“The Fabric of the Cosmos” is one of the most mind blowing and brain twisting episodes of PBS’ NOVA to be broadcast in recent memory. This four-part special takes viewers into the world of what was thought to be only science fiction for ages. It proves that maybe, just maybe the science fiction that people have seen on television for decades may not entirely fiction after all. On the other hand, viewers may also be surprised to discover that some of that science fiction may actually still be just that today. And thanks to author and host Brian Greene, even the most causal science fan will catch on to at least some of the concepts throughout the four-hour course of this program.
“The Fabric of the Cosmos” opens with the segment, “Quantum Leap.” This segment is a perfect start for any college level physics class. It takes audiences through a history of quantum mechanics. Along the way, many of the theories and standards of quantum mechanics are explained to viewers. It eventually leads up to a discussion on the possibility of human teleportation. Now anyone who has seen Star Trek knows of the concept of human teleportation. But according to quantum mechanics, while it is theoretically possible, it isn’t realistically possible. That’s because in the process of teleportation, the original person being teleported would actually be destroyed in order to make a copy of that person in another location. Now imagine doing that multiple times over. It gets very deep. This is one of those cases in which audiences might be at least a little surprised to discover that some science fiction is still just that.
The second hour of “The Fabric of the Cosmos” takes viewers into the equally oft discussed concept of whether or nor our universe is the only one. In trying to figure out if our universe is the only one, “Universe or Multiverse?” scientists interviewed for the program enter into discussions on string theory and dark energy. The discussions of these two concepts—and one other—point to the very strong possibility that we may not be alone. There may, in fact, be other universes out there. This is all theoretical, of course. But there seems to be enough evidence to point to the possibility of the multiverse being real.
In the third hour of “The Fabric of the Cosmos”, Greene asks, “What is space?” This is another segment that students studying physics will really enjoy. This segment delves greatly into the theories of Albert Einstein. Greene explains that gravity is space time itself. He explains it with a demonstration. He asks how it is that Earth’s moon stays in a constant orbit as if it were held by some invisible rope. So he uses the demonstration of pool balls on a pool table. He then proceeds to place a bowling ball on the table. The theory created here is that something of greater mass causes a “dip” in the fabric of whatever it is sitting on or in. The theory is that earth actually “bends” space, thus pulling the moon into that dip, and causing it to rotate—or orbit–around the edge of that “bend.” Pretty wild stuff, right?
The mind bending only continues from here. From the discussion asking, “What is Space?” viewers are taken even deeper with a discussion on time itself. Greene ties in the discussion of space into how time works. Things get really wild here. He notes through Einstein once more for his explanations of what time is, and its relativity to people and places. This leads up to another very well known concept. It leads to the concept of time travel itself. Viewers learn that while Einstein’s theories prove time travel is theoretically possible, right now, there is no actual way to physically travel backward or forward in time. It all ties in to the interconnectivity of time and space. Again, this is some pretty deep material. But it’s quite interesting to consider, even for the most casual of science lovers.
Thanks to his efforts, Greene has made “The Fabric of the Cosmos” at least somewhat into layman’s terms. He has taken the concepts about which he has written in his book and given visual examples of his topics so that even those who don’t have formal training in physics can grasp it at least at a fundamental level. It’s one more example of what makes PBS’ NOVA the enjoyable program that it is. So whether being used for a semester long college physics class or for the most casual viewer, “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is one more jewel for any science fiction fan or scientist out there.
“The Fabric of the Cosmos” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.
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