Book Review: About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang

When introducing his book “About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang,” author Adam Frank tells us that he is setting out to “unfold the grandest conception of the universe we human beings have been able to imagine and explore. At the same time embracing our most intimate and most personal experience of the world — the very frame of human life.”

“This book is about time, both cosmic and human.”

For those interested in the complex journey of humanity through the cosmos, Frank does not fail in his quest to unravel the unique web of ‘time’ into a thread of understandable science. That is, if you can take a partially solved puzzle and write a book that connects the proverbial dots of known science and cultural anthropology with the partially understood theories of cosmology and related sciences.

Mission accomplished by Frank.

Upon first receiving this book, I was hopeful that Frank would present the material of thousands of years of science in a unique and interesting way; setting his writing apart from the hundreds of other astronomy books I’ve read. Frank, being a seasoned writer and astrophysics professor, did not disappoint. Frank takes you on a conversational journey, filled with real life examples, both personal and historical, to share his view of some of the most multifarious ideas being considered in our galaxy today.

The first few chapters are a review of compound science related to our galaxy, but Frank quickly dives into a discussion of how culture has been affected by the world around it. From there Frank draws a picture from intricate ideas and theories of how society fits in the larger puzzle of cosmology. All while focusing on the measurement of time.

If you are looking to take your perspective of cosmology to a new and deeper level, allow Adam Frank to steal some of your time and read his book “About Time”. Frank will surely have you viewing your society, history, and clock in a whole new perspective. Not to mention putting you on the forefront of scientific theories and cultural progress being considered in the world of cosmology.

Adam Frank is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester and a regular contributor to Discover and Astronomy magazines, and is the co-founder of National Public Radio’s popular 13:7 Cosmos & Culture blog. He won an American Astronomical Society Prize for his scientific writing. His first book was The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate.

5 Replies to “Book Review: About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang”

  1. …but Hoyle and others were right: there is no beginning and
    no end, both spacewise and timewise. Reason shows that finitude is a logical
    impossibility. This was realized maybe thousands of years ago, and at least ever since classical times. The phrase ex nihilo nihil (fit), “nothing can spring forth from nothing”,
    explains it all in a nutshell. Evidence for the expansion of space is not to be confused with evidence for a Big Bang (the beginning of space and time, which is absurd), and it is compatible with an eternally pulsating or breathing universe, the Heart Universe or Lung Universe. The problem is this: that infinity is also logically impossible.

    The Olbers Paradox is another misunderstanding. Those who claim that an eternal universe should be filled with blinding light fail to see that 1) if there is an
    infinite number of stars and an infinite amount of starlight moving around, so,
    too, there ought to be an infinite amount of dust that eventually blocks the
    wandering light rays, as well as overlapping stars, like leaves on a tree, that
    also get in the way, and 2) nobody can claim to know what eventually happens to
    light on its way through infinite space, in a neverending voyage. Maybe it fades away and congeals, so that energy turns into matter, just as we see matter turning into energy, that turns into matter, that turns into energy…back and forth, and back and forth, like a ping-pong ball.

    I don’t remember if it was here that I described a thought experiment conceived in Greece about 2,500 years ago. Suppose I were to walk all over to the end of the Universe, and that I were to poke my staff through the limit into nothingness. What would happen to the tip of my staff?? Would it vanish? This illustrates the absurdity of trying to
    establish a limit to space, since nothingness is inconceivable as well as
    nonexistent, by virtue of its own definition…but no less inconceivable than infinitude. Consequently, it’s useless to keep arguing, except to point out that further discussion is impossible.

    Endless, too, are the arguments on the subject, so, my dear Mr. Adam Frank, please don’t start another one of those going here. Just go write a sequel, but don’t expect me
    to buy it, and I won’t buy that new book of yours, but I promise to take a look
    at it if you deliver the good, c/o

    1. it’s possible that, like with the surface of the earth any attempt to find the “edge” would simply find you back where you started.

      but then really, that question along with all others regarding inifinity, and before or after the universe are, in the cold light of day, nonsense questions since they can never be answered anyway.

      1. May I disagree with your judgment that questions about the origin and fate of the Universe of Time are “nonsense”. Maybe from a secular evolutionary perspective, which views all knowledge — Earth’s past chronology to Space-Time chronometry — as only acquirable through empirical Science of the five senses of physical man. Final, authoritative answers to the big questions on the forefront of Science may be more profound than we can even imagine.

        Could some of the more inaccessible of those burning questions, which light the great Institutes of human inquiry, find answers through, of all things, revelation? You are probably right in stating that, the most distant of them, stirring scientific investigation, may “never be answered …. in the cold light of day”.

        “Infinity” may not be an impersonal void of endless mystery, receding into the future of our temporal reality, from a “past” unending. Time in motion of Space is finite (even if it goes on for a trillion Earth-turning years). All energy-driven clockworks of celestial configuration, like those of man-built motion, tend to wind-down the passing moments of material existence to an end. Could that be — because the master Clock had a beginning?

    2. A spacetime can be finite without necessarily having a boundary or edge. If the universe is a sphere there is no boundary, and this 3 dimensional sphere dynamically evolves from a point to maximum size and back to a point. This is then a 4 dimensional sphere. For various reasons I don’t think this is realistic. Cardenas pointed out that this cosmology will exceed an entropy bound when it starts to recollapse. The k = 0 FLRW spacetime is a flat three dimensional space that dynamically evolves where points separate from each other. Galaxies or particles then “ride along” on these points and the universe to any local observer is then expanding.

      The k = 0 case is in some ways most physically realistic. The space is rapidly inflating, but there are local vacuum instabilities that result in low energy vacuum bubbles. We happen to be in one of those bubbles, and there is a vast number of these bubbles. This is the Linde-Vilenkin theory of the so called multiverse. The space this is contained on is a D3-brane that exist in a foliation or stack that is potentially infinite in size.


  2. Icrowell and Solar x 2:

    Even more outlandish than any “nonsense question” is the notion of a spherical space where, if you keep going straight ahead, you will come back to the starting point, or of a hyperbolic, saddle-shaped space, riding on the horse of nothingness, or maybe immersed in the Sea of Nothing.

    Intuitively we’ve always realized that space is no more than a boundless room that holds things like fish in a bowl. The crazy topology that endues space with shape is based on
    numbers scribbled on paper. They get away with it because only a few thousand scholars can go through the math involved. This gives them the power to hex everybody else and make them buy books that everyone reads and no one understands. These books tell ghostly stories about space and time, and they tend to have a clock on the cover.

    Actually, the truth is even ghostlier than they could ever imagine.

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