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Looking forward to time in 2010

December 31, 2009 | 11:21 am

Despite the fact that I read more fiction than theoretical physics, one of the books I'm most looking forward to in 2010 is Sean Carroll's "From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time." It's coming out on Jan. 7.

Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech, was a founder of the independent blog Cosmic Variance; its blend of physics, science news and the occasional embarrassing '80s music video made it popular enough to be picked up by Discover magazine. It's Carroll's ability to write about really big science ideas in a way a layperson like myself can understand, without feeling talked down to, that makes me so excited about his book. Also, he is willing to move from hard science into questions of philosophy and culture -- and he writes like he's having fun.

In the book's prologue, he writes about entropy, the Big Bang and the beginning of time:

The arrow of time connects the early universe to something we experience literally every moment of our lives. It's not just breaking eggs, or other irreversible processes like mixing milk into coffee or how an untended room tends to get messier over time. The arrow of time is the reason why time seems to flow around us, or why (if you prefer) we seem to move through time. It's why we remember the past, but not the future. It's why we evolve and metabolize and eventually die. It's why we believe in cause and effect, and is crucial to our notions of free will.

In this, his first book, Carroll revisits the second law of thermodynamics, Einstein's theory of relativity, the work of Ludwig Boltzman and Stephen Hawking, information theory and complexity and quantum mechanics. He promises to discuss and distinguish between "(1) remarkable features of modern physics that sound astonishing but are nevertheless universally accepted as true; (2) sweeping claims that are not necessarily accepted by many working physicists but should be ... and (3) speculative ideas beyond the comfort zone of contemporary scientific state of the art." He wants the reader to be able to think about the ideas he's presenting, not just absorb them.

Now, to make time in 2010 to read all 400 pages.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Commonly known as the Butterfly Nebula or the Bug Nebula, this planetary nebula -- officially NGC 6302 - has at its center a dying star. It was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA