The Cosmic Landscape
Balanced, well-written, and informative. Most books can’t claim all three things, especially if the author says up front that it is a polemical work. Leonard Susskind (ha Leonard) did just that. Of all of the science books/articles that I’ve read so far, this was the clearest. I actually have the delusion that I understand String Theory now (except for the last chapter which started losing me). I would almost venture to say that he brings the material down, from basic Einstein to Calabi Yau manifolds in a way that laymen really can understand.
Susskind makes no bones about what his agenda is and it almost causes him some serious difficulties. He’s an atheist and he believes that he can use science to justify his belief. His argument centers on the fact that String Theory enables for something called a multiverse or megaverse, a virtual bubbling pot of universes that arise out of something Susskind calls “The Cosmic Landscape”. The Cosmic Landscape is from what I can personally best explain the scope of all possibilities that certain natural forces interaction. The force that he specifically focuses on is the cosmological constant of Big Bang Theory fame (the actual event and the TV show). He claims that there is such a large variety of possible constants that can come into existence that one of them should necessarily work out to support life.
There are two problems that he has with this, one he addresses and one he really doesn’t. At the end of the book he admits the one thing many atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t want to. The best science can ever do is create a theoretical construct where G-d doesn’t HAVE to exist in order for the world to operate. Science can never prove one way or the other if some divine being didn’t do it anyway. The second issue that he doesn’t touch is the fact that math doesn’t necessarily play out to reality. For example, there is a certain probability that if you play a certain number of hands of cards, you expect to see an even distribution of the type of hands. In real life, you could be a professional gambler and never see a royal flush. Math doesn’t translate into reality as cleanly as scientists would like. Perhaps that’s what Susskind was referring to when he called Quantum Mechanics a Rube Goldberg machine, but I’m not convinced he would say what I just said. I don’t think he’d actually like it.