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The Elegant Universe

A bit worn out from their trans-solar-system expedition, George and Gracie return to earth and head over to the H-Bar for some post-space-sojourning refreshments. George orders the usual - papaya juice on the rock for himself and a vodka tonic for Gracie - and kicks back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, to enjoy a freshly lit cigar. Just as he prepares to inhale, though, he is stunned to find that the cigar has vanished from between his teeth. Thinking that the cigar must have slipped from his mouth, George sits forward expecting to find it burning a hole in his shirt or trousers. But it is not there. The cigar is not to be found. Gracie, roused by George's frantic movement, glances over and spots the cigar lying on the counter directly behind George's chair. "Strange," George says, "how in the heck could it have fallen over there? It's as if it went right through my head - but my tongue isn't burned and I don't seem to have any new holes." Gracie examines George and reluctantly confirms that his tongue and head appear to be perfectly normal. As the drinks have just arrived, George and Gracie shrug their shoulders and chalk up the fallen cigar to on of life's little mysteries. But the weirdness at the H-Bar continues.

George looks into his papaya juice and notices that the ice cubes are incessantly rattling around pens next. As George and Gracie stare at her rattling drink with wide-eyed wonderment, they see a single ice cube pass through the side of her glass and drop down to the bar. They grab the glass and see that it is fully intact ; somehow the ice cube went right through the solid glass without causing any damage. "Must be post-space-walk hallucinations," says George. They each fight off the frenzy of careening ice cubes to down their drinks in one go, and head home to recover. Little do George and Gracie realize that in their haste to leave, they mistook a decorative door painted on a wall of the bar for the real thing. The patrons of the H-Bar, though, are well accustomed to people passing through walls and hardly take note of George and Gracie's abrupt departure.

A century ago, while Conrad and Freud were illuminating the heart and the soul of darkness, the German physicist Max Planck shed the first ray of light on quantum mechanics, a conceptual framework that proclaims, among other things, that the H-Bar experiences of George and Gracie - when scaled down to the microscopic realm - need not be attributed to clouded faculties. Such unfamiliar and bizarre happenings are typical of how our universe, on extremely small scales, actually behaves.

I first heard about Elegant Universe from Jason's site. Since he was a physics major I figured that if he praised this book as highly as he did, it must be good, so I put it on hold at the library. The book certainly didn't disappoint me. Even though the subject matter is heavy and complicated and I was in seventh grade the last time I studied physics, I thought this book was really educational, fascinating and incredibly well-written. The writer has the rare talent of putting complicated theories into simple examples and pulling the reader in with neat analogies. I think that the excerpt I chose displays his talent in pulling the reader in.

©2005 karenika.com