Hundreds of books pass through my hands in any given week in my library job.
Few of them make me stop and look.
The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose has a catchy title for a person like me, though. I imagined myself opening it, reading a few life-changing phrases and sighing, “So that’s what life is all about.”
Alas, I lasted only as far as the mathematical equations:
Taking the particle’s ordinary 3-velocity to be v, so that v = (dx1 / dt, dx2 /dt, dx3 / dt), where t = x0, we get [18.19],[18.20]
p = mv, m = γμ, va = γ(c2, v),
γ = (1 – v2 /c2) – 1/2.
The equation road led me to the reality of a dead end.
Is the universe is only ours to appreciate if we study enough math?
I sure hope not.
I wouldn’t have wanted to see my grandmother’s magical ability with pie crust trapped in a mathematical equation. I don’t believe my friend Etienne’s off-the-charts charisma can be captured that way. Or my love for my children? There’s no equation complex enough.
I thought of The Big Bang Theory episode where the scientific geniuses rhyme off answers to complex scientific questions in the Physics Bowl. Penny sleeps through the event and average viewers like me wonder Who knows that stuff?
After the physics event Penny brings out her own trivia cards. The answers to the popular culture questions would be obvious to most of us, but Leonard says, “Who knows this stuff?”
Same reality, different roads.
I’ll stick to the one with apple pie and no equations.
I recently picked up the tome that is The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose. This is not a book for everyone; it is a book for people with the education and ability to allow them to grasp complex mathematical equations. That is to say, not me.
Regardless, he has some interesting ideas, and I especially like his description of our place in the universe. As we go about our days brushing our teeth and sitting down to our dinner tables, the world around us feels so stable and stationary. But we are, in fact, hurtling through the atmosphere.
He asks us to pick a fixed point on Earth—perhaps where you are right now. Take out your imaginary black marker and draw a dot on your spot. (The dot will stay in that place, and you will move on.) Ten minutes from now the Earth will have rotated—and you along with it—to a position about 10 miles away from your original black marker dot. But that’s not all, the Earth is also moving around the sun, so in fact you will be about 100 times farther away, but in the opposite direction, and the earth will have moved so far away that your dot will be beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. And then the sun moves around the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, which is a part of clusters and super clusters, and so on, and so on . . .. In a mere ten minutes, you will have moved unbelievably, mind-bogglingly far through space.
I find this idea comforting somehow.
The perspective helps me to sort out what is really important. Does it matter that my library book is overdue, or that I just spotted a new wrinkle? No! We’re all just hurtling through space.