were so many times I asked myself "what about this"? only to find it answered a paragraph later.
The material is also carefully arranged so that you can read it along three different strands, corresponding to different levels of background/interest. In the first strand, you can read the book, skipping the sections which Greene has indicated to be more difficult. In the second strand, you can read all sections, as I did, gaining an even greater appreciation of the ideas and related tricky points. In the third strand you can also read the endnotes which contain very detailed versions of the material covered in the main book, sometimes making use of equations.
What I especially liked about The Fabric of the Cosmos, was the choice of subjects. Space and time are less esoteric
than string theory, and the theme of discussing breakthroughs
not just for the sake of science but, of equal importance, to assess their relevance
for our intuition about reality, was both fresh and thrilling.
The Fabric of the Cosmos covers an astonishing amount of new material, with the same in-a-class-by-itself
level of writing of The Elegant Universe. When you finish, the world looks different. How many books can you say that about? For me, not many.
103 internautes sur 106 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 10 Stars--A Gem and a Gift 22 février 2005
Par JTurenberg - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
As someone who has taught high school and college level physics for close to 30 years, I can say with some degree of experience that this is, hands down, the clearest, most informative, and most exciting book on physics I've ever had the pleasure to encounter. About 5 years ago I would have given almost as high accolades to Green's first book, Elegant Universe. Now, however, Fabric of the Cosmos, in my opinion, has jumped ahead.

Fabric of the Cosmos is very far from being a simplified version of The Elegant Universe, as someone in this bulletin board has said. Instead, Fabric of the Cosmos is so disarmingly clear and so cleverly crafted in its use of analogy and argument, that it does indeed present an easier read than The Elegant Universe. But the material covered in Fabric of the Cosmos is very different from Elegant, and most notably, the text dives head first into some of the trickiest, most absorbing, and far-reaching issues that physicists have struggled with for a very long time. Many of these difficult questions--is space real? what is the nature of quantum entanglement? why does time seem to go in a fixed direction? what happened at the very moment of creation? can string theory be tested? -- are avoided by mainstream physicists and too difficult to be taken on by most science journalists in anything but a superficial treatment. The highly crafted writing in this book, however, cuts through the forrest of complexity with such ease, that the reader who is not already well versed in physics, does not realize the gift he or she is given by a presentation that is clearer than I would have ever thought possible.

In fact, the other day I was speaking with a physics professor colleague who has worked and lectured on some of the topics in this book for many years, and even he had to admit that he was going to use a number of Green's explanations in future lectures.

I was also impressed that this book has no hype. If something is not fully understood, the book makes this clear; if there are competing points of view on something, the controversy is explored, not buried. And rather than having superstring theory as its main goal (as in Elegant Universe), here the structure of space and time is the main goal, something less speculative and in many ways more mind bending.

I'd give it 10 stars if that were an option.
45 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fantastic 3 mars 2004
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is a fantastic discussion of the tough questions of physics and a meditation on their meaning for our take on reality. It is not a rewriting or dumbingdown of The Elegant Universe, as one reviewer has claimed. (Are we reading the same book?) After preparing things with an overview of relativity (done in a fresh way by focusing on "Mach's principle") and quantum mechanics, the book takes on realms not touched in The Elegant Universe. The discussion of entanglement is both entertaining and in-depth, and I can say the same for the question of where the arrow time comes from (answer: the big bang), where our sense that time flows comes from (answer: an illusion), how the universe may have begun (answer: with a big bang from inflation driven by a higgs field) and what it means for two objects to be separated by space (answer: sometimes not much, because of quantum mechanics). The treatment of string theory is less involved than in The Elegant Universe, a sensible thing since string theory's role in this book is to provide a more complete cosmological theory and to suggest what the microscopic particles makeing up space and time are.
The one drawback for some people may be that this book takes on the issues that many physicists choose not to look at (such as quantum measurement problem) because they don't change predictions. If you want to know what physics means for our world, and WHY physics is important beyond explaining experiments, then these treatments are essential, and great
reading too.
This book that is unsurpassed in its depth
and readability.
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