Three Roads to Quantum Gravity : A New Understanding of Space, Time and the Universe (Science Masters)

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9780753812617: Three Roads to Quantum Gravity : A New Understanding of Space, Time and the Universe (Science Masters)
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The Holy Grail of modern physics is the search for a 'quantum gravity' view of the universe that unites Einstein's general relativity with quantum theory. Until recently, these two foundational pillars of modern science have seemed incompatible: relativity deals exclusively with the universe at the large scale (planets, solar systems and galaxies), whereas quantum theory is restricted to the domain of the very small (molecules, atoms, electrons). Here, Lee Smolin provides the first accessible overview of current attempts to reconcile these two theories. Written with wit and style, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity touches on some of the deepest questions about the nature of the universe - are space and time continuous or infinitely divisible? Is there a limit to how small things can be? - while speculating on what developments we can expect at the frontiers of physics in the twenty-first century.

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Review:

It's difficult, writes Lee Smolin in this lucid overview of modern physics, to talk meaningfully about the big questions of space and time, given the limitations of our technology and perceptions.

It's more difficult still given some of the contradictions and inconsistencies that obtain between quantum theory, which "was invented to explain why atoms are stable and do not instantly fall apart" but has little to say about space and time, and general relatively theory, which has everything to say about the big picture but tends to collapse when describing the behavior of atoms and their even smaller constituents. Whence the hero of Smolin's tale, the as-yet-incomplete quantum theory of gravity, which seeks to unify relativity and quantum theory--and, in the bargain, to move toward a "grand theory of everything." Smolin ably explains concepts that underlie quantum gravity, such as background independence, the superposition principle, and the notion of causal structure, and he traces the development of allied theories that have shaped modern physics and led to this new view of the universe.

Although he allows that "it has not been possible to test any of our new theories of quantum gravity experimentally," Smolin predicts that a solid framework will be established by 2015 at the outside. If he's correct, the years in between promise to be an exciting time for students of the physical sciences, and Smolin's book makes an engaging introduction to some of the big questions they'll be asking. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Lee Smolin is Professor of Physics at the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Pennsylvania State University. He is a leading contributor to the search of a unification of quantum theory, cosmology and relativity.

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