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Old 05-04-2014, 07:51 PM
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Default Reaching for the Stars

Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Chapter 15 - Prospects
Reaching for the Stars
Although we are technologically bound to the earth and its immediate neighbors in the solar system, through the power of thought and experiment we have probed the far reaches of both inner and outer space. During the last hundred years in particular, the collective effort of numerous physicists has revealed some of nature's best-kept secrets. And once revealed, these explanatory gems have opened vistas on a world we thought we knew, but whose splendor we had not even come close to imagining. One measure of the depth of a physical theory is the extent to which it poses serious challenges to aspects of our worldview that had previously seemed immutable. By this measure, quantum mechanics and the theories of relativity are deep beyond anyone's wildest expectations: Wave functions, probabilities, quantum tunneling, the ceaseless roiling energy fluctuations of the vacuum, the smearing together of space and time, the relative nature of simultaneity, the warping of the spacetime fabric, black holes, the big bang. Who could have guessed that the intuitive, mechanical, clockwork Newtonian perspective would turn out to be so thoroughly parochial—that there was a whole new mind-boggling world lying just beneath the surface of things as they are ordinarily experienced?

But even these paradigm-shaking discoveries are only part of a larger, all-encompassing story. With solid faith that laws of the large and the small should fit together into a coherent whole, physicists are relentlessly hunting down the elusive unified theory. The search is not over, but through superstring theory and its evolution into M-theory, a cogent framework for merging quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces has finally emerged. And the challenges these developments pose to our previous way of seeing the world are monumental: loops of strings and oscillating globules, uniting all of creation into vibrational patterns that are meticulously executed in a universe with numerous hidden dimensions capable of undergoing extreme contortions in which their spatial fabric tears apart and then repairs itself. Who could have guessed that the merging of gravity and quantum mechanics into a unified theory of all matter and all forces would yield such a revolution in our understanding of how the universe works?

No doubt, there are even grander surprises in store for us as we continue to seek a full and calculationally tractable understanding of super-string theory. Already, through studies in M-theory we have seen glimpses of a strange new domain of the universe lurking beneath the Planck length, possibly one in which there is no notion of time or space. At the opposite extreme, we have also seen that our universe may merely be one of the innumerable frothing bubbles on the surface of a vast and turbulent cosmic ocean called the multiverse. These ideas are at the current edge of speculation, but they may presage the next leap in our understanding of the universe.

As we fix our sight on the future and anticipate all the wonders yet in store for us, we should also reflect back and marvel at the journey we have taken so far. The search for the fundamental laws of the universe is a distinctly human drama, one that has stretched the mind and enriched the spirit. Einstein's vivid description of his own quest to understand gravity—"the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion, and final emergence into the light" 8—encompasses, surely, the whole human struggle. We are all, each in our own way, seekers of the truth and we each long for an answer to why we are here. As we collectively scale the mountain of explanation, each generation stands firmly on the shoulders of the previous, bravely reaching for the peak. Whether any of our descendants will ever take in the view from the summit and gaze out on the vast and elegant universe with a perspective of infinite clarity, we cannot predict. But as each generation climbs a little higher, we realize Jacob Bronowski's pronouncement that "in every age there is a turning point, a new way of seeing and asserting the coherence of the world." 9 And as our generation marvels at our new view of the universe—our new way of asserting the world's coherence—we are fulfilling our part, contributing our rung to the human ladder reaching for the stars.
Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
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