Author: Dr. Steven Manly

Publisher: New Page Books

ISBN: 13:978-1-60163-129-9

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Parallel worlds, alternate universes, intelligent life other than our own –  the notion that  we humans may  not be alone in the inky depths of space has  captured our imagination for as long as we can remember.  Study religious texts across cultures, delve into  their mythology, and one is  invariably presented with a hundred richly imagined ideas of heaven, an afterlife, higher powers both benign and vengeful.  This idea of parallel planes of existence is old as the hills, yet far from obsolete, and continues to be a dominant influence  in popular culture and literature. But are these ideas merely the stuff of dogmatic zeal and the feverish imaginations of a million Trekkies?  Or is there more to the possibility of multiple universes (or ‘multiverses’) existing just outside of the narrow cone of vision we deem reality?

Author Manly, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester and prolific writer on the subject, attempts to unravel some of this mystery in his book ‘Visions of the Multiverse’. With some of the most intriguing titles ever to grace the chapters of a book on science – ‘Copernicus on Steroids’, ‘Of Boxer Shorts and Charmed Quarks’, even  the arresting ‘A Case of Cosmic Acne’ – ‘Visions..’ walks  us through the basic principles and ideas that have influenced research in quantum mechanics and, in turn, moved the intriguing notion of multiple universes from the realm of the speculative, to that of the plausible.

Aimed at the lay reader – of which great swarm this reviewer is certainly a card carrying member - Manly’s book is, for the most part, lucid and easy to comprehend. Indeed, Manly is almost apologetic in tone when he delves into any detail in his exploration of quantum theory, punctuating his chapters with jokes, anecdotes, and amusing asides about his colleagues and peers. In the vein of other writers in the popular science genre – Bill Bryson being, perhaps, the most renowned – Manly also offers us interesting scientific trivia at regular intervals through the book. Quarks, for instance, owe their name not to any scientific phenomenon, but a literary classic. And, in a laboratory boasting numerous awards and the presence of several world renowned physicists, the greatest tourist attraction remains a signed picture of a certain actress and singer. To quote the author, go figure.

Manly tackles a subject both immense and relatively nascent, and his passion for the ideas contained in this book is without question. Nonetheless, ‘Visions..’ is occasionally  daunting , and difficult terrain for the casual reader to negotiate successfully in a first reading. Nor does it promise enlightenment of any kind; ‘Visions’ is far from being a definitive guide to all things multiverse, and is likely to leave its readers more perplexed than knowledgeable about the world around us. If anything, Manly’s narrative underscores how little we really know about the nature of the universe -  or indeed  what we perceive as our reality - and is clearly meant more as a starting point for readers interested in the concepts he discusses. He even ponders the possibility that we might all be nothing more than virtual beings, mere simulations in a giant ‘computational universe’  a la ‘The Matrix’, run by as yet unseen hands.

One aspect of the book I found confusing was the taxonomy of possible multiverses that Manly compiles ,as he chooses to include faith based multiverses (read religious interpretations of heaven)  in a matrix otherwise characterized by scientific evidence or hypothesis. He even devotes a few paragraphs to ideas popularized by  self styled New age gurus like Rhonda Byrnes and Amit Goswami , if only to scoff at their misguided appropriation of quantum theory, deeming them candidates of the ‘multiverse of wishful thinking’.  Given that Manly’s own belief in parallel realities – much like the presence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, or that pesky devil they call global warming – are finally as largely unsubstantiated (and, therefore, essentially faith based) as Byrnes’ Law of Attraction or Goswami’s ‘moral compass of quantum physics”,  this narrative diversion seems unnecessary and self-contradictory in an otherwise well written and informative book.


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