Tag Archives: Books

The Fabric of the Cosmos

The Fabric of The Cosmos – Brian Greene

This book is a must read for anyone who is slightly apprehensive about reading books on complex physics due to it’s mathematical nature. Greene steers clear of any complex jargon, and explains ideas clearly an concisely, though you might find his use of characters from the Simpsons, and the X-files to explain relativity and quantum physics etc. somewhat patronizing (I certainly cringed a little bit at first, but I got used to it).

For example, he employs Lisa and Bart Simpson to explain Einstein’s theory of special relativity. He asks us to imagine Lisa shooting a laser off into the distance, and Bart chasing it on his high powered skateboard. The skateboard can travel 500 million miles per hour, whilst the laser travels at 670 million miles an hour. From Lisa’s stand point she would say that the beam of light was speeding away from Bart at 170 million miles an hour, however when Bart returns he states that the speed of the light was racing away from him at 670 million miles per hour. “If Lisa had been able to see Bart’s watch as he sped along at 500 million miles per hour, she would have seen that it was ticking about two-thirds as fast as her own,’ he writes. The conclusion is stunning: the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time – an amazing truth, but I think it could have been explained without having to invoke Bart and Lisa Simpson!

Greene takes you through classical Newtonian physics, to the strange and counter intuitive realms of relativity and quantum physics (subjects I’d previously found daunting, but was surprised to find that I could actually grasp the basics of it and even explain it to people after reading), before asking questions about the nature of time at the level of both the Einsteinian and the quantum, moving on the origin of the universe, string theory and M-theory, and finally the prospects of teleportation and time travel.

Though the chapters themselves are quite long, each chapter is divided up into several parts under subheadings, so it’s an easy book to pick up and put down again, without feeling too lost. There’s plenty of illustrations, to aid your understanding of some of the concepts that he explains (this is particularly helpful when it comes to the quantum physics).

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to someone who, like me who initially feels challenged by physics and cosmology. It’s a really clear and easy to understand book, and you will find yourself being thrilled by many of the strange and wonderful concepts that it takes you through. If you’re already well versed in physics and cosmology, you will probably find the explanations and analogies in this book too patronizing and laboured, but for someone who feels daunted by the subjects covered, it is a perfect book to give you a basic grasp of the laws that govern the universe we live in. The Fabric of The Cosmos is an inspiring and enlightening read.

Rating: 9/10

Review by: Laurens

Mistakes Were Made

“But not by me” reads the subtitle to this staple non-pology. Mistakes Were Made by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson is a fascinating look into the psychology of being wrong. Examples range from psychiatrists, scientists, politicians, TV hosts, all the way to regular people on the street. The focus of this book is not that people are wrong, but that they refuse to admit they are wrong even to themselves and thus confound the error. As I read this book there was a disconcerting transition from recognising the mistakes other people make to recognising those same mistakes in myself. It turns out that everybody errs and nobody admits to it.

The major driver behind our inability to admit mistakes is the need to reduce cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling of simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs. In this case the belief that ‘I am a good person’ conflicts with the belief ‘I made a mistake’ and rationalisation kicks in to try and eliminate one of these two beliefs. The easiest one to avoid is ‘I made a mistake’ and that is often the one to go. The authors talk about the numerous ways in which we all try and reduce dissonance. We blame other people, we come up with justifications for our actions, and we ignore evidence that shows we are wrong. Interestingly, we also rewrite our very memories of events to make them seem more favourable to our point of view. This chapter really made me question how accurate anyone (including myself) could be when trying to recall past events.

The most illuminating example(s) in Mistakes Were Made were those that dealt with recovered memories. Recovering memories used to be a legitimate psychiatric practice and helped thousands of people ‘remember’ child abuse, sexual assaults, satanic rituals, and even alien abductions. You’d think by the time aliens came up, the accuracy of the technique might be called into question but the authors do a great job of explaining how accepting small steps can lead to ending at ludicrous (even criminal) outcomes that would not have been accepted in the beginning. The allegations of parental sexual abuse had devastating impacts of real families and some of those involved still can’t admit they were wrong.

Mistakes Were Made contains numerous lessons that anyone could apply to their own lives. I learned a lot from this book and it changed the way I think about how other think and act. The central message from this book is that we all would be better off admitting to each other (and ourselves) when we are wrong.

Overall: 9/10 fantastic read.