The Number of the Heavens: A History of the Multiverse and the Quest to Understand the Cosmos

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9780674975880: The Number of the Heavens: A History of the Multiverse and the Quest to Understand the Cosmos
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The award-winning former editor of Science News shows that one of the most fascinating and controversial ideas in contemporary cosmology―the existence of multiple parallel universes―has a long and divisive history that continues to this day.

We often consider the universe to encompass everything that exists, but some scientists have come to believe that the vast, expanding universe we inhabit may be just one of many. The totality of those parallel universes, still for some the stuff of science fiction, has come to be known as the multiverse.

The concept of the multiverse, exotic as it may be, isn’t actually new. In The Number of the Heavens, veteran science journalist Tom Siegfried traces the history of this controversial idea from antiquity to the present. Ancient Greek philosophers first raised the possibility of multiple universes, but Aristotle insisted on one and only one cosmos. Then in 1277 the bishop of Paris declared it heresy to teach that God could not create as many universes as he pleased, unleashing fervent philosophical debate about whether there might exist a “plurality of worlds.”

As the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, the philosophical debates became more scientific. René Descartes declared “the number of the heavens” to be indefinitely large, and as notions of the known universe expanded from our solar system to our galaxy, the debate about its multiplicity was repeatedly recast. In the 1980s, new theories about the big bang reignited interest in the multiverse. Today the controversy continues, as cosmologists and physicists explore the possibility of many big bangs, extra dimensions of space, and a set of branching, parallel universes. This engrossing story offers deep lessons about the nature of science and the quest to understand the universe.

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About the Author:

Tom Siegfried is the former Editor-in-Chief of Science News. Before that he was the science editor of the Dallas Morning News. His previous books include The Bit and the Pendulum, Strange Matters, and A Beautiful Math. He has written for Nature, Science, Astronomy, New Scientist, and Smithsonian, and his work has been included in The Best American Science Writing. He has received a number of awards, including the Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics and the Robert C. Cowen Award from the American Geophysical Union.

Review:

The Number of the Heavens is a thrilling history of our quest to grasp the whole of reality and determine our place within it. Whether there is one universe or many, Siegfried's masterful prose allows us all to delight in our species' passionate urge to look up and wonder.”Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe

“Packed with surprising historical tidbits and witty asides, Siegfried tells the riveting tale of millennia-long efforts to define not merely the extent of existence, but also the nature of science itself.”K. C. Cole, author of The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty

“Prepare to enter the mysterious realm of the multiverse! The Number of the Heavens displays unusual depth across several fields of research, allowing scientists, historians, and the general public to experience firsthand a debate of great cosmological import.”Steven J. Dick, former NASA Chief Historian

“Examining the positions of medieval thinkers and today’s physicists alike, this book is a very thorough and timely study of the concept of the multiverse through the ages.”Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected

“While it is debatable how closer we might be to verifying the multiverse compared to Aristotle, a recounting of the history of this philosophical and scientific debate in the entertaining and often tongue-in-cheek tone of Siegfried is certainly fascinating.”Nature Astronomy

“This ‘multiverse,’ a hot topic of debate in physics today, is only the latest example of how scientists have expanded our horizons...This intriguing book examines that changing understanding of the universe, and of science as well.”Jeff Foust, Space Review

“This clear and thoughtful work of popular science serves as a fascinating history of one of the most provocative concepts in modern physics, while also tracing its roots in ancient ideas and exploring its implications for this universe and others.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“What sets this book by Siegfried apart from others is the quality of his writing, as well as the direct links he draws between contemporary and ancient views of the multiverse concept.”Library Journal

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