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Ideas: Existential Physics

I picked up Existential Physics: A scientist’s guide to life’s biggest questions by Sabine Hossenfelder because I thought it would be useful for my optimistic future fiction stories. It’s always good to have some reference books on science to both spark ideas and to add plausibility to fictional fabrications. I also liked that it addresses big, existential questions, because those underpin good science fiction.

Cover of the book Existential Physics by Sabine Hossenfelder

I thought I'd share here some of my thoughts and what I got out of reading it.

The book takes nine big questions and tries to answer them from the perspective of a physicist. For some, the answer is quite clear: How did the universe begin? Answer: We have theories about this, but we don’t know which is true and we may never know. For other questions, the answer is simple to a physicist: Why doesn’t anyone ever get younger? Answer: We get older because that is the most likely thing to happen, according to our current theories. But, I find this explanation unsatisfying, as apparently do some physicists.

For me, the book delivered the ideas I was after. For example, she presents a mathematical justification that the past continues to exist; the possibility that we may be able to create a universe; and that consciousness may not be computable. These are ideas I can use in my fiction. This is what I was really after.

The tone of the book was annoying because Hossenfelder writes with great certainty and a hint of disdain for those less steeped in science. I don’t think she means to; it is just how physicists approach the world, but at times it made me feel like I was listening to an opinionated know-it-all pontificating. I had to take frequent breaks. What she shares, though, is interesting, and clearly explained, so it was worth going back.

Despite this slight irritation, it made an interesting read and is now on my bookshelf, right next to Asimov’s Guide to Science. I'll be trying out some of these ideas in new short stories soon.

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