Saturday, March 10, 2018

Book Update: German Cover Image

My US publisher has transferred the final manuscript to my German publisher and the translation is in the making. The Germans settled on the title “Das Hässliche Universum” (The Ugly Universe). They have come up with a cover image that leaves me uncertain whether it’s ugly or not which I think is brilliant.

New Scientist, not entirely coincidentally, had a feature last week titled “Welcome To The Uglyverse.” The article comes with an illustration showing the Grand Canyon clogged by an irregular polyhedron in deepest ultramarine. It looks like a glitch in the matrix, a mathematical tumor on nature’s cheek. Or maybe a resurrected povray dump file. Either way, it captures amazingly well how artificial the theoretical ideals of beauty are. It is also interesting that both the designer of the German cover and the designer of the New Scientist illustration chose lack of symmetry to represent ugliness.

The New Scientist feature was written by Daniel Cossins, who did an awesome job explaining what the absence of supersymmetric particles has to do with the mass of the Higgs and why that’s such a big deal now. It’s one of the topics that I explore in depth in my book. If you’re still trying to decide whether the book is for you, check out the New Scientist piece for context.

Speaking of images, the photographer came and photographed, so here is me gazing authorly into the distance. He asked me whether the universe is random. I said I don’t know


  1. IDK, one of my favorite answers, thanks for leading by example. I’d say the cover is not beautiful, but it is also not repulsive, good approach to send the message (hopefully) without hurting sales.

  2. I feel the urge to make things symmetrical when I am building terrain for game mods, but I think this bristlecone pine tree is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen:

    It might have been another good illustration.

  3. "whether the universe is random" It depends. Random, stochastic, ergodic...yet reassembling. It is powerful cover! Northern lights?
    ... Prof. Sir Roger Penrose FRS

    Hund’s Paradox shows that molecular chirality does not exist, or at least persist (arXiv:0811.2140). It's a quantum thing. OK, Roger,

    ... 1) Enantiopure 2-cyanopentacyclo[^(2,6).0^(3,10).0^(5,9)]undecane, verified by

    ... 2) You Hund's Paradox quantum racemize it. We look again.

    The full power, majesty, and beauty of quantum mechanics versus 2-cyano

    Cage fight! I bet you a bottle of Lagavulin single malt 16 years old it does not racemize.

  4. When does the English version come out? This month sometime if I recall? I think the German cover is fine. Not sure if it speaks to beauty/ugliness but is abstract enough not to matter.

  5. Glad you referenced the New Scientist article. I'll go to our local library to read it today. That's a great photo of you, in what must be Frankfurt, Germany. The snow-free grass in the background looks so enticing! Currently New England is buried in a blanket of snow several feet deep in the worst hit areas. Can't wait till our grassy yards and fields reappear.

  6. One of the book review comment sections mentioned an interesting analogy with chess. Traditionally, students of the game have studied the most beautiful games of the grand masters, and there were elegant theories and principles for how to win at chess. People aspired to play beautiful chess. I’ve heard that the earliest computer programs for chess tried to implement some of the elegant principles, but as computers became more and more powerful, this gave way to simpler “brute force” algorithms that rely more on exhaustive search of all the viable sequences of moves and responses, looking many moves ahead. Today the most advanced computers can routinely beat the world’s best human players, but the computer games appear ugly, lacking in the elegance or beauty that was so prized as a criterion of great chess playing among humans.

    It’s interesting that beauty actually did characterize the games of the human grand masters, so it was, to some extent, a valid criterion for success at chess. But then it was superseded by brute force algorithms of greater cognitive power, leading to “ugly” moves that were even more successful than the beautiful moves. But this might not be the end of the story. Maybe from the higher cognitive level of supercomputers and artificial intelligence there might arise a higher criterion of beauty that provides some advantage at that level… which might eventually be superseded by a still higher cognitive level, and so on.

  7. bee:

    an ugly and memorable title. nice photo.

    naive theorist

  8. Like. Looking forward to reading it.

  9. Matthew,

    The publication date is June 12. Three months to go I'm afraid.

  10. This German title is provoking (and indeed better than this). Also the image is very well selected – with ambivalence you have to think about it. Your book will certainly strike a chord. This “lack of symmetry to represent ugliness” I hope will inspire a new path to merge QM and GR.

    A landscape, a flower is beautiful, because it is a fractal. We love to look at structures that on one hand reveal certain regularities, but on the other hand are not perfect, not boring. To discover similar structures in a slightly stretched, conformal manner and put in a slightly different angle conveys information. It surprises us, it´s new, but we still can recognize it – this is Shannon information. This is how nature constructs its landscapes, its flowers. It is a process of doing the same things over and over again with a bit of randomness and feedback. The probability amplitudes from the underlying quantum mechanics have to become real to generate reality. Here solving the measurement problem without observers is the key. Nature does not need us to observe her, but structures have to be selected out of the vast number of possibilities.
    For revealing what nature is, it will not be enough to find only a Lagrangian (even if this is already hard), also a process that builds reality with this Lagrangian has to be formulated. This is “that breathes fire into the equations”.

  11. Despite current tensions, maybe someday the advocates of these two approaches to physics will find common ground. In that case an appropriate future book title would be "Beauty and the Beast", as in the silver screen adaption of the 1740 French novel of the same name.

  12. You're not symmetric, yet pretty good looking.

  13. Der Titel ist genial ;-D genauso das Cover. Viel Erfolg!

  14. Sabine, will your book be translated to Spanish?

  15. Honestly, I almost like the German title better than the English one.

  16. Art stopped trying to be "pretty" a long time ago, so why it is a 'requirement' or necessary principle of physics. Pretty in a broader sense is the power of the idea, and I do not see how artificial notions of natural are supposed to define the available theory space.



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