The Great Beyond
Higher Dimensions, Parallel Universes and the Extraordinary Search for a Theory of Everything

By Paul Halpern

Cover of "The Great Beyond"

What strange new realms lie just beyond ordinary space and time? Could there be parallel universes, separated from us by the thinnest curtain, penetrable only by the invisible pull of gravity? Could the existence of higher dimensions unite all the forces of nature into a grand Theory of Everything?

Many decades ago, Albert Einstein, Theodor Kaluza, Oskar Klein and other scientists dreamt of unification by means of unseen hyperspace connections. Their visions persisted throughout the horrors of the Second World War, when their desire for unity clashed with the utter chaos around them. Young researchers escaping Europe joined Einstein in his plan and worked beside him as he ceaselessly modified his ideas. Even from his deathbed, Einstein asked for pencil and paper in a vain attempt to complete his scheme.

In recent years, Einstein’s dream has been brilliantly revived through string theory, M-theory, supergravity and other unified models. Scientists are now grappling with the possibility that the universe has as many as 11 dimensions. They are designing clever experiments with the hope of discovering hidden portals to neighboring domains. Join the bold quest to explore higher dimensions, parallel worlds and the ultimate theory of the cosmos.

Praise for The Great Beyond

  • A marvellous book—very clear, very readable. A brilliant introduction to the math and physics of higher dimensions, from Flatland to superstrings. Its greatest strength is a wealth of fascinating historical narrative and anecdote. I enjoyed it enormously.
    —Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland
  • A remarkable journey from Plato's cave to the farthest reaches of human thought and scientific knowledge. This mind-boggling book allows readers to dream strange visions of hyperspace, chase light waves, explore Klein's quantum odyssey and Kaluza's cocoon, leap through parallel universes, and grasp the very essence of conscience and cosmos. Buy this book and feed your head.
    —Cliff Pickover, author of Surfing Through Hyperspace
  • Halpern looks with a bemused eye at the wildest ideas currently afoot in physics. He takes us into the personal world of those who relish and explore seemingly outlandish notions, and does it with a light, engaging style.
    —Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

Selected Reviews

  • …remarkably accessible…
    —Sky & Telescope, February 2005
  • Halpern dug out some historical details that other writers miss and this helps make the string picture more complete.
    —Focus, December 2004
  • Many physicists are continuing to work toward the fabled goal of a “theory of everything.” A successful theory would unify the four known physical forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear strong and weak forces—and case some light upon newly discovered cosmological phenomena and puzzles. Quite a few theoreticians are attempting to use postulated extra dimensions to come up with a workable product; fantastic as it may seem, a universe containing ten or 11 dimensions offers considerable promise. Halpern (physics & mathematics, Univ. of the Sciences, Philadelphia) takes a historical approach to examining the advancement of multidimensional theory. Kaluza, Klein, Einstein, and many other contributors over the past 100 years are discussed, and their work is described at a level appropriate for a general audience. Only Halpern’s terminology and the pace of the discussion in the last few chapters will challenge nonspecialists. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
    —Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI (Library Journal, July 2004)
  • Ever since Plato first told his students the allegory of the cave, people have wondered whether dimensions exist beyond the three we immediately perceive. An extra dimension—time—played a role in Einstein’s work, although he saw it only as a necessary evil to get his equations to work. Other scientists were more receptive: mathematical physicists Oskar Klein and Theodor Kaluza made higher dimensions an integral part of their attempts to discover a “theory of everything” that would tie together strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity. Halpern explains that over the past century gravity has been the shadow flickering on the walls of the cave hinting at other realms. Why is it so weak compared with electromagnetism? With string theory, and its successor, M-theory, physicists speculate that gravity “leaks” back and forth between our reality, an 11-dimensional “brane” (or membrane) and other branes, perhaps as close as a millimeter away. Halpern masterfully creates word pictures to illustrate mind-bending scientific theories, and he paints highly detailed sketches of the scientists involved—sometimes too detailed, leading readers to lose the thread of the narrative. Science buffs won't find much new here, but for average readers, this is an accessible account of the search for what lies behind our dim perception of reality.
    —Publishers Weekly, June 7, 2004

About the Author

Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He is the author of more than a dozen highly acclaimed popular science books, is the distinguished recipient of multiple awards related to his work, and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including Future Quest and The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special!. Learn more about him on his personal website.