TIME by Clifford A. Pickover


A Traveler's Guide
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A playful introduction to modern physics from a Discovery magazine columnist. Pickover frames his discussion of time in a didactic science-fictional tale (told somewhat clumsily in the second person) set a few decades in the future and featuring an alien philosopher named Mr. Veil, who is your assistant at the Museum of Music. In order to travel backward in time to enjoy the piano playing of Chopin (whose music functions as a leitmotif here), you must instruct Veil in the nature of time and space, particularly Einstein’s Relativity Theory. Veil performs simple experiments using futuristic hardware to demonstrate the key issues: the subjective nature of “now,” the flexibility of time and space in systems in motion relative to one another, and the speed of light as an invariable. After each brief chunk of story, the text steps back to examine “the science behind the science fiction” in a more straightforwardly didactic manner. Pickover encourages the reader to approach the material in an interactive way, offering computer programs (in BASIC) to calculate some of the quantities discussed. Frequent references to popular sci-fi movies and stories make the concepts even more accessible to readers. After the by-now well-worn subject of relativity is sufficiently explained, the latter chapters discuss the possibility of real time travel, using such speculative techniques as wormholes (caused by the enormous gravitation of black holes) and giant rotating cylinders. Along the way, Pickover looks at the broader philosophical implications of time travel, especially in relation to the paradoxes involving causality and the immutability of the past. While much of this is familiar to sci-fi fans and followers of popular science, the basic principles are clearly explained, and the shift from the framing story to straight exposition is not too abrupt. In spite of the overly cute narrative form, this could serve as an entertaining introduction to modern scientific principles for bright students as well as adults.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-19-512042-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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