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Our Mathematical Universe

My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality
Written by: Max Tegmark
Narrated by: Rob Shapiro
Length: 15 hrs and 22 mins
Categories: Science & Math, Physics
4.5 out of 5 stars (46 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Max Tegmark leads us on an astonishing journey through past, present and future, and through the physics, astronomy, and mathematics that are the foundation of his work, most particularly his hypothesis that our physical reality is a mathematical structure and his theory of the ultimate multiverse. In a dazzling combination of both popular and groundbreaking science, he not only helps us grasp his often mind-boggling theories, but he also shares with us some of the often surprising triumphs and disappointments that have shaped his life as a scientist. Fascinating from first to last - this is a book that has already prompted the attention and admiration of some of the most prominent scientists and mathematicians.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2014 Max Tegmark (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“Tegmark offers a fascinating exploration of multiverse theories, each one offering new ways to explain ‘quantum weirdness’ and other mysteries that have plagued physicists, culminating in the idea that our physical world is ‘a giant mathematical object’ shaped by geometry and symmetry. Tegmark’s writing is lucid, enthusiastic, and outright entertaining, a thoroughly accessible discussion leavened with anecdotes and the pure joy of a scientist at work.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Lively and lucid, the narrative invites general readers into debates over computer models for brain function, over scientific explanations of consciousness, and over prospects for finding advanced life in other galaxies. Though he reflects soberly on the perils of nuclear war and of hostile artificial intelligence, Tegmark concludes with a bracingly upbeat call for scientifically minded activists who recognize a rare opportunity to make our special planet a force for cosmic progress. An exhilarating adventure for bold readers.” (Bryce Cristensen, Booklist, starred review)

“Our Mathematical Universe boldly confronts one of the deepest questions at the fertile interface of physics and philosophy: why is mathematics so spectacularly successful at describing the cosmos? Through lively writing and wonderfully accessible explanations, Max Tegmark—one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists—guides the reader to a possible answer, and reveals how, if it’s right, our understanding of reality itself would be radically altered.” (Brian Greene, physicist, author of The Elegant Universe and The Hidden Reality)  

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A deeply engaging look at our universe(s).

The most engaging, well articulated and compelling book on the universe that I have ever read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Tom
  • 2017-11-22

Tough and fun

The concepts are sometimes difficult to follow but fun none the less. A great book

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Not mathematical but physical universe

from one academic to another. I dont usually write reviews but for some reason I really felt like writing one for this because I know the author is very accomplished and could have done a much better job than most in the discipline but disappointed me as a reader/listener.
I was very enthusiastic about reading this book but it didnt last long. You ask important questions like where did the universe come from and what was before the big bang but fall far far short of discussing these in detail but rather stop way early in the discussion and then digress making the reader feel we have already tackled the question. I understand that many questions remain unanswered but if you raise them then conclude them. The book seemed like a half baked dish which you start cooking and then taste half way through and feel its going in the right direction and then turn the oven off to focus on another dish.
If you dont mind may I suggest you check "a brief history of everything". he is obviously not at your level in terms of knowledge but has written the book really well. just a suggestion for your next book. thanks.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Blew through this one. Well written and well read!

I will do another go around on this book soon. If you're a fan of Life 3.0 then this will definitely be one to add to your collection.

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Important & Inspiring

I’ve read this book but keep going back to it- definitely one of the most important books of our time.

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This is not science, this is scientism.

“Scientific lifestyle” - this is where you lost me, mr.Tegmark. It’s not that I disagree with all your ideas - some of them make sense. It’s the approach and the attitude that I find objectionable. Entertaining, but has nothing to do with science.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 2014-02-02

Wow!

Great ideas and great narration makes this a great audio book. The last quarter of this book has some of the most interesting ideas in physics I have heard. I think these ideas are, by far, the most likely to lead to progress in physics. The first three-quarters is good, but is just a nice rehash similar to a bunch of other speculative physics books covering a brief history of cosmology leading to the theory of inflation and various levels of multiple universes, Boltzmann brains and such, finally culminating in the Measure Problem (one cannot assign consistent probabilities to infinite sets). Then the book gets really interesting! The author proposes that math does not model the universe, but that math IS the universe. The relations defined by a mathematical structure is all that is needed for us to believe all we see and feel is real. Nothing physical is needed. I really thought I was alone in being a strong proponent of this Mathematical Universe idea, so I have quite pleasantly surprised to find this excellent presentation. I was led to my conclusions by a much different path (Bell’s Theorem & Bell Test Experiments) and take these ideas to even greater extremes than Tegmark, but this is the best (the only?) popular presentations of these ideas I have seen.

It may just be awkward editing or just these ideas are heady stuff, but by the end of the book Tegmark seems a bit schizophrenic. He seems to reject continuums and infinities and randomness as unreal (which is what I think), but then he continues to refer to, and use, these as if they were real. Also a good new model in fundamental physics should address multiple issues in physics, but Tegmark does not use his ideas of the Mathematical Universe to clarify the understanding of quantum mechanics (particularly Bell’s Theorem) and the problem linking General Relativity and Quantum mechanics. I think Tegmark underestimated the depth of the Measure Problem. The underlying problem is in any reality, it is simply not possible to take a random sample from an infinite set. Thus any assignment of probability to such constructs is nonsense. Tegmark seems to still be hoping for a resolution of the Measure Problem.

The author has a really pleasant way of covering the history of cosmology, making the story like a mystery novel, using detective work to explain one mystery after another. Yet what makes this book really worth reading is the last quarter where the ideas about the Mathematical Universe are explored. I suspect that in a few hundred years the conception of the Mathematical Universe will be considered the great turning point leading to a final, simple and beautiful, Theory of Everything.

54 of 57 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 2014-02-25

Main points are off the mark

The author really explains science very well. In the first half of the book when he's providing background and context he excels. He steps the listener through how we progressed through history from a village perspective to a multiverse. The author states elegantly, the reality of the multiverse is not a theory in of itself since it comes out of the best theory we have to describe our universe, Inflation Theory. If you accept that inflation describes the universe at a fundamental level, but don't like multiverses you need to first come up with a theory that can explain everything inflation does but take out the part where inflation creates other universes not an easy thing to do. Also, the book works well when he's explaining everything you every wanted to know about the Cosmic Microwave Background but were afraid to ask. It really does give good answers about flat space and dark energy and why it's so important to understand the CMB.

But, the author really didn't write the book to tell us those things. He wrote it for two main reasons. He wants to tell you why the Many World Hypothesis (Hugh Everett III) is the best explanation for the mysterious of physics and then goes on to tell you how our universe is mathematics.

I love math at least as much as the next geek and wish the universe was math, but I gave up those kind of thoughts a long time ago. As Confucius said (no, really he did!), he looked for truth in mathematics and studied it for five years before he realized truth laid elsewhere.

I'm not against using the Many World Hypothesis to explain the measurement problem but the approach the author used just was not convincing. I would strongly recommend the David Deutsch book, "The Beginning of Infinity" it covers the same kind of science but is much more coherent. I'll give a shout out to Tegmark, he quotes people like Deutsch and many others I have read and gives them kudos even though he doesn't agree with him throughout the book.

Another book, I would recommend instead is a science fiction book called "Thrice Upon a Time", by James P Hogan, he covers the Many World Hypothesis in a more consistent way than this book does. (Yes, it's fiction but uses science and speculation to explain).

Overall, the reason the author really wrote the book is the reasons I can't fully recommend this book.

46 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert Sare
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
  • 2014-01-31

Mind Expanding

Any additional comments?

Whether or not you believe the author's conclusions (he's not sure if he does so himself), you will be led on a road of exploration into the nature of the universe which will astonish you. The book is surprisingly easy to follow and immensely rewarding.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Tanyush
  • 2015-11-03

A brilliant book on physics

This book is just really brilliant. Such heavy science is explained with very simple words and metaphors. Highly recommended!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Duncan
  • Select a State, BC, Canada
  • 2014-01-09

An interesting and thought provoking hypothesis.

Max Tegmark does a great job of explaining complex physics and mathematical concepts in simple language. Anyone who finds this kind of subject matter interesting will appreciate his hypothesis. Rob Shapiro narrated the book superbly.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • B. Gholami
  • MI, USA
  • 2015-11-06

it depends on who YOU are

What did you like best about Our Mathematical Universe? What did you like least?

I am not a physicist, just educated in another side of science (I am a psychiatrist) and very interested in understanding the nature of reality. I was very impressed by the passion of the writer and that was satisfying. Most of the material covered went above my head (e.g. the entire concept of "level 4 multiverse"). However I enjoyed the little that I actually understood here and there. I think I would have liked it more if I were a physicist.

What did you like best about this story?

Mostly the passion for pursuit of reality.

What about Rob Shapiro’s performance did you like?

Excellent job!

Did Our Mathematical Universe inspire you to do anything?

Yes! read more books!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Timothy
  • College Station, TX, United States
  • 2014-01-21

Took a long time to get to the point

I found this book disappointing, mainly because the author does not even begin to address his supposedly ground-breaking, controversial new theory until about 3/4 through the book. Everything before that is review. If you've studied physics and cosmology, or read a lot of Hawking, Greene, Mlodinow, etc., you will be bored through this part (which, I repeat, is most of the book). If this is the first book you've read on the subject, you might not mind this.

I will also say that Mr. Tegmark dips into some pretty far-out ideas from time to time, and I felt like he was trying to defend as science, some ideas that were plainly not science. Of course, he says they are science, so maybe I'm just wrong about that.

When he does finally get to talking about "Our Mathematical Universe" (there's a chapter in the book where he clearly announces something like "now I'm going to start talking about my new theory...". Again, that's about halfway through the second part of the audiobook), it's pretty interesting for a while. But it seemed like it quickly became hard to hold my attention to the reading. This may have been my own fault, but it seemed like he was just getting too far into fringe science for me, and kind of rambling. It's not that I reject his theory. Actually, he may be on to something (his "new theory" was covered briefly in one of Brian Greene's books, by the way, so it's not that new -- or maybe Greene got it from him?)

Anyway, I did find Mr. Tegmark's many anecdotes about his life as a student, a scientist and a father interesting and it was cool how he integrated his own experiences with the science he was presenting. I did feel that I learned some things from this book, so I can't give it that bad of a review.

In general, I would just warn the reader: if you're not new to physics and cosmology, be ready to wade through a LOT of review before getting to anything new.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • serine
  • 2016-03-21

beautiful!

If Sean Carroll, Vlatko Vedral, and Richard Feynman morphed into one person and wrote a book, I think it might look something like this book. I loved every page. Without question, this was one of my favorite books about the universe.

Lately I have been interested in information theory. Reading multiple books on the same subject, there is always the danger of becoming bored. After reading other books on the subject, I read this book and Island of Knowledge by Gleiser at the same time. Both of these books were excellent. Both books had a good deal of overlap but were markedly different in important ways. Rather than being repetitive, they served more to reinforce important ideas. The time I spent getting familiar with these books (often reading chapters over and over again) was deeply, deeply enjoyable.

Tegmark's sprinkling of biographical information along side his tutorials on basic and complex concepts in physics reminded me a lot of Feynman, if Feynman had been humble. Tegmark's gift for making the complex accessible to non-physicists reminded me of Carroll's gift in relating to all types of audiences. The subject matter in this book reminded me of Vedral's decoding reality, but it delved in a bit more at times and provided a richer over all experience, which felt more satisfying.

Tegmark provides one of the simplest and most beautiful descriptions of how each thing (be it atom, star, person, etc) is merely a compilation of smaller things that can ultimately be thought about ( and indeed do exist) as tiny bits of information. For sure, this argument has been made many times before, but I enjoyed Tegmark's argument to a surprising degree.

This was one of the most satisfying reading experiences I have had in a long time. When Tegmark related his Jekyll and Hyde story and then got into the meat of his argument, my brain was in a constant state of euphoria. Braingasm, braingasm, braingasm! I could feel the dopamine rush as he flooded my brain with idea after idea. While at university, I used to sit and talk with two of my best friends, and intellectual soulmates, about the ultimate nature of the universe. These times are some of my most treasured memories in life. Reading this book was like being back in those conversations.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Ray
  • West Deptford, NJ, United States
  • 2014-03-15

Making Reality Real

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Definitely if they have an interest in both physics and philosophy and how they intersect.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I especially liked the chapter concerning: Internal Reality, External Reality and Consensus Reality. I also liked the way the author summarized his main concepts at the end of each chapter.

Any additional comments?

This book isn't for everyone, but is ideal for someone who wants to seriously explore some of the ultimate questions. Although it is technical in content, with some effort it can be understood by a non-science type such as myself. Although I don't usually do so, this book may get a second listen from me.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Rand
  • 2019-02-22

Seems more SciFi than Physics

Only first few chapters any good.
Could not finish the rest.
Too speculative, closer to SiFi than Physics

1 of 1 people found this review helpful