Love and Math: a review

Dansk: Matematikeren Edward Frenkel under et f...
Dansk: Matematikeren Edward Frenkel under et foredrag om geometrisering af sporformler på University of California, Berkeley, 16. september 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started reading this book by Edward Frenkel (Amazon link here) I became so engrossed in it on my morning commute that I missed my Tube stop – and the next one. I got an insight into life in the Soviet Union on the cusp of perestroika from a contemporary (if somewhat higher achieving student), including into how academic (and anti-scientific in the sense that some were desperate to discredit Einstein) anti-Semitism was on the increase from the 1970s onwards, as well as a new take on group theory in geometry and an introduction to braids.

It really was great – the main text skated over the maths while the footnotes explained it in some detail. Not all of it was perfect – the attempt to explain symmetry at the start left me confused about something I thought I understood – but it seemed to all hit the right note.

But it seems my Leicester Square moment was the pinnacle. Even by the time I had retreated back to Holborn I was starting to struggle as the maths just went off the deep end and the explanations offered no quarter.

It’s a pity, because I do think that just some small additional efforts to explain what some of the concepts meant could have gone a long way – for instance we just get Riemann surfaces dumped on us as though they were something different from manifolds (I am sure they are, but a little more effort at explaining why would have helped). While at the end we get a long, and dry, description of branes and A-models and B-models which we are told are potentially important in quantum physics, but we never quite are told why they are important.

My overall impression was the maths has run away with the science a bit – but I am not really in any position to judge.

This could have been a great book, but unless you really are well read on your complex topologies then I’d have to warn you to stay clear.

A question for a cosmologist about brane death

English: An alternate version of :Image:Calabi...
Image via Wikipedia

The “string theory revolution” began in 1984 and I graduated with my astrophysics degree in 1987, perhaps unsurprisingly, having been taught nothing about it at all.

But now, reading The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, (a good book) I discover that we may all be living on a brane – a three dimensional slab of reality “floating” inside ten dimensional space. And indeed there may be many of these branes perhaps just milimetres away from all of us, each of which might appear to its inhabitants (if its physical laws allow for any inhabitants, of course), as a fully dressed universe in its own right.

Now, so the theory goes, photons and indeed all particles of the electroweak or grand unified force (assuming it exists) cannot move between the branes, but gravitons, the theoretical (and undetected so far) quantum messengers of the gravitational force can. Indeed this ability of gravitons to stray into other dimensions is what is believed to make the gravitational force seem so weak to us.

But what if a highly massive object in another brane were to pass close by us. Such an object could have a very strong gravitational field that we would feel in this universe/brane and which could have drastic effects, perhaps putting us all at risk of “brane death”. Couldn’t it?

Well, I suspect I have misunderstood the mathematics of this. The fact we don’t see galaxies ripped to pieces by the super massive black holes at the centres of galaxies in other branes is rather more likely to lead me to believe that I have missed a point about how this works than to conclude the theory is that easily disproved.

Perhaps a reader might enlighten me?