James Owen Weatherall's previous book, The Physics of Wall Street, was a New York Times best-seller and named one of Physics Today 's five most intriguing books of 2013. Read more...
James Owen Weatherall's previous book, The Physics of Wall Street, was a New York Times best-seller and named one of Physics Today's five most intriguing books of 2013. In his newest volume, he takes on a fundamental concept of modern physics: nothing. The physics of stuff--protons, neutrons, electrons, and even quarks and gluons--is at least somewhat familiar to most of us. But what about the physics of nothing? Isaac Newton thought of empty space as nothingness extended in all directions, a kind of theater in which physics could unfold. But both quantum theory and relativity tell us that Newton's picture can't be right. Nothing, it turns out, is an awful lot like something, with a structure and properties every bit as complex and mysterious as matter. In his signature lively prose, Weatherall explores the very nature of empty space--and solidifies his reputation as a science writer to watch.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-10-17
- Reviewer: Staff
What, according to our best physical theories, is nothing? asks Weatherall (The Physics of Wall Street), a professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine, in this slim volume for nonexperts. Weatherall explains that empty does not necessarily mean featureless. Covering hundreds of years of science, he describes a bestiary of nothings across shifting historical conceptions, including the totally empty void, favored by ancient Greeks; the unobservable, all-pervasive Cartesian plenum; Newtons empty container, in which bodies move; the ubiquitous, vibrating luminiferous ether; modern permeating fields (electromagnetic, gravitational, etc.); and vacuum fluctuations, in which stuff is spontaneously created through matter-antimatter pairings. Further, readers see how the science of nothingness is significantly and complexly tied up with our most powerful cosmological theoriesincluding classical mechanics, relativity, and quantum theory. Unifying the latter two is one of the most difficult and important questions facing modern physics, Weatherall notes, suggesting that ameliorating the clash between relativistic and quantum nothings would help them play nice. Readers get a dose of biography while following such figures as Einstein, Dirac, and Newton to see how top theories about the void have been discovered, developed, and debunked. Weatheralls clear language and skillful organization adroitly combines history and physics to show readers just how much nothing really matters. (Dec.)