“The Fabric of the Cosmos,” a four-hour series based on the book by renowned physicist and author Brian Greene, takes us to the frontiers of physics to see how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time, and the universe. With each step, audiences will discover that just beneath the surface of our everyday experience lies a world we’d hardly recognize—a startling world far stranger and more wondrous than anyone expected.

Brian Greene is going to let you in on a secret: We’ve all been deceived. Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong.

Interweaving provocative theories, experiments, and stories with crystal-clear explanations and imaginative metaphors like those that defined the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed series “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aims to be the most compelling, visual, and comprehensive picture of modern physics ever seen on television.

Episode 1: What is space?

Space. It separates you from me, one galaxy from the next, and atoms from one another. It is everywhere in the universe. But to most of us, space is nothing, an empty void. Well, it turns out space is not what it seems. From the passenger seat of a New York cab driving near the speed of light, to a pool hall where billiard tables do fantastical things, Brian Greene reveals space as a dynamic fabric that can stretch, twist, warp, and ripple under the influence of gravity. Stranger still is a newly discovered ingredient of space that actually makes up 70 percent of the universe. Physicists call it dark energy, because while they know it’s out there, driving space to expand ever more quickly, they have no idea what it is.

Probing space on the smallest scales only makes the mysteries multiply. Down there, things are going on that physicists today can barely fathom—forces powerful enough to generate whole universes. To top it off, some of the strangest places in space, black holes, have led scientists to propose that like the hologram on your credit card, space may just be a projection of a deeper two-dimensional reality taking place on a distant surface that surrounds us. Space, far from being empty, is filled with some of the deepest mysteries of our time.

The question posed by Greene is this: “Is space a human abstraction, or is it a physical entity?” The key thought experiment is a spinning bucket of water, designed to make one think about what creates the force felt inside the bucket when it is spinning. The ideas ofIsaac NewtonErnst Mach, and Gottfried Leibniz on this thought experiment are discussed in detail.

Relativity and the Absolute, makes spacetime its focal point. The question now becomes, “Is spacetime an Einsteinian abstraction or a physical entity?” In this chapter, concepts of both special relativity and general relativity are discussed as well as their importance to the meaning of spacetime.

Entangling Space, Greene explores the revolution of the quantum mechanical era, focusing on what it means for objects to be separate and distinct in a universe dictated by quantum laws. This episode provides an in-depth study of quantum mechanics, including the concepts of probability waves and interference patternsparticle spin, the photon double slit experiment, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The reader will also be informed of the challenges posed to quantum mechanics that were compiled by Albert EinsteinBoris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen.

 

Episode 2: The illusion of time

Part two begins by addressing the issue that time is a very familiar concept, yet it is one of humanity‘s least understood concepts.

Time. We waste it, save it, kill it, make it. The world runs on it. Yet ask physicists what time actually is, and the answer might shock you: They have no idea. Even more surprising, the deep sense we have of time passing from present to past may be nothing more than an illusion. How can our understanding of something so familiar be so wrong? In search of answers, Brian Greene takes us on the ultimate time-traveling adventure, hurtling 50 years into the future before stepping into a wormhole to travel back to the past. Along the way, he will reveal a new way of thinking about time in which moments past, present, and future—from the reign of T. rex to the birth of your great-great-grandchildren—exist all at once. This journey will bring us all the way back to the Big Bang, where physicists think the ultimate secrets of time may be hidden. You’ll never look at your wristwatch the same way again.

“Does time flow?” One of the key points in this chapter deals with special relativity. Observers moving relative to each other have different conceptions of what exists at a given moment, and hence they have different conceptions of reality. The conclusion is that time does not flow, as all things simultaneously exist at the same time.

Does time have an arrow?” The reader discovers that the laws of physics apply both moving forward in time and backwards in time. Such a law is called time-reversal symmetry. One of the major subjects of this episode is entropy. Various analogies are given to illustrate how entropy works and its apparent paradoxes.

Episode 3: The quantum leap

Join Brian Greene on a wild ride into the weird realm of quantum physics, which governs the universe on the tiniest of scales. Greene brings quantum mechanics to life in a nightclub like no other, where objects pop in and out of existence, and things over here can affect others over there, instantaneously and without anything crossing the space between them. A century ago, during the initial shots in the quantum revolution, the best minds of a generation—including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr—squared off in a battle for the soul of physics. How could the rules of the quantum world, which work so well to describe the behavior of individual atoms and their components, conflict so dramatically with the everyday rules that govern people, planets, and galaxies?

Quantum mechanics may be counterintuitive, but it’s one of the most successful theories in the history of science, making predictions that have been confirmed to better than one part in a billion, while also launching the technological advances at the heart of modern life, like computers and cell phones. But even today, even with such profound successes, the debate still rages over what quantum mechanics implies for the true nature of reality.

Notes on the DVD: The DVD version of the program stated that one entangled photon is sent from the island of La Palma to the island of Tenerife by laser. The photon is sent via laser-guided telescope. In the DVD version of the program, it appears that the research team led by Anton Zeilinger has successfully teleported photons from La Palma to Tenerife. Although the Zeilinger team has used the method described to teleport photons shorter distances in other locations, as of November 2011, photons have not yet been teleported between La Palma andTenerife. The team plans to continue experiments in the Canary Islands, which attempt to complete the teleportation process there.

So far time has been explained only in terms of pre-modern physics. The episode gives insights into time’s nature in the quantum realm. Probability plays a major role in this chapter because it is an inescapable part of quantum mechanics. The double slit experiment is revisited in a stunning way that reveals both interesting and shocking things about the past. Many other experiments are presented in this chapter, such as the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. Other major issues are brought to the viewer’s attention, such as quantum mechanics and experience, as well as quantum mechanics and the measurement problem. Finally, this episode thoroughly addresses the important subject of decoherence and its relevance towards the macroscopic world.

Episode 4: Universe or Multiverse?

Part four deals with the macroscopic realm of the cosmos.

Hard as it is to swallow, cutting-edge theories are suggesting that our universe may not be the only universe. Instead, it may be just one of an infinite number of universes that make up the “multiverse.” In this show, Brian Greene takes us on a tour of this brave new theory at the frontier of physics, showing what some of these alternate realities might be like. Some universes may be almost indistinguishable from our own; others may contain variations of all of us, where we exist but with different families, careers, and life stories. In still others, reality may be so radically different from ours as to be unrecognizable. Brian Greene reveals why this radical new picture of the cosmos is getting serious attention from scientists. It won’t be easy to prove, but if it’s right, our understanding of space, time, and our place in the universe will never be the same.

It tells the viewer that the history of the universe is in fact the history of symmetry. It also introduces the theoretical idea of the Higgs boson. This episode focuses on the critical first fraction of a second after the big bang, when the amount of symmetry in the universe was thought to have changed abruptly by a process known as symmetry breaking. This episode also brings into play the theory of grand unification and entropy is also revisited.

General relativity and the discovery of dark energy (repulsive gravity) are taken into account, as well as the cosmological constant. Certain problems that arise due to the standard big bang theory are addressed and new answers are given using inflationary cosmology. Such problems include the horizon problem and the flatness problem. Matter distribution throughout the cosmos is also discussed, and the concepts of dark matterand dark energy come full circle.

The topic of inflation, and the arrow of time is also discussed again. It addresses three main developments, the formation of structures such as galaxies, the amount of energy required to spawn the universe we now see, and, of prime importance, the origin of time’s arrow.

The episode furthermore informs the reader of the structure of the fabric of space according to string theory. New concepts are introduced, including the Planck length and the Planck time, and ideas from The Elegant Universe are revisited. The viewer will learn how string theory fills the gaps between general relativity and quantum mechanics.

The concept of an Universe on a Brane, expands on ideas particularly, a theory called M-theory, of which string theory is a branch. This episode is devoted to speculations on space and time according to M-theory. The collective insights of a number of physicists are presented, including those of Edward Witten and Paul Dirac. The focal point of the chapter becomes gravity and its involvement with extra dimensions. Near the end of the chapter, a brief section is devoted to cyclic cosmology, otherwise known as the cyclic model.

Part five (of the book) deals with many theoretical concepts, including space and time travel.

Chapter fourteen, Up in the Heavens and Down on the Earth, is about various experiments with space and time. Previous theories are brought back from previous chapters, such as Higgs theory, supersymmetry, and string theory. Future planned experiments are described in an attempt to verify many of the theoretical concepts discussed, including the constituents of dark matter and dark energy, the existence of the Higgs boson, and the verification of extra spacial dimensions.

Chapter fifteen, Teleporters and Time Machines, is about travelling through space and time using intriguing methods. Quantum mechanics is brought back into the picture when the reader comes across teleportation. Puzzles of time travel are posed, such as the idea of time travel to the past being a possibility. The end of the chapter focuses on worm holes and the theory behind them.

Chapter sixteen, The Future of an Allusion, focuses on black holes and their relationship to entropy. The main idea of this chapter is that spacetime may not be the fundamental make up of the universe’s fabric. 

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