I recently picked up The Fabric of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene—not the first physics book I’ve read and probably not the last. I have a laywoman’s understanding of physics, which pretty much means that I have a vague definition of the Big Bang, dark matter, particles, and a few other physics-related concepts, but have ZERO understanding of what anything beyond four dimensions might actually resemble. I was hoping that reading The Fabric of the Cosmos would help me understand more about the ideas current physicists are floating around about the physical world.
Although Brian Greene is a great writer, The Fabric of the Cosmos is just a book and not a miracle-worker, so I’m not all that sure how much more I understand about science after reading the book. Brian Greene does seem much more adept than some of the other physics’ writers at using examples to show his points. After reading the first few chapters of The Fabric of the Cosmos, I felt as if I had a much firmer grasp on the general theory of relativity than I had before, and also felt as if I understood some of the finer nuances of physics because of his specific analogies.
That said, I still don’t understand string theory even after reading his lengthy explanation; since Brian Greene is one of the leaders in string theory---along with Michio Kaku—I have a strong feeling that the concept of string theory and its many dimensions will stay out of my grasp.
Lisa Randall is another physicist who understands the importance of using stories as examples to explain difficult physics concepts to laypeople; in her book, Warped Passages, she begins each chapter with a different story—often with the same characters—designed to illustrate her points about physics. When Lisa Randall explains string theory, however, she doesn’t seem to do a better job than anyone else at explaining the controversial theory. (Her story at the beginning of the chapter focuses on a scientist or future-man who has just received a special viewing device that doesn’t quite work because of the sheer number of short strings floating around.)
As Lisa Randall explains string theory:
Particles arise from the resonant oscillation modes of strings. Each and every particle corresponds to the movements of an underlying string, and the character of those vibrations determines a particle’s properties.
So far, so good. But to me as a laywoman, string theory gets increasingly difficult to understand when it gets into the realms of superstring theory and curled up dimensions. The fact that physicists are still unsure about how to prove or disprove string theory doesn’t help matters much either.
If anyone has a good resource to recommend about string theory or physics in general, I’d be happy to read it.