Adolfo Plasencia
MIT press
2017 | 432pp | £24.95
ISBN 9780262036016

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Is the universe a hologram – Adolofo Plasencia

Is the universe a hologram? is a collection of dialogues between the science journalist Adolfo Plasencia and a host of experts in science and technology. The author asks these luminaries to comment on both the technical aspects of their work and to reflect on its contribution to our understanding of the world. To cherry-pick a few examples, the conversations skip from quantum computing to free will, travelling by way of architecture and telecommunications.

Plasencia draws on a vast array of subjects, and the result is sometimes confusing. A dialogue may warm up with a stiff shot of particle physics and end up waxing lyrical about the social media revolution, pausing briefly to consider medieval stonemasons and exoplanets. Given the book’s focus on the astonishing speed of technological development over the last century, it is perhaps inevitable that some chapters contain information that will seem outdated to those keeping up with the latest scientific literature. There really is something for everyone here though – philosophy, science and society are all touched upon. Plasencia’s meticulously researched footnotes punctuate the text with helpful (though occasionally distracting) asides.

Traditionalists may find the conversational format jarring, but overcome your reservations and you’ll be swept into Plasencia’s operatic overview of technological advancement, given a whirlwind tour of some of the most pressing questions in fundamental and applied science, and left amazed at what you didn’t know. What really shines through all the tech talk is the passion of the interviewees, who range from Nobel prize-winning chemists pondering politics to computer scientists musing on Plato. Between the lines of the polite, professorial discussions sits a convincing argument for the indefatigable optimism and ingenuity of the human race, in defiance of the challenges of the twenty first century. To borrow a phrase from one of its contributors, Is the universe a hologram? is a book capable of making ‘critical Utopians’ of us all.