Friday, February 7, 2014

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark - Book Review

Welcome to Nerd land - Our Universe is a Mathematical Structure!

 I have never been a great fan of Mathematics though I had been always been fascinated with Science. But I often had the foreboding that Mathematics is not only the foundation of everything but is also the only thing that is completely independent of us and our Universe. Now in this thrilling book, Max Tedmark tries to prove that our Universe is just a mathematical structure (though we do not know the equation) and that there will be as many Universes as there are viable Mathematic structures!

Going beyond parallel universes and multiverses, Max takes us through a fascinating journey to the Level 4 of the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH) in order to understand the ultimate reality of everything. In this journey you will learn a lot of cosmology, physics and maths and Max’s style of storytelling will keep you engrossed throughout. The book can be divided into three parts, with the first one addressing  “How big is everything” – from planets to galaxies and Level 1 multiverse to Level IV multiverse. The second part addresses “What is everything made of” – from elementary particles to mathematical structures. And then in the third part, Max brings us to his conclusion that the answers to the first two questions lead to mathematics as the basis of reality.

One good thing about the book is the summary at the end of each chapter which Max calls ‘Bottom Line’.  While going through such tough concepts as cosmological inflation, cosmic microwave background, galaxy clustering, dark matter, dark energy, the horizon problem, the flatness problem, level 1 to level IV of parallel universes (and the evidence for each), particle physics, why randomness is an illusion, decoherence,  and various aspects of reality, it is great to have a brief summary at the end of each chapter that highlights the important points.

Max’s writing style is very simple and conversational and his ability to mix his personal learning from childhood onwards and the occasional anecdotes makes the book a pleasure to read. But I found it difficult to buy into all the conclusions that the hypothesis leads Max to, especially the need for a parallel universe for every decision branch of every individual!  However since he starts from the basic principles and builds up his case explaining the assumptions made at each level and the counter points to his arguments, it is a great example of not only how science should be practiced but also how it should be taught.

The concluding chapter is a call to action. Instead of just remaining in the exalted pedestal of  a scientific researcher, Max takes the plunge of becoming an activist and bringing the learning to influence the path society should take. The analogy of Earth as a spaceship with limited resources and in a challenging environment (which can often turn hostile) is very apt. I found his suggestions of managing this spaceship and its inhabitants very positive and admirable and I hope this book will influence a large number of people.

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