Just six numbers govern the shape, size, and texture of our universe. If their values were only fractionally different, we would not exist: nor, in many cases, would matter have had a chance to form. If the numbers that govern our universe were elegant--1, say, or pi, or the Golden Mean--we would simply shrug and say that the universe was an elegant mathematical puzzle. But the numbers Martin Rees discusses are far from tidy. Was the universe "tweaked" or is it one of many universes, all run by slightly different, but equally messy, rules?
This is familiar ground, though rarely so comprehensively explored. What makes Rees's book exceptional is his conviction that cosmology is as materialistic and as conceptually simple as any of the earth sciences. Indeed,
cosmology is simpler in one important respect: once the starting point is specified, the outcome is in broad terms predictable. All large patches of the universe that start off the same way end up statistically similar. In contrast, if the Earth's history were re-run, it could end up with a quite different biosphere.
Rees demonstrates how the cosmos is full of "fossils" from which we can deduce how our universe developed as surely as we infer the earth's past from the relics found in sedimentary rocks. Rees's theme is nothing less than the colossal richness of the universe. It is an ambitious book, but if anything, it deserves to be longer. --Simon Ings, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
Science writer and astronomer Rees summarizes the history of the universe, pointing out that six numbers related to basic physical constants (for example, the relative strengths of the gravitational and electromagnetic attraction) determine how the universe developed. In addition, he shows how, if these numbers were only slightly different, stars and galaxies would not form, complex chemistry would not be possible, and life could not evolve. This raises the interesting philosophical question, Why? One could dismiss the question by saying that, if it were otherwise, we wouldn't be here to ask or that there is some underlying theory as yet unknown that would show that these values must be what they are. However, Rees suggests that these numbers were set shortly after the big bang and could well have been different. Indeed, there may be a multitude of other universes, forever inaccessible to us, in which they are different. Thus, with a huge choice of possible universes, one must exist that could support intelligent beings who can observe and question. Whether one agrees or not with Rees's ideas, his book is recommended for its cogent synopsis of modern cosmologic thought. [BOMC alternate selection.]--Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUN.---Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
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