Basic Books, 2005. - 254 pp. Not since Richard Feynman has a Nobel Prize-winning physicist written with as much panache as Robert Laughlin does in this revelatory and essential book. Laughlin proposes nothing less than a new way of understanding fundamental laws of science. In this age of superstring theories and Big-Bang cosmology, we're used to thinking of the unknown as being impossibly distant from our everyday lives. The edges of science, we're told, lie in the first nanofraction of a second of the Universe's existence, or else in realms so small that they can't be glimpsed even by the most sophisticated experimental techniques. But we haven't reached the end of science, Laughlin argues - only the end of reductionist thinking. If we consider the world of emergent properties instead, suddenly the deepest mysteries are as close as the nearest ice cube or grain of salt. And he goes farther: the most fundamental laws of physics - such as Newton's laws of motion and quantum mechanics - are in fact emergent. They are properties of large assemblages of matter, and when their exactness is examined too closely, it vanishes into nothing. A Different Universe takes us into a universe where the vacuum of space has to be considered a kind of solid matter, where sound has quantized particles just like those of light, where there are many phases of matter, not just three, and where metal resembles a liquid while superfluid helium is more like a solid. It is a universe teeming with natural phenomena still to be discovered. This is a truly mind-altering book that shows readers a surprising, exquisitely beautiful and mysterious new world.
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