Note: When I read blauracke’s review of Until the End of Time, I knew I had found the perfect gift for a 90 year old man who is tough to shop for (cookies, pie and cake are always appropriate gifts, but I needed something different). Rich had a lot to say about the book as he read it and when he was finished, I introduced him to Goodreads, where he posted the review you can read below and he suggested my internet friends on Cannonball Read might also be interested. – Emmalita
I had read the author’s previous book The Elegant Universe with great interest and enjoyment and would have rated it 5-stars if I had reviewed it at that time. Brian Greene has an almost unrivalled skill in explaining the complex laws apparently governing the universe in terms and analogies that the lay reader can understand. The theme of that book seems to me to be that those (mathematical) laws are so carefully constructed that even if they were to be altered in the minutest way, the whole structure of the universe would have been totally different and life as we know it probably non-existent. One could say: “the butterfly effect at the cosmic level.” The picture he gave me was of a superlatively great mind (or being) creating a delicately balanced universe that was capable of developing the truly remarkable accomplishments of nature in general and mankind in particular.
It was with the above as background that I eagerly anticipated reading Until the End of Time. Like a number of reviewers before me I found the first three chapters to be as fascinating as ever. They continue the story of how the laws of thermodynamics and entropy affect the world we live in, using examples we can all understand. More vintage Brian Greene if you like. However, he then goes on to explore the main subjects, described in the subtitle as – “Mind, Matter, and our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe,” where similar rules (laws) do not apply, at least in absolute terms. For example, Darwinian evolution is not, to me, a law; rather it is a principle or suggestion. That is: if a life mutation gives a species a temporary advantage, that enhanced species is more likely to survive and perpetuate itself; but it is not certain to so do.
Clearly, the author is on less stable ground here. Now, I am not saying that he doesn’t have the necessary background, experience and knowledge to propound ideas in these domains. It is obvious that they are of great interest to him, that he has studied them extensively, and that he draws on innumerable other authors, respected in their fields, to amplify and help develop the points he feels are of interest in exploring these realms. Rather, I am saying that I don’t believe you can draw absolute conclusions in these areas, which he tends to do. He uses the mathematical laws to predict that our universe will end in a dissipation of all the stuff it contains into nothingness. He then uses the life-sciences to conclude that there is no supreme being, that life, however long it may last, still has limited length and therefore has no purpose; in short, the universe goes from the big bang to the ‘whispered whimper’ (my term) — the apocalypse syndrome par excellence. I find this very depressing, totally unprovable anyway and therefore nothing more than a highly intellectual debate.
In summary, I wish that Brian Greene had written a different book (or maybe could be persuaded to write another one) with a positive and optimistic view of our ultimate fate as a species. The title might be “The Intelligent Universe”, with the premise that it is so gloriously designed that it must have been the handiwork of an incredibly smart being whose intention was that it should last forever. Just as if I were to show you an algebraic sequence of steps ‘proving’ that 1=2, you would immediately protest saying that there is ‘something wrong there,’ so, if I am told that the mathematical laws insist that the universe will come to a dismal extinction, however far into the future that may be, then I say to you: “then there is something wrong with those laws; or there is something wrong with the original design that needs to be corrected.” Let me take this thought just one step further.
One possibility is that the ‘laws’ may vary in space and/or in time, to provide for the necessary ‘correction.’ There is no evidence for this, but then we have only been looking for a minuscule fraction of elapsed time to date. Or again, the laws may be marginally incorrect. For example, everyone believed that nothing could escape from a black hole until Stephen Hawking showed that light could dribble out, and over the eons cause its demise. Similarly, no one thought that matter could be created out of nothing until it happened, albeit with an equal amount of anti-matter that soon obliterated it. Just as in order to produce cooling in our A/C system, we have to produce heat at the same time and then dispose of the hot air; so, couldn’t we sweep away the anti-matter above to a different part of the metaverse and leave us with enough new matter to forestall the whispered whimper in our corner of it?
How about it, Dr. Greene. Will you devote your next endeavor, and encourage your fellow scientists to collaborate with you, to solve the gigantic riddle you have uncovered, and safeguard the future of humanity?
Sincerely, Richard T. Harrison