(K. Brent Tomer),
Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing. By James Owen Weatherall. Yale University Press; 196 pages; $26.
MOST of the universe is empty. So it is natural that a great deal of modern physics concerns nothing—or rather the precise nature of the nothing that permeates the cosmos. Work in the past century in particular has shaken up scientists’ understanding of emptiness. Ideas about gravity and motion put in place by Isaac Newton in the 17th century were overturned by the work of Albert Einstein. The dawn of quantum mechanics revolutionised physicists’ understanding of the very small, but the theory’s conclusions were so counterintuitive that Einstein was never able to reconcile himself with them. James Owen Weatherall, a philosopher, now examines how scientists’ conceptions of supposedly empty space have changed in the light of these convulsions in his latest book, “Void”.
Many people today imagine that, on a molecular scale, the air around them resembles a tumultuous three-dimensional game of billiards. Yet this picture, of molecules of nitrogen, oxygen and other gasses ricocheting…Continue reading