REVIEW SUMMARY: Theoretical physics is a good gig.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The book’s subtitle says it all: “A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the 10th Dimension.”
PROS: Interesting topic; engaging writing.
CONS: The biographical passages; started strong and got weaker.
BOTTOM LINE: A good book if you’re in the mood for something educational.
Hyperspace, by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, is one of those books that you pick up hoping to learn a little something about the Universe and then you end up realizing that theoretical physics is such a good gig.
Think about it. You get to spend the day thinking about space travel, multiple dimensions, superstring theory, Einstein, time travel, parallel universes, dimensional windows, the life cycle of stars, black holes, wormholes, and the Big Bang. This is the real-life version of what science fiction fans love. There is actual scientific and mathematical basis for all of these things. It’s like sense of wonder hopped up on Jolt Cola. And you get to play in this sandbox every day. That’s a good gig.
(Incidentally, one of the reasons I could never be a theoretical physicist, in case you were wondering, is because, in addition to being incapable of performing higher order mathematics, I giggle every time I hear the phrase “Big Bang”. And so it goes.)
The driving principle of Hyperspace is that the laws of nature can be simplified in higher dimensions. The three dimensional world that we all know and love is just incapable of adequately describing the relationship between all of the seemingly disparate forces that exist in nature. And how many dimensions are there? Well, it turns out, thanks to superstring theory, that the number of dimensions is exactly…drum roll, please…ten. Yep. Ten. It turns out that the Big Bang (hee-hee) originated the breakup of the beautiful 10D world into a four dimensional universe (Height, Width, Depth and Time) and a 6D universe (dubbed “hyperspace”). Unfortunately the 6D universe was compressed to a size too small to be measured (Planck length size…10-33 cm. Horton won’t be hearing any Whos.) Those higher order dimensions are more than conceivable; their existence is supported by mathematics.
One might think that such intellectual musings are guaranteed to be a dry read. Not so. Mr. Kaku (who JP has wistfully dubbed “The Official Theoretical Physicist of SF Signal”) happens to be one of those gifted people with both the intellect to understand the material and the communication skills needed to describe it in plain English. He uses simple analogies to get across complex ideas, each one pulling you along to a greater understanding of the scientific concept. For example: conjuring the image of a flat worm traversing a crumpled piece of paper, traveling “vast” distances instantaneously. Or by engaging the reader with conclusions like: If an object can be rotated in space to convert length to width, then it follows that an object can be rotated so that space is converted to time (the fourth dimension).”
He also outlines a small handful of science fiction stories which explore many of the ideas that hyperspace supports. Flatland by Edwin Abbott is used extensively. Also featured were the works of H. G. Wells and Robert A. Heinlein.
All of these areas are where the book best succeeds at being an entertaining and thought-provoking read.
The book did not work as well for me when it sidetracked into biographical histories of the major players in the field of physics. That stuff, while interesting, slowed the book some. Also, the later parts of the book were somehow less interesting; better were the early chapters showing how all this stuff is possible by extrapolating an everyday understanding of how things work. I found myself speed-reading these later parts more and more as the book progressed.
Still, this is a good book. If you are in the mood for something more educational than the nearest hard science fiction book, give this a go. And tell me I’m wrong when I say that theoretical physics is a good gig.