Member # 1
posted 18. July 2005 15:37
Nature 434, 701 - 702 (07 April 2005); doi:10.1038/434701a
Review: Emerging physics
A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down
by Robert Laughlin
I should make my interests clear right at the start. For many years I have thought that a book such as this should be written, and have been urged to write it myself. I didn't do so, and couldn't possibly have written one as suited as this is for its target audience. A Different Universe is a book about what physics really is; it is not only unique, it is an almost indispensable counterbalance to the recent proliferation of books by Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking and their fellows, who promulgate the idea that physics is a science predominantly of deep, quasi-theological speculations about the ultimate nature of things. The enterprise of writing this book has my strong endorsement, then, and any disagreements or criticisms should be read in that light.
The central theme of the book is the triumph of emergence over reductionism: that large objects such as ourselves are the product of principles of organization and of collective behaviour that cannot in any meaningful sense be reduced to the behaviour of our elementary constituents. Large objects are often more constrained by those principles than by what the principles act upon. The underlying laws of physics have no sense of time, give us no clue either to measuring or locating ourselves in space, and provide no clue to identity - we are all made up of nothing but waves in a nonexistent medium (an analogy that Robert Laughlin draws from Christina Rossetti's poem Who Has Seen the Wind?). Our identity and perceptions are all the collective behaviour of 'ghosts', who borrow their reality from each other.