The Book of Nothing

Posted by barb on Aug 10, 2003 in Books |

Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origin of the Universe
by John D. Barrow

The subtitle of this book is Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origin of the Universe — that’s a tall order for a book about Nothing!

Barrow starts by telling how zero came about — surprisingly not from the Greeks. From there we explore the history of the concept of Nothing. It’s amazing to thing that the concept of Nothing took a long time to come into being. The Greeks, for example, believed that a region had to have something in it to be a real concept. The Christians debated whether the concept of Nothing was Christian or not. On one side a region with nothing in it would also be without God, but He is everywhere. On the other side, if they decided that God couldn’t create a region with nothing in it, then they were limiting His powers.

From there Barrow moves on to more and more complex ideas until finally we learn about the quantum vacuum. Because of the uncertainty principle — the principle that states that we cannot know both a particle’s position and momentum simultaneously to high precision — there is no region that we can safely say is a vacuum. In addition, a vacuum will also have virtual particle pairs being created and destroyed constantly (as long as they are destroyed fast enough not to break the uncertainty principle. Finally, we learn about inflation theories and current ideas on cosmology.

I found Barrow’s style very easy to read, though I’ll confess to already being familiar with many of the inflation and cosmology he presents. I did start zoning out in a few of the later sections, but I may have just been tired.

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