93 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2007
'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. This, however, is not something the author does, rather settling on speculation as to how the apparent intrinsic nature of life in our universe may require that any future 'theory of everything' must link consciousness, the physical laws of the universe, and the creation of the universe itself, together in some way we can only make rather wild guesses at now.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, there is no doubt that the goldilocks enigma does need explaining, and Davis brings out the utter weirdness of all current attempts to either solve it or explain it away. Whether we can dismiss the multiverse arguments so easily, unsatisfying as they may be is another matter. One of my former philosophy lectures, David Papinau, reviewing this book in the Independent, pointed out that Davies seems at one key part of the book to fall back on the argument that the multiverse universe doesn't explain why there are any universes at all, when the point of the book is to explain why our universe is seemingly so set up for the possibility of life. But clearly Davis is attempting to reconcile the two questions I introduced at the beginning of this review - making consciousness something fundamental to the universe may (highly speculatively) explain both why the universe is so incredibly structured to enable its own self-awareness and to explain the very fact of the universe itself.
Such speculation will of course give some comfort to those who are unable to share Richard Dawkin's scientific reverence for a cold, blind and accidental universe. Others may shudder that some of the world's greatest thinkers are taking seriously again the idea that this world of suffering and evils may in some way have been intentioned after all. Either way, this is a must read for anyone interested in the big questions of existence.
71 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2007
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.
Beginning about two-thirds through the book, Davies describes the possibilities afforded, in principle, by string theory/superstring theory/M-theory to bring about a multiverse. Unfortunately, that is the problem with the current state of string/M theory. It is a mathematical construct wherein physical theories might be "accommodated" - it can in principle provide a way to make predictions for those theories - but so far it cannot predict anything real, anything that has been or could be measured. And right now the odds are about even and rapidly getting longer that it ever will.
However, if a multiverse can, in principle, be supported, or dignified, by string/M-theory, we have a science-fiction writer's paradise. Davies spells out some of these wild possibilities - wild because there would be infinite possibilities, including infinite variations of the laws of physics among different universes - and he describes some that might be more likely from probability arguments. (I cannot do justice to that exciting ride without quoting his whole discussion. But, mind you, Davies does not do this in any lighthearted way; he is deadly serious in scientifically examining these possibilities.) One of the inevitable possibilities is that some universes are but computer simulations by some superculture out there in another universe. And the show-stopper in that scenario is that our own universe, including our very selves, is most probably a simulation (imagine an incredibly advanced virtual reality emulation of everything, even our consciousness). In the multiverse picture, the universe we perceive, and any God we worship, are fakes!
Every philosopher's wildest dreams can and will come true with infinite possibilities in infinite universes. This multiverse thing is annoying, isn't it? Even Davies was annoyed, as he indicates in the book, when in 2003 he published an article in the New York Times which pointed out that the threat of fake universes constituted a reductio ad absurdum of the entire multiverse idea.
In a recent note(1) Davies concluded that there were three alternatives, and he explains this more thoroughly in the book. Namely, the argument leading from the laws of physics we know - to multiple universes with fake physics - to anthropic selection - to the elimination of God is a contradictory loop; and the multiverse advocates are thus "hoist by their own petard!". However, Davies admits (p.189) that there is still some wiggle-room; and for the remainder of the book he takes the standard position that The Two Explanations for why our universe is so unexpectedly suited for life must come down to either (1) fine-tuning (which Davies terms a "fluke") or (2) a multiverse. Davies, the agnostic, then devotes the next-to-last chapter to what he terms a "third [option], ...favored by many nonscientists, ...[a universe] that has been designed...by an intelligent creator."
To my disappointment, Davies begins his next-to-last chapter with a biological discussion of "The Intelligent Design Movement in the United States", which is equated with anti-Darwinism. I would strongly suggest that the book "The Language of God" by Francis S. Collins(2) be substituted for Davies' attempts here. But then Davies moves quickly on to his more comfortable ground of physics. While concluding that belief in a God who makes the laws of physics, who is responsible for the universe and for continually holding it into existence without tinkering with its day-to-day operation, is popular with many scientists as well as theologians, Davies is uncomfortable with this as its being, in his view, an hoc explanation that leads us "no further forward" (no further forward to a purely scientific explanation). He then goes on to ask many questions couched within physics, that, for me, are not the dilemmas an agnostic or atheist faces, e.g., "who created the creator?". The agnostic constraints Davies imposes on himself in this chapter seem to go beyond an evenhandedness in treating belief and non-belief in God. Perhaps the alternative and stronger definition of an agnostic applies to Davies (a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality, as is God, is unknown and probably unknowable). In summarizing this chapter, Davies writes: "Unless everything that can exist does exist, something still unexplained must separate what exists and what doesn't" and "We are not finished yet!"
Davies' last chapter titled "How come Existence?" begins with his quoting the somewhat opposing views of several well-known physicists, e.g., of these two atheists: Stephen Hawking said "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet" and Freeman Dyson said "As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together for our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known we were coming." Davies then discusses the Two Explanations in terms of the Anthropic Principle: (1) a passive selection mechanism in a multiverse (the Weak Anthropic Principle) or (2) the laws of physics and evolution of the universe being fine-tuned to bring forth life and the human mind (the Strong Anthropic Principle). Davies then addresses whether life should, in the first place, be considered a fundamental or accidental phenomenon. After some very elegant discussion, he concludes from both scientific and philosophical considerations that life, and mind in particular, is a unique, extremely important and fundamental phenomenon of nature. Further, he considers that the connection between (1) life and mind and (2) the cosmos must be deeper than that from just "the crude lottery of multiverse cosmology combined with the Weak Anthropic Principle." Then he says much about teleology and Platonism in physics, which is important but not necessary to comment upon here, and then goes on to the "delayed choice" experiments of quantum mechanics and Wheeler's "Participatory Principle". Davies' bottom line is that neither of The Two Explanations, the universe fine-tuned for life (which Davies calls a "fluke") or the multiverse picture, can scientifically answer the ultimate question of existence because they both require a (scientifically) unexplained starting point. Lastly, Davies considers briefly a self-engineered, self-aware universe perhaps brought about through quantum backward-causation, such as causal loops and wormholes, but concludes a missing ingredient would be self-awareness. (I must note that that notions of traveling backwards in time to change the future were, in my view, forever put to rest by simple, non-quantum arguments from spacetime properties.(3) ) Davies ends the chapter by discussing the outstanding questions that prevent us from fully explaining, scientifically, the mystery of existence.
N.B. One short section titled "Afterword: Ultimate Explanations" is included at the end of the book and is extremely useful. Here, Davies gives a brief summary description of seven, as it turns out, classes of universes that embody the various attributes and their interpretations discussed throughout the book, thus collecting in one place each of their achievements in explaining things and their failures to do so. After reading the book, one can then use this splendid synopsis as a quick reference to what all currently envisioned universes can, might, and cannot be like, presented in a mere eight pages. (However, if you cheat and start reading back there first, you won't understand it.) At the end of this Afterword, Davies indicates which two of the seven types of universes he thinks might have the best chance of being true; but I won't spoil the book for you by revealing these. However, I will say that, not surprisingly, these two do not include the simplest, most straightforward one, since that one references a God, which is considered by Davies to be too "ad hoc".
In summary, let me emphasize that this book explains, in simple language, both scientifically and philosophically, the ways the universe can begin and remain in existence more comprehensively than any previous account I know of when it comes to multiple universes. Although one might infer that his agnosticism leans more toward atheism, that does not affect his tremendous contributions. Davies continues to serve a vital function in being a critical watchdog, from the science side, of the most important, underlying issues in the field of Science and Religion.
Dr. Martin P. Fricke
Del Mar, California
May 7, 2007
1. Paul Davies, "Reloading The Matrix", pp. 58-63, Science and Spirit, March-April, 2007
2. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, Free Press Div. of Simon & Shuster, Inc., NY (2006)
3. See, for example, Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, Alfred A. Knopf, NY (2004)
Added on 5/8/07:
Addendum re. Davies' Agnosticism.
The discipline of Science and Religion includes, as it must to be healthy, agnostics, atheists, deists, monotheists, and others of different philosophical or religious persuasion. However, it is only natural that atheists (who deny the existence of a deity) are not much interested in the subject of Science and Religion, whereas agnostics and those of any religious confession are usually very interested in what science might clarify for us about the mysteries of religious revelation.
As I've indicated, Davies' agnosticism, or even atheism, does not detract one iota from his extremely valuable contributions to Science and Religion. He serves as a critical scientific watchdog for the most important scientific ideas impacting this field. I thank God for Davies' long-time interest in this field, of which he was a pioneer and founder.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2008
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.
48 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
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.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2007
Paul Davies at his best. An incredibly well written book intended for the general reader, covering the state of current thinking in modern physics and cosmology, boldly taking on the tough questions concerning the world's existence. As a physicist, I've seen much of the material before, but marvel at Davies ability to clearly explain the essential concepts. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the origins of the Universe.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2008
Books of this kind usually spend the first 1/2 of the book on some background physics, preparing you for the new theory you're going to get at the end. The Elegant Universe, which deals with String Theory, does a great job of this, for example. This annoying tease of a book appears to do that, but then when you finally get to the meat of the matter 'yonk!' there is no real theory there!! It is so frustrating!
The author spends a lot of time going over so many possible theories, making sure to remind us how he personally played a part in creating some of them or at least the seeds of them years before anyone else, also ANNOYING. At some points I could barely take all the slightly different versions he felt the need to explain, but I hung in there thinking that he must have an over arching plan in mind that will eventually be helpful in explaining his amazing insight into the creation of the cosmos. So, there you are being a good patient reader, hanging in there and at the very end your left staring at the last page, stunned, your mouth open, with disgust and awe at the lack of anything being in this book, that's even close to what it sells itself as.
A BAD TASTE LEFT IN YOUR MOUTH :-(... I wouldn't waste my time, if I were you.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2007
Davies clearly shows how our competing theories of "life, the universe, and everything" rely on unexplained (and probably inexplicable) assumptions, which makes them all ideological. The exception is the despairing scientist, who accepts that the universe is absurd. But then why do science?
One of the main services of this book is that it breaks down the current field of theories in a comprehensive, systematic way: the absurd universe, the unique universe, the necessary universe, the multiverse (in its various forms), the designed universe, the fake universe, the bio-friendly universe, and the self-explaining universe. Each of these has problems, and usually it is the same problem: at some point each theory presupposes a set of laws or conditions. This might be the mathematical basis of reality, the Platonic transcendence of natural law, some form of spacetime, the "fire" making things go, and so forth. The "self-explaining" universe (which is Davies's own contribution to this theory set) comes nearest to closing the causal chain and avoiding the problem of infinite causal regress, but it is largely philosophical. (By "philosophical" I mean it is based on science, but it cannot be adequately tested.)
Davies's strength is philosophy. "Philosophy" is regularly used in science-talk as an antonym of science, but Davies's book demonstrates the absurdity of this opposition. There are always philosophical assumptions in science if we but look far enough. The reason for dissociating science from philosophy is purely practical: much scientific work does not require a direct confrontation with its philosophical presuppositions. But cosmology and physics constantly push up against this border, and the kind of work that cosmologists and physicists do frequently depends on the scientists' ideological leanings. Davies makes this utterly clear.
At times the book seems to careen off into the patently fantastic, but that is because our "big" theories have fantastic consequences if taken seriously. The infinite multiverse, for example, has all kinds of psychotically strange implications: infinite replications of our own world exactly as it is, infinite replications of our world exactly as it is minus the freckle below my left eye, etc. Also, if the multiverse is infinite, there would certainly be many--perhaps mostly--simulated universes, and we may very well live in a fake. (More than once Davies refers to The Matrix.) If we decide to put limits on this wild multiverse, we have to be able to justify the limits. What is the reason that some possibilities are left out? This is a real problem. The multiverse--like intelligent design and the absurd universe--is ultimately a science-stopper. It creates its own blind spot.
Davies is personally interested in another shortcoming in all these theories: they do not explain the fact that science works and (presumably) will continue to work. We take for granted what should raise our suspicion. Whence this reliable, humanly comprehensible order to the cosmos?
This is a timely book. For passionate defenders of some particular cosmic theory, it may seem untimely (in the Nietzschean sense), but I must applaud Davies for pulling us out of the fray to glimpse the bigger picture.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2007
Recent astronomical and physics studies point to the fact that many basic features of the physical universe seem tailor-made to produce life - and recent theory maintains this has happened by accident. For an easy, lay discussion of scientific discoveries and their meaning, COSMIC JACKPOT: WHY OUR UNIVERSE IS JUST RIGHT FOR LIFE can't be beat. It analyzes questions on the science of existence and the evolution of consciousness, makes a case for the fact that such evolution may be central to the universe's development, and provides both college-level and general-interest readers with much food for thought.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2008
Most of "Cosmic Jackpot" is a lively and entertaining high-level review of current theories of the origin of the universe and the remarkable fine tuning of some of the forces and constants of physics that are "just right" to support life. I didn't learn much new, but it was a good read. Considering the purpose of the book, I felt a tad disappointed that Davies didn't include a table summarizing all the "cosmic coincidences" that make the universe suitable for life. The last short section attempts to address "Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life." Alas, Davies falls short and doesn't provide a concrete resounding scientific reason. Instead, he proffers a handful of bizarre alternatives -- including intelligent design by a God or gods -- and identifies his favorite. Perhaps, that's the best anyone can do, but I had hoped for more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2011
I wonder if there really could be another Sid Vogel, just like me, same height, same (over) weight, same wonderful wife and kids, and the same sense of inability to write a review that adequately captures all that Paul Davies has given us in this wonderful, reachable, mind bending, and mind numbing book about why there is anything rather than nothing, and why we know it in the first place. This is one of the possibilities of reality that some scientists have proposed as a description of the reality in which we live. They propose, among several different options for explaining the universe, that the reality is an infinite number of universes, so many (infinite in number) in fact that everything that could be possible, is possible, and that includes at least another universe with a planet just like earth, and with a person just like me doing exactly what I am doing as I do it. Sound perplexing? Don't worry, Professor Davis has given us average Joes a book that is written in plain English that covers all of these theories and the scientific assumptions and ideas behind them so that we can understand what is being discussed in all those Ivory Towers we are funding with our hard earned (or easily borrowed) tax dollars.
Professor Davies was raised and educated in England, (that probably explains why he can write about these amazingly difficult scientific ideas and hypotheses in a way that is entirely reachable to the layman), and is a practicing scientist at the Arizona State University. He is a trained theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, and he teaches college, and runs his own research center. He is on dozens of boards and committees, and is involved in dozens of scientific societies. In fact, looking at his curriculum vitae one wonders how he has been able to accomplish all that he has in his short time on earth. He has authored numerous bestselling science books and numerous research papers and journal articles. Several of his science based books have been best sellers, because they let the rest of us in on what the modern priesthood (scientists, molecular biologists, and cosmologists) are doing and thinking. Davies is so accomplished, and seems to have so much going on, that it makes one wonder if maybe he has not found the secret of extra dimensions and multiple universes where he slips off to on occasion to get some of his writing and research done, and then magically reappears in our universe with everything finely accomplished.
Davies has found that he has a great big audience for books of this type, probably because there is a large segment of our post-modern society that is hungry for the proof that their rejection of God is right. Once they know for sure that science has in fact killed God, they can be at ease with their life style choices, and feel good about lying, cheating, killing, taking, and winning, you know, all that Darwinian stuff that justifies the survival of the fittest. Though they have already been practicing some of that behavior, but there is this nagging doubt in the back of their minds (consciousness', souls?) that maybe God is not dead, maybe there is a Transcendent Being who created everything and is watching and weighing men, their actions, and their souls. Eternity is a long, long time, and they really don't want to be pitched into that Lake of Fire at the end of their lives, so they are interested in these theories, and Paul Davies spell it out for them.
Some of these people have heard that the Bible starts out with the words "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth" Genesis 1:1, and they can see where the Big Bang seems to fit that picture! That is a little worrisome to the Human Secularist, so their interest is peaked. Paul Davies causes them some further concern, because he describes a universe that seems finely tuned for our human, intelligent lives. He discusses the fact that more science discovers about how the universe works, the more finely tuned it for human life it seems to be. Everything that has happened in the history of the universe evidently was required for us to have life on this planet here and now. In fact, Davies points out that this fine tuning has led to a new scientific term, the Anthropic Principle. Now, to the layman, when a scientist starts talking about principles, that seems serious! The Anthropic Principle is the principle that the universe seems surprisingly, precisely designed for life here on this earth! Wow, to the layman, that looks a lot like the Biblical God who claimed to His humans thousands of years ago, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself." Isaiah 44:24. Davies, the agnostic, does not linger long on this topic, he gives some minor discussion saying, basically, this is science and, don't worry, trust him, it cannot be because God did it. Whew, we can hear all those Secularists breathing a sigh of relief that they don't have to dust off the Bible after all, and don't have to embarrass (humble) themselves by getting down on those knees and asking the Creator for forgiveness of all their adultery, covertness, lying, cheating, dishonoring their elders, etc.
Davies goes on to describe all the major theories that are competing with the God theory. Now that he has scared his readers that it might be God, he has them hooked, and the book becomes a scientific page turner, and the poor human pours through the other theories out there looking for the one that Davies says beats the God theory. Davies lays it all out there in clear, interesting prose. There is the Absurd Universe, The Unique Universe, the Multiverse, Intelligent Design (God did it according to His plan and purpose), The Fake Universe, The Self Explaining Universe, The Life Principle, and finally none of the above. I would have to rewrite his book to describe each of these options, so I will leave the meat of these options up to the reader to discover for him or herself.
I suspect, if you are like me, a strong believer in the Anthropic Principle (it is what it is, we can see it, we can measure it , and it seems to be designed specifically with us humans in mind, much the way a is house is designed for people) you will not be satisfied with his conclusion. Likewise, if you are a Secular Humanist, at this end of this scientific discussion, your philosophical world view may be just a little bit shaken. In fact, you may want to find that old family Bible and get it out and ready just in case you decide you need to do a little research in to what it claims about the world and God. All of the alternatives to Intelligent Design seem a bit farther fetched than simply accepting the dictates of Hakeem's Razor which states the simplest explanation among a bunch of alternatives is usually the best. In this case, the simplest is just accepting the fact that God said He did it, and the facts as we know them seem to support that claim.
This is a book for every thinking individual, not the believer, the agnostic, or the atheist, but everyone. To have the discussion with intelligent people about this topic, one needs to master concepts in this book, and Davies gives them to us in a manner we can all understand and articulate. Anyone with an interest in what science has determined about how the universe works, and how it was likely created will find this book fascinating, and in the vernacular of the day, fair and balanced when discussing the pros and cons of each proposal and the philosophical consequences of each theory. I enthusiastically recommend this book, and consider it almost as `required reading' for the thinking person.