Roger Penrose’s Road to Reality

A few weeks ago I was in London for a short vacation. Being there wih my wife and daughters there was a lot of shopping on the programm and of course we had to visit Harrod’s. While the ladies were just browsing the goodies that were way too expensive for them, I was in the rather small bookshop that was in Harrod’s and I bought Penrose’s book “The Road to Reality”. The book was much cheaper there than in The Netherlands, where I live. So I am the only family member who can say I bought something at Harrods!

I’ve been hesitating to buy the book several times at the American Bookshop in The Hague. Not because it is an easy read, but because it looked dauntingly difficult, at least to me.
Old habits rarely change: as a schoolboy I always unpacked my new books at the beginning of the new school year with that feeling that none of my own children ever have: “I don’t understand what all these formulas mean yet, but in a year I will!”. The same feeling applies to Penrose’s book: although I proceed very slowly, I am confident that I’ll finish the book within a year and that I’ll know a lot more than I do now. Isn’t that great?

Now NewScienist has an article about Penrose.

You’d have thought that Roger Penrose would be pleased to have his work immortalised in an Oscar-nominated film. Apparently not. After friends told him about his book’s cameo in Happy Go Lucky, Penrose sat down to watch it. He didn’t have to wait long: his book appears in the opening sequence. The lead character is browsing in a bookshop. She pulls Penrose’s Road to Reality from a shelf, takes a look at the title and, putting it straight back, says, “Oh, we don’t want to go there!”

He is evidently disappointed by the treatment as, just for a moment, his bright, enthusiastic demeanour dims slightly. “I thought she would have at least opened the book then closed it rapidly,” he says. “But she didn’t even get that far.” There’s a good reason for that: having a look inside the book might have derailed the film. Road To Reality clocks in at more than 1000 pages and is replete with intricate diagrams and terrifying equations. Its contents are pretty much indecipherable to almost everyone on the planet. Happy Go Lucky it is not.
Then he found something interesting within it: at the very end of the universe, the only remaining particles will be massless. That means everything that exists will travel at the speed of light, making the flow of time meaningless. After a few mathematical manipulations of infinity, out popped a never-ending universe, where new big bangs are the inevitable result of a universe’s demise. In Penrose’s theory, one cosmos leads to another. “I used to call it a crazy scheme, but I’m starting to believe it now,” he says.

Penrose knows he is not the first to suggest endless loops of time. The ekpyrotic universe model, suggested by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, tells a similar story. But, he says, their ideas come from string theory. And that, to Penrose, is a Bad Thing.

Another contribution to mathematics is twistor theory, which addresses the geometry of space-time. I’ve only read about this in Penrose’s foreword, but I’ve not arrived yet at the chapter where he explains what it actually is. I can’t wait.

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