Review: Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality

Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality
Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This can’t have been an easy book to write: for someone who is the Nikola Tesla of our time and sees everything with mathematical clarity and purity, to have to essentially ‘dumb it down’ towards my level (I love maths, but maths doesn’t love me back) would be no mean feat.

Tegmark uses familiarity whenever he can: in the midst of a discussion on predicting where a particular water molecule among trillions might be at a particular time, he acknowledges it’s evolutionarily more useful to predict the location of the entire wave ‘to avoid getting flushed out of the gene pool’.

The first third of the book concentrates on the bigness of the universe, and I found this difficult to get through (possibly because, like Douglas Adams said, to truly perceive the size of the universe would be to have my soul crushed!).

By the middle third I found Tegmark to be humble and warm, and to genuinely care about sharing his understanding, and once I let my own ego go I found his story resonated with me on an intuitive level.

By the last third, and despite the technicalities being beyond my comprehension, I couldn’t help but share Tegmark’s enthusiasm and hope for a world that can be so much more if we just let go of the false sciences of economics and greed, instead embracing our creativity and developing our sense of wonder.

Amongst the ideas Tegmark presents, it might be surprising to hear him suggest that ‘for youngsters, learning a global language and typing should trump long division and writing cursive’ and that ‘we scientists need to get off our high horses, admit that our persuasive strategies have failed, and develop a better strategy’.

But by far the most inspiring thought, one for which none of us have a valid counter-argument, was his bottom line:

From a cosmic perspective, the future potential of life in our Universe is vastly greater than anything we’ve seen so far. Yet we humans devote only meager attention and resources to existential risks that threaten life as we know it, including accidental nuclear war and unfriendly artificial intelligence.

This is an excellent read and should be required reading in Science Philosophy classes right alongside Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution.

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