Zeros and Universes
What do you think if you notice that all the zeros in the book you’re reading have inverted stroke modulation? (The vertical parts are thinner than the horizontal parts.) You may think that there’s been a glitch in the font software. The moment of delight comes when you remember that the book you’re holding is A Universe From Nothing by physicist Lawrence Krauss who argues that the nature of nothing is quite different from what we thought: it is unstable and has to give rise to something. You may then think, as I first did, that the “0” glyph of the font has been modified for this purpose but the original Stempel Garamond design actually has zeros with inverted strokes. I bet someone was reminded of this fact and chose the typeface with this clever detail in mind, though I wasn’t able to find out who did the typesetting. Even if this is pure coincidence, it’s too good to go unnoticed.
To be honest, I view physics as a much respected distant elder in comparison to biology which is like a lover to me. Ever since I did my first readings on quantum physics and relativity, I’ve always felt the famous barrier of intuitive understanding – the limits of our cognitive machinery evolved to function in “the Middle World”. My approach to contemporary physics and its deep questions as a layperson has been an indifferent one: “Even if we arrive at new answers, I won’t be able to understand them” – in a Searlean sense.
Krauss’s book has somewhat changed that. First, while he surveyed the recent (last century) developments in physics and cosmology, he managed to make me understand many things that I hadn’t quite understood in my previous readings. Moreover, the book regenerated the curiosity in me related to the big questions only physics can answer by making them more accessible and relevant, and convinced me that our flat universe with its total gravitational energy of zero can indeed come from almost nothing. (The last one was probably the easiest since I’m in no position to dispute.) I say “almost” because I can see how Krauss’s version of nothing is not going to satisfy those who ask the age-old metaphysical question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” As for me, I find the question too, well, metaphysical to be taken seriously.
If you’re curious but not enough to read the book, you can watch Krauss’s popular talk after which the book was written.
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