Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: 'From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time' by Sean Carroll

Review by Stephen Andrew
From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time 
By Professor Sean Carroll 
Publisher Dutton 448 Pages 
Hardcover $26.00 - $18.00
What is the nature of time? Why does it pass? Is it reversible in principle, or dare we dream someday in practice? Time is one the most fundamental properties of our universe, and yet one rarely addressed for good reason: at first glance time appears impenetrable to beings so utterly embedded within it. It is a phenomenon so innate that it defies analysis, let alone lend itself to popular description for non scientists. But Prof Sean Carroll, owner and operator of the popular Discover Magazine weblog Cosmic Variance, has tackled the daunting subject in his new book and has a lot of fun along the way:

Everyone knows what a time machine looks like: something like a steampunk sled with a red velvet chair, flashing lights, and a giant spinning wheel on the back. ... That's not how it would really work. it would simply look like a "space machine" ... If you want to visualize a time machine, think of launching a rocket ship, not disappearing in a puff of smoke. -- pg 93
One of the things I like best about this book is it specifically avoids the trap of quasi-mysticism -- the strained parallel to various philosophical and religious sophistries -- that so many popular modern physics books have fallen into. The book necessarily handles a number of diverse specialties, from quantum physics to thermodynamics, with occasional segues into real consequences for the casual and even political reader. Example, the Second Law of Thermodymanics:
Does life make thermodynamic sense? "Yes". But the opposite has been claimed by creationists ... The creationist argument would equally well imply that refrigerators are impossible. -- pg 191
The author does not dumb down the basic mathematical relationships, but also devotes time to successfully present those concepts from intuitive angles sure to guide the experienced hard science aficionado and relative newcomer alike. That's quite a feat; trying to describe an enigmatic idea like entropy vis-a-vie the arrow of time without using math is a bit like trying to hum a symphony using Morse code.
Obviously this is a book that will appeal to analytically inclined readers with a deep interest and/or some basic formal training in physics. But it's clearly written with the express intent of explaining the current state of understanding on one hell of a slippery subject to anyone who cares to take it on. In that it succeeds, but you're going to have to read it to get the timely details.
Dr. Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in Physics at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in 1993 from Harvard University, and has previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT and at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as on the faculty at the University of Chicago. 

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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