Until the End of Time
From the world-renowned physicist and bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, a captivating exploration of deep time and humanity's search for purposeIn both time and space, the cosmos is astoundingly vast, and yet is governed by simple, elegant, universal mathematical laws.On this cosmic timeline, our human era is spectacular but fleeting. Someday, we know, we will all die. And, we know, so too will the universe itself.Until the End of Time is Brian Greene's breathtaking new exploration of the cosmos and our quest to understand it. Greene takes us on a journey across time, from our most refined understanding of the universe's beginning, to the closest science can take us to the very end. He explores how life and mind emerged from the initial chaos, and how our minds, in coming to understand their own impermanence, seek in different ways to give meaning to experience: in story, myth, religion, creative expression, science, the quest for truth, and our longing for the timeless, or eternal. Through a series of nested stories that explain distinct but interwoven layers of reality-from the quantum mechanics to consciousness to black holes-Greene provides us with a clearer sense of how we came to be, a finer picture of where we are now, and a firmer understanding of where we are headed.Yet all this understanding, which arose with the emergence of life, will dissolve with its conclusion. Which leaves us with one realization: during our brief moment in the sun, we are tasked with the charge of finding our own meaning.Let us embark.

Until the End of Time Details

TitleUntil the End of Time
Author
ReleaseFeb 18th, 2020
PublisherAllen Lane
ISBN-139780241295984
Rating
GenreScience, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Physics

Until the End of Time Review

  • Jen
    January 1, 1970
    Are you the type of person who gets teary eyed from thinking about a cosmos studded with stars that are constantly engaged in thermonuclear bickering with a relentless gravitational crush? Well, hold on, I’ve got something in my eye. Have you ever, after deliriously consuming grandma’s confections with your scalded bare hands, saw a remaining dollop of sugary goodness sitting squarely in the middle of the pie pan, the edges of which, if taken as points, all seemed perfectly equidistant from the Are you the type of person who gets teary eyed from thinking about a cosmos studded with stars that are constantly engaged in thermonuclear bickering with a relentless gravitational crush? Well, hold on, I’ve got something in my eye. Have you ever, after deliriously consuming grandma’s confections with your scalded bare hands, saw a remaining dollop of sugary goodness sitting squarely in the middle of the pie pan, the edges of which, if taken as points, all seemed perfectly equidistant from the remains? If you’re anything like me, that moment marked for you a turning point, in which the Schwarzschild Radius ceased to be a mere theoretical construct, and came to inform your taste in apple pie henceforth.So, first things first. There’s an obvious comparison to be made here for anyone that’s read The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, and if you have, imagine that this book is basically that, but focused less on psychology, and more on The Second Law of Thermodynamics, and how life staves off entropic degradation on the molecular level. If you’re not familiar with that book, or if you think I’m invoking Aleister Crowley; let me summarize. Becker argued that much of the striving we do in life is motivated by the dichotomy between our ability to reach towards the divine while being creatures who go back into the dirt. This cognitive dissonance, he reasoned, causes us to deploy our grandest creative strategies in the service of combating it. In a similar fashion, this book covers key scientific insights in our ongoing quest to discover our place in the cosmos, and reconcile the knowledge of not only our own impermanence, but that of the universe as well.Here’s some things you’ll learn about: The salience of entropy in our lives (The aforementioned Second Law, not to be confused with a Crowley injunction). Evolution by natural selection. Speculation on the antecedents of DNA. The central importance of Redox Reactions in metabolizing pie, and Black Holes. After this, the book necessarily becomes more philosophical in nature, covering topics of epistemology, language, consciousness, free will, religion, and finally our raison d'être. Some people may be put off by this move into the speculative and poetic, and if you’re looking for a book that’s purely grounded in scientific reasoning, look elsewhere.For me, as a person who, while not religious, does experience awe in the way that Einstein captured in his more deistic scribblings, I found it highly enjoyable, and would recommend it to anyone with a similar disposition. Greene, as usual, writes in a witty and accessible style, and adopts an appropriately humble and open minded position when it comes to the big questions.Let’s close this review out with a couple of quotes.“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” — Carl Sagan.“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” — Albert Einstein.Slip into sugar induced torpor with this book!
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  • Brian Clegg
    January 1, 1970
    Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, belief and religion, instinct and creativity, duration and impermanence, the ends of time and, most cringe-making as a title, 'the nobility of being'. Unlike the dazzling scientific presentation I expect, this mostly comes across as fairly shallow amateur philosophising.Of course it's perfectly possible to write good science books on, say, consciousness or language - but though Greene touches on the science, there far too much that's more hand-waving. And good though he is at explaining physics, I'm not sure Greene is the right person for the job of dealing with these softer subjects.Overall, despite the problems I had with it, it's a slick, well-written book, but it's not what I want from a popular science title - too subjective, too flowery and lacking the sense of wonder and fascination I want from good science writing. It may well appeal if touchy-feely is your thing, and Greene continues to add in little scientific asides as he goes, but I'm afraid I lost interest in a big way.It often seems that science writers have to get one 'inner feelings' kind of book off their chest: hopefully Greene can now return to what he does best.
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  • Ryan Boissonneault
    January 1, 1970
    Problems with the physicalist approach to Big HistoryBig history is a specific approach to history that examines the universe and the human story at its largest possible scales, from the big bang to the present to the distant future. It seeks to unify all physical, biological, psychological, and historical events within a single explanatory framework, often reductionist in nature. Since everything in such a history is claimed to be ultimately reducible to the laws of physics (in the reductionist Problems with the physicalist approach to Big HistoryBig history is a specific approach to history that examines the universe and the human story at its largest possible scales, from the big bang to the present to the distant future. It seeks to unify all physical, biological, psychological, and historical events within a single explanatory framework, often reductionist in nature. Since everything in such a history is claimed to be ultimately reducible to the laws of physics (in the reductionist versions), such a narrative seems particularly suited for a theoretical physicist to tell. Enter Brian Greene and his latest foray into the field of big history, Until the End of Time. There’s no question that Greene is well-suited for the task; in addition to his deep expertise in theoretical physics, he also has the unmatched ability to clearly explain complex scientific concepts. The beginning chapters are a testament to this, as Greene takes the reader through the origins of the universe to the present day by explaining, with a liberal dose of clever analogies, how the fundamental concepts of entropy, energy, and evolution guide the physical, chemical, and biological processes that make up our world. While some may find this narrative approach (which is conspicuously devoid of anything “supernatural” or “divine”) depressing, others (like me) will find it utterly fascinating and even, in a sense, liberating. Greene shows us that by contemplating the universe at its largest scales—and by recognizing the impermanence of everything—we can come to more deeply appreciate our fleeting moments on this earth. And, even more importantly, we can learn to embrace the responsibility we all have to create our own meaning in our lives, while avoiding the somewhat childish view that meaning has to be imposed on us from above for life to have any value. As the book progresses, however, things get murkier. Philosophically, one thing you can say about Green is that he is consistent in his reductionist stance. Greene believes that everything can be explained—at least theoretically—with reference only to the laws and motions of fundamental particles. He does admit, however, that the prospect of actually doing this is virtually impossible, as the human mind (and for that matter any computer) does not have the cognitive or computational capacity to make such calculations. The eruption of a volcano, the causes of the second World War, and your inner experiences and emotions, for example, could be explained by physical laws, it’s just that we don’t have the capability of doing so. This is why we must study geological phenomena, history, and psychology at different, emergent levels, levels that we can cognitively handle. But this doesn’t mean that, in reality, it’s not “physics all the way down,” which Greene unabashadely believes. This qualified reductionist approach, however persuasive it appears, runs into its biggest challenge in the chapter on consciousness. In fact, it is here that I believe Greene’s philosophy is most subject to criticism. To say that consciousness is reducible to the motions of particles is to not fully appreciate the difference between scientific explanation and experience itself. Thomas Nagel, in his famous essay, What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, neatly elucidates the problem. As Greene wrote:“Since our mode of engagement with the world is profoundly different [from the bat], there is just so far our imagination can take us into the bat’s inner world. Even if we had a complete accounting of all the underlying fundamental physics, chemistry, and biology that make a bat a bat, our description would still seem unable to get at the bat’s subjective “first-person” experience. However detailed our material understanding, the inner world of the bat seems beyond reach. What’s true for the bat is true for each of us.” This demonstrates, at least to me, that there is another aspect to consciousness that is clearly not of a physical nature (also see the philosophical experiment Mary’s Room). What does it even mean to say that a thought, or the experience of the color red, is physical? Science advances by ignoring subjective experience and by quantifying the objects of experience. It is therefore a mistake to think that science can turn in on consciousness and quantify it in the same manner, without any major intellectual revolution in how we see the world. Well, Brian Greene seems to think that all we need is more physics and neuroscience and we can finally understand, not only what it is like to be a bat, but our own consciousness. This, despite the fact that every advance in neuroscience gets us no closer to understanding consciousness than the ancient Greeks. I’m just not convinced that more of the same is going to make any difference (or how it even could make any difference). In regard to possible intellectual revolutions, Greene mentions panpsychism but fails to mention the Interface Theory of Perception, which says that the relationship between our perceptions and reality is like the relationship between a desktop interface and a computer. According to this theory, we have for centuries been under the impression that science investigates the natural world when all it has been investigating is the “virtual desktop” of the brain, which tells us as much about the natural world as our computer interface tells us about the circuits of the computer. This, I believe, may be a promising line of research but will fundamentally alter the way we think about reality (see The Case Against Reality by cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman). Next, Greene addresses free will, telling us, unsurprisingly, that it is an illusion. Since he already told us that consciousness is simply the physical arrangement of particles in our brain, then it follows that our thoughts and actions are entirely determined by physical laws. His physicalism forces him to this conclusion, but, as we saw, if he’s wrong about consciousness, he could also be wrong about free will. The reader should keep in mind that if free will is bound up with consciousness—and if we don’t yet have a coherent scientific account of consciousness—then we don’t yet have a coherent scientific account of free will. Therefore, there is little compulsion for me to jettison my own belief in some form of free will—based on the totality of my experience—on the basis of a scientific explanation that doesn’t exist. It’s also worth considering the implications of Greene’s position, if he is right and our behavior is entirely physically determined. If Greene is right, it means that the big bang set off a mathematically-defined, predetermined course for every particle in the universe, some of which would eventually coalesce into the solar system, earth, life, humans, minds, and eventually Brian Greene, who would write a book telling you, the reader, that your subjective experience of free will is actually an illusion that you can’t help but thinking due to this very sequence of events. If he is right, of course, this is pretty amazing, especially since that would mean that the physical laws have conspired over billions of years so that he, Brain Greene, can serve as the messenger of such a profound insight. But I think you can forgive me for thinking that this may not be the case. Consciousness and free will are still open questions that we are nowhere near understanding.There is one further point that no scientist or physicalist has ever, as far as I know, adequately addressed. It is this: If everything is determined, and free will doesn’t exist, and no conscious creatures could have acted otherwise than they did, then what function does consciousness serve? If everything is predetermined by the laws of physics, then what good does it do me (or any conscious creature) to have the illusion of choice? Stated another way, if physical processes produce consciousness, but consciousness does not have a reciprocal effect on physical processes, then consciousness is entirely inept at impacting any outcome whatsoever. Therefore, if we follow Greene in his physicalism, consciousness completely loses its evolutionary rationale.
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  • Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    Brian Greene is a really good popularizer and here he covers our past and future in the universe. From origins, how earth formed, how life started consciousness and language and human creativity and our ultimate fate in a universe winding down due to entropy. Greene is my age, and make no mistake he has mortality on the mind and his book is infused with a tinge of melancholy on the way of all flesh. He touches and thermodynamics and possibilities of the universe in the far future and Brian Greene is a really good popularizer and here he covers our past and future in the universe. From origins, how earth formed, how life started consciousness and language and human creativity and our ultimate fate in a universe winding down due to entropy. Greene is my age, and make no mistake he has mortality on the mind and his book is infused with a tinge of melancholy on the way of all flesh. He touches and thermodynamics and possibilities of the universe in the far future and speculations of a multiverse. A good book on Physics and cosmology and good for people in the autumn of life and those who will eventually get there.
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  • Alex
    January 1, 1970
    My interest in books on epistemology and cosmology is a personal and emotional one as much as an intellectual one. Why do I have my particular perspective on the universe given a world with almost ten billion other similar brains? Faced with a finite lifespan, what sort of mark do I leave on existence? In a universe as vast as this, what impression, if any, will the human race have as a whole?There are plenty of popular science books that have provoked these thoughts, but it's been a while since My interest in books on epistemology and cosmology is a personal and emotional one as much as an intellectual one. Why do I have my particular perspective on the universe given a world with almost ten billion other similar brains? Faced with a finite lifespan, what sort of mark do I leave on existence? In a universe as vast as this, what impression, if any, will the human race have as a whole?There are plenty of popular science books that have provoked these thoughts, but it's been a while since I found one that also explored the personal and subjective terrain as effectively as this. Greene's book is a humanist exploration of how thought came to exist in the cosmos, what we do with it, and where it's ultimately going to go. Although it has a strong focus on the physics and is very good at elucidating the principles involved - the "entropic two-step" and evolution act as the backbones of the whole story - it constantly returns to the personal and subjective implications of the results, often in relation to the author's personal experience. Greene is a witty and conversational writer even with technical material, and shows an intellectual modesty and openness that really makes the book accessible and thought-provoking even as it gets in to the difficult terrain of the nature of thought and free will. Despite the substantial subject matter and the large page count, this was a fun and uplifting read, as well as mentally stimulating one. Recommended.(If you want more technical treatments of the themes, be sure to check Greene's extensive endnotes.)
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.“In the fullness of time all that lives will die.”That is the first sentence of the first chapter of Brian Greene’s new book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe.The first sentence pretty much sums up the whole thesis of the book—one day we will die. We all will, each as individuals. But also, one day, all of humanity and the world we reside in, will cease to be. Time will end.I found this book to be more I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.“In the fullness of time all that lives will die.”That is the first sentence of the first chapter of Brian Greene’s new book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe.The first sentence pretty much sums up the whole thesis of the book—one day we will die. We all will, each as individuals. But also, one day, all of humanity and the world we reside in, will cease to be. Time will end.I found this book to be more philosophical than Greene’s previous works, and he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. In Chapter One (The Lure of Eternity), Greene wonders about our ability to think. Is thought a physical process?In Chapter Two (The Language of Time), he calls up the second law of thermodynamics, which states that all things deteriorate over time. He asks, Why is the future different from the past? Chapter Three (Origins and Entropy) wonders, with the second law of thermodynamics “burden[ing] the universe with a relentless increase in disorder”, how do we come to have such organized structures such as atoms, nature, and our brains?Chapter Four (Information and Vitality) moves into the question of: What is life? “If we could identify what animates a collection of particles, what molecular magic sparks the fires of life, we would take a significant step toward understanding life’s origin and the ubiquity or not, of life in the cosmos.”Chapter Five (Particles and Consciousness) dives into the question of our conscious interior lives. This was one of the more interesting chapters as Greene seeks to understand where our conscious thought even comes from. “Can matter on its own, produce the sensations infusing conscious awareness? Can our conscious sense of autonomy be nothing more than the laws of physics acting themselves out on the matter constituting brain and body?” In this chapter, the author explores our concept of free will as well as acknowledges that our understanding of the physical brain is incomplete in that it cannot explain “subjective sensations.”In Chapter Six (Language and Story), Greene wonders at how language has opened up the possibility of story-telling and imagination. The complexity of our language system and grammar structures is what sets us apart from all other animals. In this chapter, Greene explores this idea in depth, providing a history of linguistic thought.Chapter Seven (Brains and Belief) discusses our inner world and the development of religious beliefs. Chapter Eight (Instinct and Creativity) explores humanity’s creation of art and its seeming insignificance towards aiding the survival of our species. “[W]hen our perceptions blend thought and emotion, when we feel thoughts as well as think them, our experience steps yet farther beyond the bounds of mechanistic explanation. We gain access to worlds otherwise uncharted.” Chapter Nine (Duration and Impermanence) explores the uncomfortable idea that our time (not just us as individuals, but the enduring ability to have thoughts and ideas) is finite. “Even those features of the cosmos that may present as enduring—the expanse of space, the distant galaxies, the stuff of matter—all lie within the reach of time.” Chapter Ten (The Twilight of Time) discusses the inevitability that time as we know and experience it will eventually end.The final chapter (The Nobility of Being) basically works to summarize the main ideas explored in the preceding chapters and to leave the reader with the still-unanswered big questions:“Why is there something rather than nothing?”“What sparked the onset of life?”“How did conscious awareness emerge?”Greene’s writing is enriched through his use of analogy and metaphor, which also makes the book approachable for the non-physicist. I first knew Greene through his appearances on NOVA and other PBS and Science Channel programming, so I continuously found myself imagining him narrate the book while graphics popped up to explain his analogies even further. He also provides a rich commentary on how the big questions presented in this book have been examined historically and who the big players were in asking and attempting to resolve the questions and paradoxes. As I read this book, I saw some parallels to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari’s historic account of humanity, but from the perspective of a physicist.Overall, I found Until the End of Time to be an engaging, sincere, and thought-provoking examination of the past, present, and future of one of the most intriguing of all concepts: TIME.
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  • Anima
    January 1, 1970
    “[…] The appeal of a law of nature might be its timeless quality. But what drives us to seek the timeless, to search for qualities that may last forever? Perhaps it all comes from our singular awareness that we are anything but timeless, that our lives are anything but forever.”“Place the dynamite where you want its energy deposited and light the fuse. That’s it. Post-explosion, all of the dynamite’s energy still exists. That’s the first law in action. But because the dynamite’s energy has been “[…] The appeal of a law of nature might be its timeless quality. But what drives us to seek the timeless, to search for qualities that may last forever? Perhaps it all comes from our singular awareness that we are anything but timeless, that our lives are anything but forever.”“Place the dynamite where you want its energy deposited and light the fuse. That’s it. Post-explosion, all of the dynamite’s energy still exists. That’s the first law in action. But because the dynamite’s energy has been transformed into the rapid and chaotic motion of widely dispersed particles, harnessing the energy is now extremely difficult. So, although the total amount of energy doesn’t change, the character of the energy does. Before the explosion, we say that the dynamite’s energy is high quality: it’s concentrated and easy to access. After the explosion, we say that the energy is low quality: it’s spread out and difficult to utilize. And since the exploding dynamite fully abides by the second law, going from order to disorder—from low entropy to high entropy—we associate low entropy with high-quality energy and high entropy with low-quality energy. Yes, I know. It’s a lot of highs and lows to keep track of. But the conclusion is pithy: whereas the first law of thermodynamics declares that the quantity of energy is conserved over time, the second law declares that the quality of that energy deteriorates over time.”
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  • R. Gordon
    January 1, 1970
    This was one of the most meaningful books I have ever read. At first I was skeptical that anyone could, in a single volume, do justice to not only cosmological history but find a means for convincingly incorporating human activities from storytelling to myth-making to religious practice and also creative expression. But by blending the core principles of entropy and evolution, in their most general forms, Greene weaves a tight tapestry that pulls together an enormous body of insight. I don't This was one of the most meaningful books I have ever read. At first I was skeptical that anyone could, in a single volume, do justice to not only cosmological history but find a means for convincingly incorporating human activities from storytelling to myth-making to religious practice and also creative expression. But by blending the core principles of entropy and evolution, in their most general forms, Greene weaves a tight tapestry that pulls together an enormous body of insight. I don't know of any other book that draws on such a broad base of research to tell a deeply felt human story within the rubric of cosmological development. The book tells the whole story. Really, really wonderful. And the ultimate message, that we need to make our own meaning, and that by doing so we undertake the most noble of tasks, is totally uplifting even though the full story of the cosmos can generate some angst. Overall, an incredible accomplishment that is nothing short of thrilling.
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  • Andy Jones
    January 1, 1970
    As an occasional New Scientist reader, I expected the content to be reasonably familiar to me, but Brian Greene introduces a mix of mathematics, physics, biology and philosophy that requires real concentration. The payback is the nearest thing yet to the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything”The writing style is accessible, given the topics under discussion. As a professor of physics and mathematics Greene obviously has great experience in knowledge sharing and in this latest book he As an occasional New Scientist reader, I expected the content to be reasonably familiar to me, but Brian Greene introduces a mix of mathematics, physics, biology and philosophy that requires real concentration. The payback is the nearest thing yet to the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything”The writing style is accessible, given the topics under discussion. As a professor of physics and mathematics Greene obviously has great experience in knowledge sharing and in this latest book he talks his readers through current theories of creation, entropy, and evolution. He includes an explanation of why water is chemically so valuable for life to exist. He explains how quantum theory plays into thermodynamics, and encompasses topics like how consciousness appeared, before moving on to the big question of “how will it all end?” At some points the reader is offered the opportunity to skip the more detailed explanations, but I found the result well worth the effort of following his elegant and enlightening prose.Brian Greene was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with “The Elegant Universe” and I can see this latest work gaining similar accolades
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  • Martin
    January 1, 1970
    If you’ve ever lain awake at night contemplating the creation of the universe, or wondered how life came into existence out of nothingness, or questioned the existence of other intelligent life in the universe then this is the book for you. Brian Greene returns with a captivating reflection on human life and our purpose in the cosmos.I really enjoyed this one and had a hard time putting it down. It’s smart and full of well researched topics but also not too overwhelming with scientific jargon. If you’ve ever lain awake at night contemplating the creation of the universe, or wondered how life came into existence out of nothingness, or questioned the existence of other intelligent life in the universe then this is the book for you. Brian Greene returns with a captivating reflection on human life and our purpose in the cosmos.I really enjoyed this one and had a hard time putting it down. It’s smart and full of well researched topics but also not too overwhelming with scientific jargon. You don’t need a degree in quantum physics to understand the concepts. It’s broken down in a way where anyone can understand. Some concepts can be challenging but there are a ton of end notes to further explain the idea or give reference to a source where one could dive deeper into the subject. What I found most enjoyable is that it pushes forward complex questions about the cosmos with a philosopher’s creativity and then attempts to answer them with a physicist’s rigidity. Greene does everything he can to bring in the reality of physics to our understanding of life and it makes for a fun, thought provoking read.
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    An End of Time Best DeferredA long, long time ago in college, I was the sole skeptic and “evolutionist” in the Brown University chapter of the Campus Crusade for Christ. One night I attended a meeting featuring the California college chairman of Campus Crusade, who recommended strongly that I might consider reading Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible, since Jefferson removed all references to the supernatural in his extensively edited edition, and one I am certain was well received by fellow An End of Time Best DeferredA long, long time ago in college, I was the sole skeptic and “evolutionist” in the Brown University chapter of the Campus Crusade for Christ. One night I attended a meeting featuring the California college chairman of Campus Crusade, who recommended strongly that I might consider reading Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible, since Jefferson removed all references to the supernatural in his extensively edited edition, and one I am certain was well received by fellow Enlightenment skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic. This is exactly how I feel after reading Brian Greene’s “Until The End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe”. Buried within his latest expansive tome is a superb physics book on describing the first two laws of thermodynamics and the law of gravity (the first four chapters) comparable in quality to what fans of Greene’s earlier writings have come to expect, along with a very good concluding section (Chapters 9 to 11) on the fate of the universe itself, drawing upon current cosmological research. What lurks between two halves of a fine physics book, unfortunately, is a humanist manifesto on humanity’s future, relying extensively on the very evolutionary psychology criticized repeatedly by paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould, population geneticist Richard Lewontin and cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller; the latter, most notably, in his superb “The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness and Free Will”. It is perhaps ironic that Greene refers to Gould and Lewontin’s legendary “Spandrels of San Marco” paper, recognizing that it refers to “[a} given behavioral disposition may be the mere by-product of other evolutionary developments – developments that did enhance survival and thus did evolve in the usual way by natural selection”. Bur Greene misses the point, since he believes that “Darwinian selection” is responsible for humanity’s capacity for storytelling, without recognizing – as Gould, Lewontin and Miller have – that this capacity may be the unexpected consequence of Natural Selection acting on one or more traits.It is worth noting what I wrote nearly two years ago in my very favorable review of Miller’s book – in the interest of full disclosure I was one of those Campus Crusade students who had organized his very first debate against a creationist – since nothing remotely like Miller’s writing exists within Greene’s humanist manifesto that is at the core of “Until The End of Time”.:Miller’s book is especially noteworthy in its criticism of the strict adaptationist view of Natural Selection and biological evolution and in implying that human consciousness is an emergent property of human evolution; one that may not have been directly selected via Natural Selection. Much of his harshest criticism of evolutionary psychology is stated in Chapter Four (“Explaining It All”), tracing its origins to E. O. Wilson’s work on ant systematics and sociobiology, noting that evolutionary psychology’s greatest accomplishment may be in generating newsworthy headlines such as discerning the biological reason why women enjoy shopping. He also delves into questionable research explaining why rape has an “adaptive value” as well as Marc Hauser’s fraudulent research in relating human social behavior to similar behavior observed in other primates. And yet, despite its ample failings, Miller acknowledges that evolutionary psychology – when done in a sufficiently rigorous manner – may shed light on some aspects of human behavior, noting an important study on infanticide in Indian monkeys by behavioral ecologist and anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, that may support some recent studies of human infanticide.Much to his credit, Miller mentions paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould and geneticist Richard Lewontin’s 1979 “Spandrels of San Marco” paper in Chapter Five (“The Mind of a Primate”), hailing it as a major critique of the adaptationist view of Natural Selection prevalent in current evolutionary theory and especially, its recognition that other evolutionary processes, not only Natural Selection, are responsible for the history of life on our planet. Gould and Lewontin were responding to the “just so” tales of evolutionary adaptations in organisms, noting that such “adaptations” may be unintended consequences of evolution, in a manner consistent with the existence of spandrels within the domes of cathedrals like the one in San Marco, Italy that appear – and Miller notes this in italics - “whether you want them or not.” It is this expansionist view of evolution that underscores his subsequent discussion of the emergence of reason, human consciousness and free will. What Greene offers readers instead, is a surprisingly reductionist view of evolution, not recognizing that Natural Selection – or as he more often refers to it, “Darwinian selection”- is not purely random, but instead, as both Gould and Miller have noted repeatedly in their writings, is constrained by both the environment and the prior phylogenetic – in plain English, genealogical – history of the population undergoing selection. One that doesn’t consider the possibility that humanity’s capacity for storytelling may be an unanticipated emergent property of underlying natural processes like Natural Selection, as well as more likely, the direct consequence of human cultural influences – not evolution – at work throughout humanity’s history, most likely starting as early as the time – approximately 600,000 years ago – that the lineage leading to us, Homo sapiens, split from our closest relatives, the Neandertals. The same is true for Greene’s contention that humanity is predisposed because of evolution to embrace religion, claiming that it is due to “Darwinian selection”, which even a religiously devout scientist like Miller has never once asserted.On a more optimistic, and positive, note, I share too Greene’s passion for Beethoven and Brahms. Every time I hear the opening notes of Beethoven’s Third “Eroica” Symphony, I can’t help but remain in awe of the beauty and grandeur behind Beethoven’s revolutionary musical vision for this most remarkable symphony. But unlike Greene, I am unwilling – and this may be due to my training as an evolutionary biologist specializing in invertebrate paleobiology and evolutionary ecology – to ascribe an evolutionary reason for the very acts of creation by Beethoven and of performance by world-class symphony orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. These should be recognized as the cultural artifacts that they are, divorced from any explanations based upon evolutionary psychology. They should be compelling reasons why Greene’s latest tome should be a reading experience best deferred, especially when it repeats the very mistakes noted by Miller in his exceptional “The Human Instinct”, erroneously concluding that human behavior has been driven solely via the process of Natural Selection. What Greene has offered us is one long argument in favor of nature in the never ending controversy of whether it is “nature or nurture” that is ultimately responsible for human behavior; an argument which others, most notably, Gould and Miller, have argued persuasively for its rejection.
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  • Dan Graser
    January 1, 1970
    Brian Greene is many people's favorite expositor of the more fascinating yet impenetrable topics in modern physics and his previous volumes have done so in very readable prose while at the same time maintaining a sense of wonder for the topic. This latest volume is much more meditative and much more reflective than any of his other works. Also, there is not a new way of thinking or a new theory presented here, rather what is examined are the necessary notions of time that are a by product of Brian Greene is many people's favorite expositor of the more fascinating yet impenetrable topics in modern physics and his previous volumes have done so in very readable prose while at the same time maintaining a sense of wonder for the topic. This latest volume is much more meditative and much more reflective than any of his other works. Also, there is not a new way of thinking or a new theory presented here, rather what is examined are the necessary notions of time that are a by product of study of physics and cosmology. Given that this work is primarily focused on time, at the universal scale, he starts with the big bang theory and the concept of entropy. Again, those who are already familiar with these concepts won't find much that is new here. One of the more potent examinations is the various means by which self-replicating life could have began, and where current research stands on that issue. This is a necessary link to the following chapters which feature the dual role of entropy and evolution. Once humans arrive on the cosmological scene, the discussion shifts to the, "search for meaning," portion of the text. Various creative endeavors, our need for myth, the creation of religions, and many others are discussed along with how these elements of our humanity could have served a useful evolutionary purpose, and how perhaps they tagged along with other more beneficial traits. We then proceed to how it all ends, cheery I know, but once again fascinating especially if you're unaware of how physics shows the universe is progressing and ultimately how it may cease to be. As such, this area gives us cheery notions such as, "The entropic two-step and the evolutionary forces of selection enrich the pathway from order to disorder with prodigious structure, but whether stars or black holes, planets or people, molecules or atoms, things ultimately fall apart. Longevity varies widely. Yet the fact that we will all die, and the fact that the human species will die, and the fact that life and mind, at least in this universe, are virtually certain to die are expected, run-of-the-mill, long-term outcomes of physical law. The only novelty is that we notice."A fine book to accompany your own musings on the notions of time on the broadest scale and also on our own, individual, fleeting amount of time as conscious beings within the universe. However if you are looking for similar, revelatory exposition as found in his many other writings you may wish to bypass this one.
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  • GONZA
    January 1, 1970
    Life, the universe and everything, that is the famous book by Douglas Coupland, could well be the subtitle of this book by Brian Green, where he writes about religion, physics, biology, philosophy, history, mathematics, chemistry and in short practically about all there is, to arrive almost at a theory of everything, which - even if it is not what physicists have been looking for in the last 30 years- is certainly a global vision of what has happened so far and why we have found ourselves in the Life, the universe and everything, that is the famous book by Douglas Coupland, could well be the subtitle of this book by Brian Green, where he writes about religion, physics, biology, philosophy, history, mathematics, chemistry and in short practically about all there is, to arrive almost at a theory of everything, which - even if it is not what physicists have been looking for in the last 30 years- is certainly a global vision of what has happened so far and why we have found ourselves in the here and now. La vita, l'universo e tutto quanto, ovvero il famoso libro di Douglas Coupland, potrebbe benissimo essere il sottotitolo di questo libro di Brian Green, dove si parla di religione, fisica, biologia, filosofia, storia, matematica, chimica e insomma praticamente non avanza niente, per arrivare quasi ad una teoria del tutto, che anche se non é quella che i fisici stanno cercando da tempo, sicuramente é una visione globale di quanto accaduto finora e di come mai ci siamo trovati nel qui ed ora. THANKS EDELWEISS FOR THE ARC!
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  • Gary Moreau
    January 1, 1970
    A book of life, not scienceBrian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and a leading authority on quantum mechanics and string theory. A scientist? Indeed. But this is not a book of science. This is a book designed to reconcile the most intangible side of our fascinating human experience with what we know (and don’t know) from the world of science. (I am not a scientist in any form. My favorite genre is philosophy.)And he does that by doing what few scientists A book of life, not scienceBrian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and a leading authority on quantum mechanics and string theory. A scientist? Indeed. But this is not a book of science. This is a book designed to reconcile the most intangible side of our fascinating human experience with what we know (and don’t know) from the world of science. (I am not a scientist in any form. My favorite genre is philosophy.)And he does that by doing what few scientists even attempt to do. He puts everything he says and believes in context. And the ultimate truth of life and the universe is that there is context to it all.Greene is a physicalist who believes that particles, fields, entropy, and gravity are at the heart of it all. He also believes, moreover, that the human story can be “told in the language of laws and particles.”And that is precisely what he does. Starting with the origins of the universe (He finally provides an explanation of entropy that I truly understand. When I passed the kitchen the other day while my wife was cooking I couldn’t help but note that the entropy smelled wonderful.), passing through the appearance of consciousness, language, story-telling, artistry, religion, and on into the potential end of the universe, Greene shares a perspective without resorting to a single equation (E=mc squared is the sole exception I can recall.)The prose is outstanding. Greene could have been a professor of creative writing or philosophy. And it is in this latter regard that I think he makes his biggest contribution. We live in a world of increasing specialization. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of science. We don’t just have physicists or chemists any more. Each discipline has been parsed into dozens of specialties.But that’s not really how the world works. “The sciences are not separate.” To understand reality we must analyze it in the totality in which it exists. That may be an impossible mountain to climb, as the Taoists believe, but we can’t know anything without also knowing that which we don’t know.Specialization of our intellectual inquiry is counter-productive if our real mission is to understand reality and our role in it. “No, by training and temperament, I’m skeptical of one-size-fits-all explanations – physics is littered with unsuccessful unified theories of nature’s forces – only more so if we venture into the complex realm of human behavior.” Which is why I personally believe that every scientist should be trained in philosophy before they are granted their scientific degree. They need the context to interpret the secrets they will uncover.Part of the reason for this extreme specialization is the fact that we are always looking for patterns. Our very survival, in fact, has depended on it. But we have taken it too far. It is our devotion to patterns, I believe, that is behind the social and political polarization that divides us today. We see everything as part of a pre-defined pattern and it’s not. And we rely too much on deductive reason. Inductive reason can be erratic and fertile ground for superstition and mythology. As a worldview, however, it provides a counter-weight to the excesses of a pre-occupation with cause and effect, which in turn leads to the cumbersome processes and practices that are killing creativity in our businesses and leaving our employees uninspired and dis-engaged. “Mathematics is the articulation of pattern.” Which is why many have come to believe that mathematics is both reality and its explanation. “But my less sentimental assessment allows for mathematics to be a language of our own making, developed in part by overindulging our predilection for pattern. After all, much mathematical analysis plays little role in promoting survival.”“Through diligent experiment and observation we have established that these equations provide a spectacularly accurate account of the world. But there is no guarantee that they are expressed in nature’s intrinsic lexicon.” If and when alien visitors finally find us and we proudly show them how far we have come in advanced mathematics, there is every chance that “they will politely smile, tell us that they too started with math but then discovered the real language of reality.”Late in the book Greene addresses a very philosophical question that I think sums the book up perfectly. I paraphrase: “Which would impact you more, being told you had a year to live or being told that the universe has a year to survive?” And it is here that he introduces some of his best prose and a soaring tribute to what it means to be human in ways that each of us can relate to.I disagree that this is not a book for the general book-reading population. That is exactly who this book is for. It is not a page-turner, for sure. You WILL be able to put it down. In fact, you will want to, because you will have just read something that gives you the irresistible urge to go for a walk and think about what you just read.Agree or not, this book will make you think. What more can a reader ask for? And how much more timely could such a book be?
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  • Nilesh
    January 1, 1970
    Until the End of Time is a brilliantly written book with huge ambitions and vast scope. The author loses his way often within the broad canvass he provided for himself and with the large palettes of scientific and philosophical theories. On the positive side, the author is a gifted writer, apart from being a renowned scientist. He has a knack of making the most complicated things understandable. The book has useful sections on varied topics like entropy, big bang/inflation, string theory, and Until the End of Time is a brilliantly written book with huge ambitions and vast scope. The author loses his way often within the broad canvass he provided for himself and with the large palettes of scientific and philosophical theories. On the positive side, the author is a gifted writer, apart from being a renowned scientist. He has a knack of making the most complicated things understandable. The book has useful sections on varied topics like entropy, big bang/inflation, string theory, and biological evolution that do not cover any new grounds compared to other popular books of the times. Still, they should enhance the knowledge of even the most well-read simply because of the innovative presentations of many complex theories. The book shows that Mr. Greene is equally adept at explaining philosophical quandaries. The author is unrestrained in providing his take on many of the field's most complicated issues, including the free will, the existence of soul/mind/God/consciousness, or the purpose of life. The author is at his inconsistent worst when his logical, scientific lines of thoughts lead to nihilistic and fatalistic ends that he would firmly embrace almost to refute, or at least diffuse, immediately for humanistic reasons. The fact of the matter is that rational, material sciences are never going to provide the answers we want in existential fields. For anyone with the tiniest faith in the purpose behind existence, or the difference we make with our will and efforts, or the validity of emotions should keep the inevitable meaninglessness of material science fields separate. It is far easier to recognize the limits of rationality and allow our spiritual/emotional or other non-logical selves to allow to co-exist with the scientific ones, rather than brutally alter them to provide conclusions that satisfy all.The section on the end of the world is needlessly long and turns painful beyond a point, given the triviality of its conclusions.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    This book expands far beyond what he has offered in the past. It covers physics, cosmology, psychology, philosophy, religion, art, and at times is autobiographical. It offers a very human tour of the cosmos from the beginning to the end of time.I enjoyed this book as I slowly read through each page, sometimes repeating paragraphs, and feeling sad as it came to an end. Brian Greene puts certain ideas into words that I never could and poetically so. If you’re looking for a book that focuses on This book expands far beyond what he has offered in the past. It covers physics, cosmology, psychology, philosophy, religion, art, and at times is autobiographical. It offers a very human tour of the cosmos from the beginning to the end of time.I enjoyed this book as I slowly read through each page, sometimes repeating paragraphs, and feeling sad as it came to an end. Brian Greene puts certain ideas into words that I never could and poetically so. If you’re looking for a book that focuses on physics, as Greene’s other books have, 100% of the time, you will be disappointed. I was hoping for something different since I found Fabric of the Cosmos to be too similar to The Elegant Universe, and The Hidden Reality was fun, but not deep.This book was a change of pace and revealed a different side of Green; one that I appreciate deeply. Challenging to understand at times, especially on the more physics-heavy chapters early on, but a joy to read overall. At times, I found myself wondering where it was all heading since the early physics chapters paved the way for discussions many chapters later, but it all came together in the end.Highly recommended for deep thinkers who aren’t intimidated by mathematical concepts and the hard sciences.
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  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    I LOVE THIS BOOK - A TRUE MASTERPIECE. I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction and I don't always finish the nonfiction books that i start. But I saw him speak at a bookstore and was so intrigued by the topic that I thought I would give it a try and found that I could not put it down. I'm blown away that a scientist can so masterfully tell a page-turning story (in the manner of a highly skilled novelist) that weaves together physics, the history of the universe and human consciousness, I LOVE THIS BOOK - A TRUE MASTERPIECE. I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction and I don't always finish the nonfiction books that i start. But I saw him speak at a bookstore and was so intrigued by the topic that I thought I would give it a try and found that I could not put it down. I'm blown away that a scientist can so masterfully tell a page-turning story (in the manner of a highly skilled novelist) that weaves together physics, the history of the universe and human consciousness, especially our collective search for meaning. It's quite a feat to delve into science and philosophy and to tie them together, while making all of it accessible to a lay audience of curious readers who are neither philosphers or scientists (such as myself). I expect it will win awards and hope it will be made into a NOVA special, as happened with a couple of his previous books.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. Of special interest to me are the sections where Dr. Greene ties what we know, or think we know, about the nature of the universe to the exploration of human consciousness and the search for meaning.The book allows non-mathematicians access to areas of physics that are known only through complex math. In doing so, he also displays the confident humility involved in understanding current research as explorations of probabilities. There is a fine line between presenting new I loved this book. Of special interest to me are the sections where Dr. Greene ties what we know, or think we know, about the nature of the universe to the exploration of human consciousness and the search for meaning.The book allows non-mathematicians access to areas of physics that are known only through complex math. In doing so, he also displays the confident humility involved in understanding current research as explorations of probabilities. There is a fine line between presenting new science as fact before it is established as fact, or as opinion on the same level as opinions based on unscientific sources. This book maintains that line carefully and discusses the implications of various possibilities.There is much in Brian Greene's presentation here that I will be contemplating for some time to come.
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  • Arno Mosikyan
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting read, have read author's all books in chronological order, odd feeling that in this book Mr. Greene is experiencing a sort of existential crisis after deciphering the existentialism on a cosmic scale, and his scientific enthusiasm/confidence which has always invigorated me was in a strange recess. I hope I am wrong...and this time the book was just seasoned with too much philosophy. Mr. Greene is an important science communicator in our century.
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  • Chuck
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 starsFrankly, I was a little disappointed in this one. I mean, it's not a bad book at all. I absolutely love philosophy, sure. The meaning of it all/the ultimate fate of everything? I dig it. But I bought this book knowing who Brian Greene is and I expected a way heavier dose of science. I'd have went somewhere if I wanted philosophy.
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  • Jason Ellis
    January 1, 1970
    A lovely view of Brian Greene's apparent existential crisis. Not his best, but when he does what he does best, it can be a really great read. His chapter on free will struck me as a little overly morose, but it did end well and redeemed some of the middling middle chapters.
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  • Shawn
    January 1, 1970
    fun to litsen to him talk both about conciousness and the vastness of space/time at the same time.
  • Bettie
    January 1, 1970
  • Greg Smith
    January 1, 1970
    One of the very best explanations concerning Entropy I have yet found. My understanding has vastly improved ....
  • Elbrackeen Brackeen
    January 1, 1970
    LJ 09/19
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