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Truth and Absurdity in Modern Physics: and the Quest for a Softer, More-Inclusive Theory of Everything
Modern physics can get a bit weird at times. Absurd, even. Consider, for example, the concept of the Multiverse. Its premise is that there are universes beyond our own. Many of them. Infinitely many of them, in fact, according to one widely held view. Each one began with its own Big Bang, and each one has been evolving according to laws of physics that may- or may not- be identical to our own. With infinitely many universes out there in the Multiverse, it’d be inevitable that at least one of them would contain an exact copy of you on a planet that’s an exact copy of earth, and in a solar system that’s an exact copy of our own. Your doppelganger out there in the distant beyond might have lived his life identically to yours up until your wedding days. You, standing at the Alter chose to say, “I do.” He, standing at an identical alter, way, way out there in his universe chose instead to flee to Timbuktu. Weird? Indeed. But it’s fully consistent with Einstein’s general theory of relativity and with all other known laws of physics. And from what we can tell, a majority of top-tier cosmologists believe it to be true. Or consider the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. According to it, if two mutually-exclusive things are possible, both of them can come true at the same time, but in different parallel universes. You don’t even have to travel outside of the confines of our universe to find them they’re all happening right here, right now. So, when you were standing at the Alter on your wedding day here on our earth, there was one “you” that opted for wedded bliss and chose to say, “I do”. And there was another “you” that opted for a life of reckless adventure and chose instead to flee to Timbuktu. Absurd? Unarguably. But – absurd though it may be – it’s consistent with how Schrodinger’s equation describes quantum state evolution. Nobody doubts Schrodinger’s equation. In fact, it can be argued that the Many-Worlds interpretation is mandated by Schrodinger’s equation. And an astonishing number of otherwise-sane quantum theorists believe it to be true. …and so it goes. There are a dozen or more distinct topics in the book where physicists believe weird things to be true, and where the author claims to have something unique to say about them. The topics range from mathematical certitude to ontological truth from worm-holes in the fabric of the universe to black holes from artificial intelligence to manufactured consciousness and from quantum computing to distributed consciousness. Central to the book are the science and technologies that enable quantum computing. The key to successful quantum computing is something called “many-body entanglement”, or MBE. (To physicists, MBE is a clean, wholesome thing). It turns out that MBE is key to understanding and resolving much of the weirdness in the other topics introduced above, too. Often in the book, the author pits extreme improbability against a vast (perhaps infinite) opportunity space in which the improbable has a chance to occur, and sees what happens. “Truth and Absurdity” is a high-end popular science book written for a technically sophisticated audience. It contains quite a bit of serious, cutting-edge fundamental physics, but is written with wit, humor, and a bit of story-telling mixed in. It’s a little bit dark, a little bit edgy, and all-in-all, a good read. It feels more like narrative fiction than fundamental physics. Not every author writing in this genre gets to make this claim. Not by a long shot.