Brian Greene is a very intelligent guy, an accomplished physicist and mathematician, and he also happens to be a hell of a writer. In The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos he deftly guides us through some of the amazingly complex ideas and scientific foundations behind the popularized notion of the multiverse. His explanation of the core concepts at work are thorough, but not laden with excessive technical language or the type of writing that demands a dictionary be kept close at hand. This is a boon to the vast majority of his potential readers, most of whom probably didn’t graduate from Harvard and Oxford, as he begins to talk about the potential for worlds that exist outside of our universe. Greene tackles a particularly murky and labyrinthine area of physics, but somehow distills all of the essential information into language that a non-scientist can digest. He does all of this while firmly grounding his discussions in the larger scientific paradigms which inform any talk of multiple universes.
My own reading of the book was colored by my admittedly biased view of the topic (because I firmly believe that we are part of a multiverse) and by my desire to contextualize some of the ideas that frequently play a large role in my fiction writing. If I’m going to write about characters that cross over into other worlds and venture into realities that do not fit within our conventional model of a single universe, I need to at least understand some of the science underlying these fictional pursuits. I wanted to have a better idea of what it means when people talk about infinite space and the possibility of worlds beyond the range of our senses.
The scope of possible topics within the text would appear to be limited by his focus on one particular set of theories, but after reading it all the way through I can safely say that this is not at all the case.
Do you know how many different theories propose the idea of a multiverse? I didn’t have any idea how many there actually are until I read this book. Greene takes us on a tour of nine different theories, each of which has its own proposed set of features and logic to explain the existence of a multiverse. There’s the Quilted Multiverse, in which our world would be part of an infinitely large expanse where the conditions of reality are repeated over and over. The Inflationary Multiverse proposes that we might be part of an ever-expanding space that eternally continues to create bubble universes propelled ever-farther from each other. And the Quantum Multiverse seeks to show how there could be a parallel universe for every possibility inherent in the probability waves which make up a key component of quantum mechanics. That’s only a third of the different forms of multiverses Greene writes about, and already you can begin to see how dense—from a reader’s perspective, not in a literal, physical sense—the subject of parallel worlds is once you get into the details.
I found this book on Amazon when I was searching for something to read that I could both enjoy and learn from—for me The Hidden Reality accomplished this to a degree I wouldn’t have guessed. There’s more to the book than a long series of scientific theories broken into their respective parts, because Greene goes a step further to show some of the practical applications—and consequences—of viewing our existence as part of a larger reality. For example, late in the book Greene goes into detail about the Simulated Multiverse in which technological advances reach a point where we have the capacity to simulate entire digital universes filled with simulated inhabitants capable of thought, who are also able to create such universes within their own. Once this idea is established in the mind of the reader, which takes some time and considerable effort, he then takes the idea of the Simulated Multiverse to its furthest logical extension: that it’s theoretically possible our universe is actually a simulation, created in some other realm and existing only as data that has no equivalent physical form tying it to reality. How would we know if that were the case, and what would it mean? Greene attempts to answer some of these questions throughout the text. It’s in these sections that the text becomes more than a mere ‘Idiots Guide to Parallel Worlds.’
Of course, the information contained in The Hidden Reality is not as hidden as the supposed other worlds made possible by the theories it talks about. Greene’s purpose in writing the book was not to propose some new insight involving multiverses or theories advocating their existence. This text is meant to provide a strong basis of understanding for anyone looking to learn about multiverse theory and all it entails. In that sense, it’s a complete success. With a little determination and an open mind, most people could read this book and come away with a better understanding of how such amazing things as doppelgangers and higher dimensions could one day be considered scientific fact—no longer relegated to the domain of science-fiction. It’s important to note, however, that Greene is cautious in his approach and informs the reader of the healthy skepticism that many physicists have when talking about multiverses.
If you have a background in science, this book probably won’t have much to offer for you. But if you’re an average reader, like myself, with only a basic knowledge of the subject and a desire to know more, this is a great place to start. I haven’t read other, similar books, but that’s on my to-do list. There are other scientist-authors venturing into the speculative territory of parallel worlds, and I’m curious to see how their work compares to Greene’s. Until then, what I can say for sure is that Brian Greene is a more than adequate source for learning the basics of the physics that are behind current theories of the multiverse.
The final verdict on The Hidden Reality is that it’s an illuminating look into some very strange science, one that I think holds some appeal for anyone who’s willing to stretch their mind some. For writers that work in the genres of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, I’d say this is a must-read—unless, again, you already have a working knowledge of the physics involved. I didn’t have a lot of experience with physics to use as a base for my stories, but I had the urge to find that base. I wasn’t looking for an ultimate, comprehensive source, but enough to say with some confidence that I do actually know what the hell I’m talking about. Having invested some time into learning more about the subject, I now feel better prepared to write stories that are built upon, and grapple with, the idea of multiple universes.
As always, I know there’s still plenty left for me to learn—but I’m on the right track now, thanks to Brian Greene and his thoughtful, well-written tour of the science of multiverses.