x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Required reading: the meaning of life

A former academic, Eric Weinstein, says he's solved the mysteries of the universe, and some at Oxford University agree. Here are three books that are a must read for those trying to understand life, the universe and the reason for being.

Big news from the annals of science last week. A British newspaper reports that the mysteries of the universe may have been solved by a hedge-fund economist who left academia 20 years ago. Eric Weinstein’s theory – he calls it geometric unity – posits a 14-dimensional “observerse”, which contains our work-a-day, four-dimensional, space-time universe.

Weinstein presented his big idea to the prestigious Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University last week and can count several high-profile academics among his supporters.

So, what do you make of geometric unity? If won’t be long, surely, until that question is casually thrown your way at a dinner party.

Don’t panic; just read on.

Weinstein’s theory is the latest in a long line of what physicists call a Theory of Everything. Turn to A Brief History of Time – the 1988 book that made Stephen Hawking the world’s most famous scientist – to learn more. A Theory of Everything, says Hawking, must reconcile the two great theories that underpin our understanding of the physical world: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics.

But you knew that anyway, right? And, of course, you’ll know most of what’s contained in The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox, the D:REAM keyboard player turned physicist pin-up. But before you take on geometric unity, it can’t hurt to brush up on your understanding of quantum physics: a world of subatomic particles wherein one object can be in two places at the same time, and (some say) an infinitude of parallel universes exist. You can see how this Theory of Everything stuff becomes tricky, right?

With your head wrapped around all that, you’re ready to refresh your knowledge of other recent attempts to solve the Big Question. See New Theories of Everything by the Cambridge cosmologist John D Barrow, for a survey that includes the theory that the universe is a computer simulation and that we – our hopes, dreams and everything around us – are nothing more than digital information being shuttled around inside it.

Still, if that’s true, you’ve got to wonder who is using the computer.

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