Brian Greene: Back to blow your mind.
Having explained string theory to the masses in his bestseller The Elegant Universe and untangled the fabric of the cosmos in The Fabric of the Cosmos, the superstar physicist returns this month with The Hidden Reality, an ode to multiverse theory.
By now, the 11-dimension string theory models of his earlier books … are looking downright commonsensical. “The Hidden Reality” moves on to increasingly speculative and exotic discussions of a bubble multiverse (“Think of the universe as a gigantic block of Swiss cheese. …”) a holographic one, a brane-world scenario (courtesy of string theory), computer-driven simulations, questions of how probability relates to infinity, and the Many Worlds view of quantum mechanics. “A frequent criticism of the Many Worlds approach is that it’s just too baroque to be true,” Mr. Greene writes. [The New York Times]
Multiverse theory—the idea that our universe and its Big Bang were just one of many—is a favorite theme of science fiction (and “Family Guy”), as it allows us to have parallel selves in parallel universes. Greene explains the real science behind the idea with one of his litany of analogies: a simple deck of cards.
If you shuffle the deck infinitely many times, the card orderings must necessarily repeat. Similarly, in an infinite expanse of space, particle arrangements must repeat too—there just aren’t enough different particle configurations to go around. And if the particles in a given region of space the size of ours are arranged identically to how they are arranged here, then reality in that region will be identical to reality here. Except that maybe we’d be seeing the Jets and the Bears in the Super Bowl. [Wall Street Journal]
Humanity’s legacy of millions upon millions of books represents an unparalleled reservoir of data, precisely detailing the changes in language and culture over the centuries. Now, if only a search engine giant were digitizing that history…
Oh, right. Google has been doing just that, and now scientists are beginning to tap that treasure trove of data.
Together with over 40 university libraries, the internet titan has thus far scanned over 15 million books, creating a massive electronic library that represents 12% of all the books ever published. All the while, a team from Harvard University, led by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden have been analysing the flood of data.
Their first report is available today. Although it barely scratches the surface, it’s already a tantalising glimpse into the power of the Google Books corpus. It’s a record of human culture, spanning six centuries and seven languages. It shows vocabularies expanding and grammar evolving. It contains stories about our adoption of technology, our quest for fame, and our battle for equality. And it hides the traces of tragedy, including traces of political suppression, records of past plagues, and a fading connection with our own history.
Do yourself a favor and check out the rest of Ed’s extensive post—including fascinating examples like the “half-life” of any given year being mentioned in literature—over at Not Exactly Rocket Science. And try out Google’s search to see the prevalence of any phrases or phrases over the years.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons (New York Public Library)
Every three years the Librarian of Congress reviews the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and James H. Billington’s review just expanded digital freedom with this year’s ruling of new exemptions to the copyright law.
Jailbreak that iPhone
First and foremost, Billington ruled that it’s not against the law to jailbreak a phone (the practice of working around the device’s security system and taking more direct control of it). The Electronic Frontier Foundation lobbied hard for this, particularly with the iPhone in mind. Because Apple keeps tight reins on the device—offering only AT&T phone service and acting as gatekeeper for what apps can be added—many people had taken to jailbreaking the phone.
About 4 million iPhone and iPod Touch units had been jailbroken as of last August, and were accessing apps from a sort of black-market storefront called Cydia, the marketplace’s founder told Wired. The store is a haven for many developers that Apple, the gatekeeper to its App Store, has ignored or turned away [Los Angeles Times].