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NOVA: Fabric of the Cosmos

Documentary about the universe's fundamental structure

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NOVA: Fabric of the Cosmos

DVD cover for Fabric of the Cosmos

Physicist Brian Greene hosts this 4-part documentary on the NOVA series on America's PBS (public television) network, based on his best-selling novel of the same title: Fabric of the Cosmos. In this series, Greene's goal is to explain and demonstrate the basic physical structure of the universe itself. While his previous documentary, The Elegant Universe, focused on the stuff that fills the universe, this 2011 documentary instead focuses on the universe itself, the stage upon which everything exists. The high points of this series are the great multimedia examples, showing an approximate example of how space and time itself changes according to the laws of physics.

At the time this article is written, Fabric of the Cosmos is available for free online at the PBS website and also for streaming through Amazon Instant Video.

Episode 1: What Is Space?

In the first episode of the series, Greene tackles the daunting task of explaining the empty space that makes up most of our universe. This quickly brings him right up against the theory of general relativity developed by Albert Einstein. Under this theory, space is intricately linked to time in a unified property of the universe called spacetime. Ranging from the big bang all the way to the recently-observed phenomenon of dark energy and how space itself might fall apart within a black hole. He concludes this bizarre explanation with a discussion of the holographic principle, which may imply that our entire universe is merely an illusion created on the boundary of some sort of massive two-dimensional surface.

Episode 2: The Illusion of Time

In this second episode, Greene turns his attention to the other half of spacetime ... the time aspect. Greene explores the science that ultimately lead us to the question: "Does time exist?" For example, why do we experience an arrow of time - an irreversible direction to time - when space doesn't seem to have this sort of direction. He goes further, discussing the prospect of potentially scientifically-allowable theories of time travel.

Episode 3: Quantum Leap

In the third episode of the series, Greene moves from the realm of space and time on to the stuff that exists within it to explore the amazing mysteries that quantum physics tell us about the way our world works. In quantum physics, objects don't like to exist in a single time and place, but seem to exist as probabilities. From the strange wave particle duality exhibited by the double-slit experiment (demonstrated wonderfully with a digitally-enhanced bowling alley sequence) to the bizarre science behind quantum computers, Greene and other physicists explore the impact of quantum physics on our understanding of the universe.

Episode 4: Universe or Multiverse?

In the concluding episode of the documentary, Brian Greene moves beyond our own universe to explore the idea that we might actually be part of a vast multiverse containing many different types of parallel universes, including some that might even operate under different fundamental laws of physics. Why multiple universes? How could anyone believe such crazy theories? Though we haven't actually gotten any experimental evidence to prove their existence - and we probably won't ever be able to - there are several theoretical reasons for believing that they may exist. Greene explains the scientific reasoning behind why scientists propose the various types of parallel universes that have come out of scientific research. (Much of this material comes from Brian Greene's 2011 book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.)
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