I have a hard time understanding the universe.
Not in the figurative “why don’t things work the way I want them to” sense, but in the literal “why do things even exist” sense. I try to imagine what could have been before the Big Bang, or what could possibly occur after the Big Crunch, but all I see is a vast, incomprehensible nothingness that terrifies me.
It amazes me that there are men out there like Neil Turok, head of the Perimeter Institute, who can devote their time and effort to understanding these issues without going mad.
The Universe Within is the print version of this year’s CBC Massey Lectures. The lectures focus on a different theme with a different speaker each year, and in 2012, the CBC chose Neil Turok to talk about the development of quantum physics. I listened to the first lecture on the radio one night before going to bed, and found Turok’s description of Michael Faraday‘s insights about electromagetism so fascinating that I had to buy this book.
Unfortunately, much of the book’s subject matter after this point was beyond my level of understanding. This is not to slight Turok’s attempts to write about quantum physics; in many ways he’s a good communicator, and able to provide unusual real-world examples to explain complex concepts within theoretical physics. However, this subject is so abstract to a layperson like me that a lot of the time I was scratching my head.
The academic denseness is leavened by Turok’s discussion of other topics, though, like his childhood, his family’s attempts to resist apartheid, and his current efforts to improve science education across Africa. These topics, even more than his understanding of quarks and the Higgs Boson and what-have-you, have caused him to gain my respect.
One final note: although the title is The Universe Within and the cover shows a stylized drawing of a brain, this book doesn’t talk about how biological systems could interface with quantum ones. It does talk about the vast potential that quantum computers have to change our lives, but the cover gave me the idea that there would be some discourse within about the link between quantum activity and human biological activity. Although this is a misinterpretation on my part, let it be known that a book or chapter discussing this topic would be absolutely awesome.
Up next: Ironskin, by Tina Connolly