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Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life Hardcover – April 11, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0618592265 ISBN-10: 0618592261 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With an articulate blend of science, metaphysics and philosophy—and a dash of religion—physicist and cosmologist Davies discusses the implications of the fact that the conditions of our universe are "just right" for life to exist: a concept known as the anthropic principle. Had any of the universe's physical laws or constants been just a bit different, life as we know it would have been impossible. In attempting to explain why this is so, Davies summarizes the current state of knowledge in cosmology and provides an accessible introduction to particle physics. He evaluates numerous explanations for the structure of our universe, such as the possibility that ours is but one of an infinite number of "multiverses," and examines the question that inevitably arises in discussing the anthropic principle: does the design of the universe imply the existence of an intelligent designer? Davis's own feeling is that there is likely some sort of still undefined "life principle" in the cosmos but recognizes that this "is something I feel more in my heart than in my head." While there is much of interest, readers of Davies's earlier book The Mind of God will be familiar with a good deal of what is presented. 35 b&w illus. (Apr. 11)
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From Booklist

Readers of a certain age may recall Carl Sagan, on his television series Cosmos, explaining how life on planet Earth was the result of a series of remarkable conditions, all happening to exist: just the right planet, at just the right distance from the sun, with just the right atmosphere, etc. Without any one of these conditions, we might not be here. Davies, acclaimed physicist and author of numerous popular science books (The Fifth Miracle, 1999), expands on the life-as-series-of-lucky-breaks theme, exploring such elements as the speed of light, the carbon atom, the big bang, and the many-universe theory. Davies is an enthusiastic writer, clearly amazed and delighted by the universe and its beautiful mysteries, and his thesis, that the universe is tailor-made to support human life (though not necessarily designed for this purpose), is both engaging and enchanting. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618592261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618592265
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Davies is an internationally acclaimed physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist at Arizona State University, where he runs the pioneering Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He also chairs the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Post-Detection Taskgroup, so that if SETI succeeds in finding intelligent life, he will be among the first to know. The asteroid 1992OG was officially renamed Pauldavies in his honor. In addition to his many scientific awards, Davies is the recipient of the 1995 Templeton Prize--the world's largest annual prize--for his work on science and religion. He is the author of more than twenty books, including The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine, and The Goldilocks Enigma. He lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Bruno on April 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
'Why is there something rather than nothing?' is an ancient metaphysical riddle. Over the last half-century, a new question has emerged on top of this old conundrum - 'why is that something (the universe), against an apparent astonishing level of odds, so structured that it (through the emergence of intelligent life) can ask such a question?'

Paul Davies certainly feels these questions not only need answering, but that both must be answered together. The self-consciousness of the universe for him, is not the anthropocentric trivia that it has historically been relegated to by cosmologists and physicists.

In this typically clear and engaging tour of the increasingly wacky frontiers of contemporary science, Davis seems almost trying to present a reductio ad absurdum argument to convince us of his case. Rather than accept that life must in some way be central to the universe, it seems that the best scientific minds available would have us believe in an infinity of universes, our almost unique one favourable for life being of course the one we find ourselves in (the anthropic observer effect). But this leads to even greater head spinning conclusions, such as that it would be statistically more likely that our universe is a computer simulation running in one of these multitude of 'real' cosmoses. Here, scientific theory becomes as non-testable as religious claims of an intelligent designer for the universe, and applying Occam's razor rule of simplicity would seem to suggest that in fact religious belief is more rational than modern cosmology.
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71 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Martin Fricke on May 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an important book on how the universe can and might be, in which Paul Davies critically examines different hypotheses about single and multiple universes. His book illuminates the most critical issues of physics and philosophy (and of some biology) underlying our understanding of Science and Religion. He has called himself an agnostic, and he does not argue for religious beliefs. This newest book by Davies is somewhat more technical than his other books but is still well within the general readership level.

Davies updates and expands upon all previous overviews I know of in the ways the universe can begin and remain in existence, enriching previous accounts especially in his discussion of multiple universes. Also particularly fascinating is his discussion of dark mass and dark energy, which constitute 96% of our (potentially) observable universe and which we cannot see and about which we can make only indirect observations.

Throughout the book, Davies flags the free parameters, or "constants of nature", some 20 of them counting force coupling constants and the masses of elementary particles, which, in the standard models of nuclear physics, astrophysics and cosmology, must be exquisitely fine-tuned to yield a single universe capable of supporting life. As an alternative to this fine-tuning, physicists have proposed multiple universes, or a multiverse, wherein infinite universes, a few of them with properties supporting life, could counterbalance the infinitesimal probability of the degree of fine-tuning necessary in a single universe if it occurred only by chance. The difference between these views has obvious and profound metaphysical and religious implications.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Matthew J. Schimpf on July 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Let's see, we have: weak anthropic principles (WAP), strong anthropic principles (SAP) completely ridiculous anthropic principles (CRAP) expanding universes, contracting universes, static universes, multiple universes, imaginary universes, infinite universes, string theory, superstring theory, m theory, intelligent design, accidental design, no particular design, computer generated design, ad nauseam. I do enjoy a book like this from time to time, as I get to brush up on some of the latest scientific theories ( I am, er, at least was, a chemist and therefore not a complete stranger to scientific thought or practice) however, I truly don't feel that I gain much after having read them. Paul Davies does a beautiful job making very complex ideas manageable to a wide range of readers, but I end up with many more questions than I started with. Modern science may have some plausible theories on the what's, how's and when's but the question of why is just as untenable as ever. For a strictly intellectual romp, it is well worth the time.
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48 of 63 people found the following review helpful By KURT47 on June 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Paul Davies latest book --- "Cosmic Jackpot" in the US and "The Goldilocks Enigma" in the UK --- recognizes and accepts the evidence for fine-tuning to support complex biological life. So he does fulfill the promise of the book's title, and he is an asset by supporting the observations and their implications.

The book's subtitle is "Why Our Universe is Just Right for Life" yet he fails to answer the "why" question. In his own words, in the last paragraph of the book, he writes: "So, how come existence? At the end of the day, all the approaches I have discussed are likely to prove unsatisfactory. In fact, in reviewing them they all seem to me to be either ridiculous or hopelessly inadequate: a unique universe that just happens to permit life by a fluke; a stupendous number of alternative parallel universes that exist for no reason; a preexisting God who is somehow self-explanatory; or a self-creating, self-explaining, self-understanding universe-with observers, entailing backward causation and teleology. Perhaps we have reached a fundamental impasse dictated by the limitations of the human intellect."

Hmmm.... "...a fundamental impasse dictated by the limitations of the human intellect"?

And then Davies ends his book with this last sentence, "The whole paraphernalia of gods and laws, of space, time, and matter, of purpose and design, rationality and absurdity, meaning and mystery, may yet be swept away and replaced by revelations as yet undreamt of."

Soooo...., at the end of the day, I can't recommend Davies' book for its content or conclusion; his recognition of fine-tuning [the "goldilocks enigma"] is not unique, or new, or even early. There's certainly no "wow" in Davies' text. But it does accept the observations, and that is synergistically helpful.
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