Gregory Kirschling
February 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

”Look at that table,” commands celebrity physicist Brian Greene with professorial glee, eyeing a sleek piece of furniture in his Columbia University office. ”It’s such a mundane, ordinary object, but it’s got all of the fundamental ingredients that are interacting by the deep laws that go back to [James Clerk] Maxwell, to Einstein, as well as the breakthroughs we believe we’re hot on the trail of today. And all of that’s happening in a table!”

Greene, 41, trains you to see this hidden world for yourself in ”THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality,” the follow-up to ”The Elegant Universe,” his 1999 surprise best-seller on string theory. In the process, he also explains how time travel could be possible (wormholes!), how time doesn’t flow (”we are at every moment of time, always”), and how the universe might be just a hologram. ”I hope that people will finish the book and not discount their experience — because experience is real — but recognize that there’s far more to the world than what their experience and direct perception allow them to see,” he says.

If anyone can popularize tough science, it’s Greene, a dashing Jeremy Northam look-alike who hosted 2003’s PBS version of ”The Elegant Universe” and has talked up the big bang on David Letterman’s couch. ”The universe is rich and exciting, and there’s stuff that can knock you over every day if you’re privy to it,” he says. ”Unfortunately, most of that material’s locked within esoteric physics journals. But the more we can translate those journals into a familiar language, the more rich and exciting it is for everybody.”

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