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John Barrow

new theories of everything

We hear a lot about the 'Theory of Everything' nowadays. But what would a theory of everything really be able to tell us. Would give us new insights into the working of the universe or would it just be an exercise in sterile reductionism. These are the sorts of questions addressed by John Barrow in new theories of everything

Barrow discusses whether we have any reason to expect that the basics of the universe are describably in terms of a few simple equations. Isn't it possible that there is layer upon layer of complexity, or that we would be unable to comprehend the ultimate nature of the universe? Barrow looks at the analogy of Gödel's incompleteness theorem. He goes on to examine how much of what we see can be deduced from the laws of nature, and how much is a result of the initial conditions, or of broken symmetries introducing random effects. There is a chapter on the constants of nature - can we expect a theory of everything to explain their values? Maybe they aren't constant after all. Barrow also considers anthropic principles and what they can explain. Later chapters look at how much of the complexity of what we see might be explicable from simple underlying rules and how much needs some other form of explanation, such as self-organisation.

This book may well not be what you would expect from the title. Barrow mentions string theory, but doesn't go into great detail, and there's nothing about competing theories such as loop quantum gravity. If that's the sort of thing you're looking for then you'll probably think that this book is too philosophical and rambling. It's best suited to those who like a wide ranging discussion of a topic, linking it to many different subject areas. info
Paperback 272 pages  
ISBN: 019954817X
Salesrank: 1571809
Published: 2008 Oxford University Press
Amazon price $17.99
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Product Description
Will we ever discover a single scientific theory that tells us everything that has happened, and everything that will happen, on every level in the Universe? The quest for the theory of everything - a single key that unlocks all the secrets of the Universe - is no longer a pipe-dream, but the focus of some of our most exciting research about the structure of the cosmos. But what might such a theory look like? What would it mean? And how close are we to getting there?
In New Theories of Everything, John D. Barrow describes the ideas and controversies surrounding the ultimate explanation. Updating his earlier work Theories of Everything with the very latest theories and predictions, he tells of the M-theory of superstrings and multiverses, of speculations about the world as a computer program, and of new ideas of computation and complexity. But this is not solely a book about modern ideas in physics - Barrow also considers and reflects on the philosophical and cultural consequences of those ideas, and their implications for our own existence in the world.
Far from there being a single theory uniquely specifying the constants and forces of nature, the picture today is of a vast landscape of different logically possible laws and constants in many dimensions, of which our own world is but a shadow: a tiny facet of a higher dimensional reality. But this is not to say we should give up in bewilderment: Barrow shows how many rich and illuminating theories and questions arise, and what this may mean for our understanding of our own place in the cosmos.