There’s no shortage of smart, literate physicists — think Lisa Randall, Steven Weinberg or Brian Greene — whose popular writings bring the universe into sharp focus. But Neil Turok, director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, also brings humanity into the mix of cosmic questions.
On some levels, The Universe Within is a typical whirlwind tour of physics’ richest discoveries, from the unification of electricity and magnetism to the discovery of the expanding universe. Turok sails through the greatest hits while tucking in nuggets such as what it’s like to work with Stephen Hawking.
On other levels, the book is a call for radical societal change. Turok frames his arguments around the power of the human mind, and his new twist is a consideration of the future. Superfast quantum computing, he predicts, will soon become reality and will shape how we think, reason and discover. Surrounded by quantum computers that respond to every inquiry in a flash, the human mind will become the universe within.
Which all sounds wonderfully futuristic — but how will this come about? By tapping underexploited scientific talent, Turok argues. An African whose parents were jailed for protesting apartheid, he is a fierce advocate for education.
In 2003 Turok helped found the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, a training ground for the continent’s brightest minds. And last fall he preached his main arguments in a series of lectures across Canada (check them out on iTunes or at bit.ly/SNmassey).
Only when all minds have the chance to learn about and explore the cosmos will Turok’s richly imagined future surpass the insights of past discoveries.
Anansi, 2012, 280 p., $15.95