A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down

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Basic Books, 2006 - Science - 254 pages
2 Reviews
In this age of superstring theories and Big Bang cosmology, we're used to thinking of the unknown as impossibly distant from our everyday lives. But in A Different Universe, Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin argues that the scientific frontier is right under our fingers. Instead of looking for ultimate theories, Laughlin considers the world of emergent properties-meaning the properties, such as the hardness and shape of a crystal, that result from the organization of large numbers of atoms. Laughlin shows us how the most fundamental laws of physics are in fact emergent. A Different Universe is a truly mind-bending book that shows us why everything we think about fundamental physical laws needs to change.

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A Different Universe by Robert B. Laughlin describes the meaning and importance of emergence (versus reductionism) better than any other physics book. Laughlin meanders through many interesting tales; but he keeps returning to revolutionary physics ideas. No scientific dogma is too sacred to challenge. "Space is more like a piece of window glass than ideal Newtonian emptiness... The modern concept of the vacuum of space, confirmed every day by experiment, is a relativistic ether. But we do not call it this because it is taboo." If these words do not seem controversial enough, then consider Laughlin's words about quantum gravity, "I myself have come to suspect that all important outstanding problems in physics are emergent in nature, including particularly quantum gravity." Unfortunately, few readable physics books are written with both Laughlin's charm and his brutal honesty. Laughlin powerfully criticizes the mathematical fetish of theoretical physics when he asserts that "the myth of the absolute power of mathematics... is still entrenched in our culture." Laughlin suggests that too much physics is mathematical but without sufficient physical basis in idea, metaphor, insight or even potentially observable phenomenon. He poetically asserts that, "The physical idea precedes the mathematics, and the act of writing it down as a simple equation is like capturing a song or a poem." Robert B. Laughlin's ideas are grounded in experiment; "careful quantitative study of microscopic parts has revealed that at the primitive level at least, collective principles of organization are not just a quaint side show but everything--the true source of physical law." His assertion that "all physical law we know about has collective origins, not just some of it" is grounded in physical experiment. His prediction that "One of the things emergent phenomenon can do is create new particles" which are physically indistinguishable from "real particles is grounded in experiment. And his skepticism that "A large portion of the accepted knowledge base of modern science is untrue than was true in the Age of Reductionism, obliging us to look at it more skeptically than we did before and to value consensus less" is grounded in experiment. A Different Universe should be carefully read by every student of science and professional physicists. His assertions and conclusions can not be ignored, not because he is a Nobel Prize winning physicist; but because they are well reasoned and well supported by experimental evidence.
review by Thomas Neil Neubert author of A Critique of Pure Physics

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Robert talks up the early Americana that lead to discovery's of notice, being a physicist
he is an explorer in the world of theory. physics .He leads the way and rightfully so with enthusiasm he
shares in his words to us.Encouraging the exploration with little care if failure takes it's place in our first guesses."That is one you don't have to go back to!" "Move on ," to explore and try again! This first few pages have encouraged me as an inventor to continue never give up keep a good attitude and believe what all explorers believe..I can find an answer some where if I look at it differently the next time! SIMPLICITY is a pure look at what doesn't always have to be so complicated. 


Frontier Law
Living with Uncertainty
Mount Newton
Water Ice and Vapor
Schrodingers Cat
The Quantum Computer
Vin Klitzing
I Solved It at Dinner
Carnival of the Baubles
The Dark Side of Protection
Principles of Life
Star Warriors
Picnic Table in the Sun
The Emergent Age

The Nuclear Family
The Fabric of SpaceTime

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About the author (2006)

Robert Laughlin is the Robert M. and Anne Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1985. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

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