In April 2011, when I was serving as a jury member at an academic film festival in the historical city of Olomouc, I got a call from a woman I collaborated with ten years earlier. The question was whether I wanted to translate Brian Greene's third major popular book, The Hidden Reality, first discussed on TRF in January 2011.
After a couple of sentences and after I was informally promised that I wouldn't be responsible for the renumbering and resorting of the index (and indeed, she did those things at the end, spending almost a month with these mechanical steps, and I am grateful for this work of hers), I said Yes. The bulk of the job was completed in 2 months; it was intense work in Spring 2011, indeed.
A close relative of my editor was seriously ill which didn't have a happy end (on the Christmas Eve...) so the project got delayed by 7 months or so. She returned to work in early 2011 and in February, I was doing a new wave of corrections. The final ones were completed in June. String field theorist Martin Schnabl agreed to become an independent scientific corrector, thanks to him, too.
The publisher's website indicates that the book will or should be published soon, probably in August 2012.
The website gave me the first opportunity to see the cover. Fonts with more than 6 pixels per character would probably be too expensive. ;-)
The third books: evolution
As soon as Brian Greene's first popular book, The Elegant Universe, hit the shelves and once I had read a couple of excerpts and enthusiastic reviews ;-), I decided it had to be a great book. And because, as a Rutgers student, I found it important for the Czechs to have access to some good enough popular text on string theory, I immediately started to translate it – well before I actually had any contract for the work. It was stealing my time as a Rutgers student which wasn't the only reason why the "first wave" of the work was completed in 3 months, quickly but less quickly than the recent book.
I couldn't know it in advance but The Elegant Universe (TEU) looked totally flawless to me. It didn't contain any excessive oversimplifications, widely spread misconceptions, etc. Because I was excited about the project, I could swallow some annoying parts of the collaboration with the publisher. Despite clear rules in the treaty with Brian, the publisher didn't ask him about the design of the cover so he was upset when he saw the smashed brain or whatever picture was chosen by the publisher from my 30 proposals. The technical parts of the publication process were annoyingly slow. A good move was that I hired my kind classmates to renumber and resort the index (which was just $100 or so), and I don't want to overwhelm you with boring details. It got finally published sometime in 2001.
Brian was an unknown author in my homeland, string theory was a largely unknown field, and I was an unknown translator and everything else was unknown as well ;-), so I felt the book needed some promotion to get the appropriate exposure. For example, for several months, I was collecting e-mail addresses of more than a 1,000 of people who could or should be interested in the book such as high school physics teachers etc. ;-)
When I was sending the spam e-mails in the wake of the publication, I fully realized that it wasn't quite kosher and I had decided to react in as user-friendly ways as possible and suppress all seeds of a potential conflict. But it wasn't really necessary, lots of people wrote me that it was the best spam they had ever received. The book sold something like 20 times more copies than an average book in Czechia and got dozens of stellar reviews in Czech newspapers etc.
In TEU, Brian presented sort of "textbook stuff" clustered into naturally separated chapters. All the explanations were laymen-friendly but the science was pretty accurate and didn't even try to avoid technical topics such as mirror symmetry or flop transitions at any cost. I appreciated all those things.
Brian's second major popular book, The Fabric of the Cosmos (FOC), was the only one I was sending feedback to while it was being written. We had quite some e-mail debates with Brian. To compensate for this fact, it was the only one I wasn't translating to Czech and I believe that Olda K. whom I recommended has done a very good job, at least in some respects better than I would do, and that's how things should work. FOC is the story about our changing scientific understanding of space or spacetime as concepts.
Among hundreds of details, I remember two "major" findings I considered errors; a technicality about the way how he calculated the entanglement in a cool EPR-or-GZHM-like experiment that I didn't quite know at that time; and comments about entropy's being predicted by the laws of physics to be higher in the past.
Concerning the first point, it got quickly resolved. Brian's numbers were actually totally exact, describing a real quantum information experiment and not just a "popular caricature" of it. Not knowing too many "quantum games" at that time, I was impressed. Concerning the second point, it didn't get resolved, at least not for years. As far as I can say, Brian just shares some misconceptions about the arrow of time with many others.
The core of this misconception is an invalid way how he thinks that science may be used to say something about the past. He thinks that retrodictions follow the same rules as predictions. But they obviously don't; you are not allowed to evolve macroscopic properties into the past in the same way as if you were evolving them to the future.
Retrodictions are examples of Bayesian inference. They need to choose – subjective and somewhat arbitrary – priors. But when you do things right, you will be able to see that the probabilities of evolutions \(P(A\to B)\) and \(P(CPT(B)\to CPT(A))\) are not equal to each other if \(A,B\) represent macrostates i.e. ensembles of microstates. Instead, the ratio of these two probabilities is \(\exp(S_A-S_B)\) because the probabilities have to be "summed over final states but averaged over initial states", as I have emphasized many times. This simple asymmetry, the logical arrow of time, is the core reason behind the thermodynamic arrow of time and many other phenomena. Whether you predict or retrodict properties of a physical system, you will get a consistent picture if you do things right: the entropy is lower at earlier moments than it is at later moments.
In his third book, The Hidden Reality (THR), I don't see the "arrow of time denial" anymore so it's OK. Still, THR makes some points – including whole chapters – that I consider totally wrong. That's one of the reasons why I was radically less obsessed with the translation of THR than I had been with TEU a decade earlier. Another reason is that it wasn't a new topic on the book market anymore.
One more reason was that I had concluded that even if a popular book is immensely successful, it doesn't make almost any long-term impact because most people will always be irrational and they will prefer various crazy beliefs for various emotional reasons (or the beliefs they were taught as kids). Even if people claim to have understood something about modern physics and it looks like they have, it's almost always just a temporary state of affairs. The first or second crackpot they listen to who says some bullshit will undo the people's understanding.
As you can see, I grew very skeptical about the assumption that it makes much sense to try to educate the laymen about things that are clearly too advanced for them. That doesn't mean that I hadn't desperately tried to do such things in recent years; but it does mean that I have realized that such efforts are largely desperate. ;-) People's stupidity knows of no boundaries.
But let us return to THR. THR is a comprehensive presentation of all kinds of parallel worlds and multiverses one may think of.
There are many types – a simple "infinitely large Universe", the multiverse from eternal inflation, many worlds of quantum mechanics, braneworlds, cyclic cosmologies, pairs of holographic descriptions that are dual to each other, construction of new simulated worlds on computers, and the gedanken Universe containing all mathematical ideas and structures.
Those things may perhaps be described in a unified way as examples of "ideas in which scientists are willing to talk about multiple worlds" which is why it may have been a good idea to discuss them in the same popular book. However, their status is completely different. Some of them are pure metaphysical speculations, others are speculative interpretations of some theories that try to change nothing about the predictions (Everett), others are alternative models of particle physics or cosmology which may be somewhat unlikely but they belong to the same philosophical frameworks as the dominant scenarios (cyclic cosmologies and braneworlds), others are just equivalent descriptions of the same physics so they shouldn't be multiply counted as many words at all (holography and other dualities), others are widely believed frameworks to do cosmology (the multiverse of eternal inflation), and there are things that are discussed by mathematically oriented philosophers and that don't claim to make any contact with any "details" of observable physics as an empirical science at all (mathematical multiverse etc.).
It seems to me that Brian thinks that it's not just a "vague similarity" between a certain feature of very different ideas. He must genuinely think that all these ideas are "dragging science in the same direction". This opinion explicitly stated at several places in the book – and implicitly being Brian's genuine opinion – seems extremely superficial and mostly wrong to me. These ideas must be evaluated separately. They have nothing to do with each other and most of them are either physically wrong or physically vacuous, too. There is surely no "trend" in contemporary (genuine) science that would be leading us to "many worlds" in the most general sense.
While Brian is much more pro-anthropic than I am, I found the chapters about the eternal inflation and the related multiverse insightful, clear, and relatively uncontroversial and balanced (although not all crucial and most intrinsic problems of the anthropic reasoning have been presented). However, the chapter about Everett's many worlds seemed awful. It's OK as a thought-provoking reading for armchair physicists but if Brian is serious about the content of the chapter, it's just bad. (Of course, I decided to be a pure translator and haven't incorporated any "notes by the translator" in the whole book whatsoever; if there are some of them, they were suggested by the editor and I said at most OK. There would be hopelessly many if I tried to promote mine.)
It's not just about very particular isolated invalid propositions about the Copenhagen's interpretation being unable to do this or that, and about Everett's interpretation to be great because of one thing or another. Most of the statements made in the book about these matters are just upside down. I will sometime analyze the chapter in detail. However, it's also about the overall spirit. The chapter reads like a neverending hardcore conspiracy theory in which Niels Bohr and his friends play the role of the ultimate villains who suppress great thinkers and revolutionary discoveries. This gang of thugs sometimes intimidates other scientists in the grey zone, like John Wheeler, and forces them to bully pure and ingenious thinkers such as Hugh Everett III.
Please, give me a break with this stunning garbage! Niels Bohr and other founders of quantum mechanics – I mean Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, and a few others (I deliberately omit folks like Louis de Broglie and Erwin Schrödinger because they may have made important contributions but they just didn't understand the final result of the research well so they shouldn't be counted as "defining men" of the Copenhagen interpretation) – performed the most important revolution in the 20th century physics and arguably in the whole history of science. And yes, I am writing this sentence aware of relativity. Quantum mechanics, the new framework for physics that they discovered, has passed all tests in the 85+ years since the discovery and we understand increasingly well that it can't be deformed in any way without spoiling the consistency of the framework.
The founding fathers also understood that quantum mechanics applies to all objects in the world. But they also knew that classical physics emerges as the limiting description in the appropriate situations – in the classical limit of the general conditions. They also realized that the classical logic is required to deduce meaningful logical implications and calculated probabilities out of the quantum mechanical framework.
One part of the emergence of the classical limit, decoherence, wasn't understood in the full quantitative glory (that's the only valid "recent" development clarifying the foundations of quantum mechanics – since the 1980s) but literature makes it rather clear that Bohr and friends knew about the "spirit of decoherence".
In the last 85+ years since the discovery of quantum mechanics, all people opposing quantum mechanics have lost, all of their predictions differing from the predictions of quantum mechanics have been proved wrong, and the whole philosophy of trying to find and promote "problems" with the proper Copenhagen quantum mechanics – and all these efforts are always driven by the desire to undo the quantum revolution and return physics to the age when the classical framework was dominant – has been an utter failure, an embarrassing pseudointellectual catastrophe, a huge pile of stinky junk that no sensible scientist would associate herself with.
I am amazed that even this modest and balanced summary of the situation may be considered controversial by some physicists in 2012. I am amazed that Brian Greene may be on the evil side, too.
Niels Bohr treated the theories about many worlds as garbage bringing nothing new and correct to physics for a simple reason: they were garbage that was bringing nothing that was both new and correct. Despite his obsession with unusual ideas, this fact was pretty much clear to John Wheeler, too. He didn't want to look like an idiot; but he didn't want to sadden his student by destroying his pet cranky theory, either.
At any rate, I am annoyed by the fact that the men behind the deepest revolution in the history of physics are still not being celebrated for what they have done. This is primarily a criticism of the media exposure and popular books and it's sad to notice that in this respect, THR is another average pseudoscientific book that is willing to promote any wrong, dysfuctional, and quasi-religious belief system (GRW, Bohm's theory, MWI, anything else) as long as this belief system is designed to downplay or assault the framework underlying modern physics and, indirectly, all of modern science, namely quantum mechanics. It is sad. We are still not living in a scientific world.
And that's the memo.