Following the Thread
Brian Greene reaffirms his faith in string theory
The Hidden Reality:
Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
by Brian Greene
$29.95 List Price
A decade ago, Columbia University professor Brian Greene joined the ranks of an unlikely set of literary figures—physicists working in arcane and hyperspecialized fields who managed to transmute the base metal of mathematical theorems and conjectures into best-seller gold. Stephen Hawking, once known primarily for showing that black holes emit radiation, had lit the path with his 1988 book A Brief History of Time. The next year, eminent mathematician Roger Penrose mused on quantum theory, computation, and consciousness in The Emperor’s New Mind. The success of these books was something of a surprise. Both Penrose and Hawking held positions high in the priesthood of science, but neither wrote the sparkling prose that might have made such difficult material understandable.
When Greene published The Elegant Universe, in 1999, he seemed to be toiling in still less fertile territory than Hawking or Penrose, if only because of the abstruseness of his specialty: string theory. Even among physicists, string theory has had a reputation for being out there; its harshest critics argue that the field is so divorced from everyday reality that it doesn’t deserve to be labeled science. The real promise of string theory is that its mathematical language might help to fulfill the ultimate dream of physics: a single, consistent mathematical framework that describes all the matter and energy in the universe. Though string theory is not the only candidate for such a “theory of everything,” for the past few decades it has arguably been the most credible one.
A Rhodes scholar who used his time