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July 12, 2007

Book Notes - Alex Vilenkin ("Many Worlds in One")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I have long been a fan of the cosmos and its physics, ever since watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos as a child. Still, I am often daunted by some of the highly technical books about cosmology that aim to explain the field's theories to the masses. Alex Vilenkin's Many Worlds in One eased those fears at once, as Vilenkin expounds upon the theories of infinite universes, repulsive gravity, and others in the voice of a benevolent, wise friend. This is a book filled with big ideas, but Vilenkin always backs up his arguments in terms a layman can understand.

Many thanks to Alina Simone for her help with this feature.

In his own words, here is Alex Vilenkin's Book Notes essay for his book, Many Worlds in One:

I think about the universe for my living. Actually, this is not quite right: I enjoy it too much, so I would do it even without being paid. My work involves a lot of abstract math combined with intuitive, sometimes seemingly wild ideas about how the universe works. It’s not easy to explain, but music plays an important part in it.

I listen mostly to classical music. Not when I work – it’s too much of a distraction. Music helps me “tune” my mind and clear it of unnecessary clutter. Not to mention that I enjoy it immensely.

In Many Worlds in One, I describe the new picture of the universe that has been developed over the last couple of decades. Some find it bizarre, others find it disturbing, but it also has a strangely musical beauty about it. The new worldview has emerged from disconnected, even conflicting ideas, which came together in unexpected ways – like different voices in contrapuntal music.

Now to my play list. The book has four parts, and I give a piece of music for each of them.

1. Genesis. This is the story of genesis according to the big bang cosmology.

J.S. Bach, Concerto for two harpsichords, strings & continuo in C minor. It speaks of the majesty, logic, and intricate order of the universe.

2. Eternal Inflation. In the new worldview, based on the theory of cosmic inflation, “our” big bang was just one of many. Other bangs constantly go off in distant part of the universe, producing regions with diverse properties.

I. Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps. A multitude of haunting cosmic voices burst out of pulsating primordial energy.

3. Principle of Mediocrity. Among other things, this part is about our place in the universe.

L. Beethoven, Piano sonata No. 17 in D minor. It is nostalgic and poignant.

4. Before the Beginning. Here we try to uncover how it all began, and what happened before.

J.S. Bach, Sonata for solo violin No. 1 in G minor. Like no one else Bach speaks of the great cosmic mystery.

Yes, I almost forgot to mention that apart from classical music I often listen to the indie rock singer Alina Simone (who happens to be my daughter).

Alex Vilenkin and Many Worlds in One links:

Powells interview with the author

California Literary Review review
Cosmic Variance review
New Scientist Space review
Universe Today review

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)