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Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe Hardcover – January 6, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First American Edition; First Printing edition (January 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465036724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465036721
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

It's a fun book to read, and definitely well worth the time.
Duwayne Anderson
He describes, for each number, what the universe would look like if that value was more or less than the observed one, and the consequences for intelligent life.
Adam Rutkowski
Professor Rees has done a remarkable service in this outstanding book by taking mathematical ratios and exploring their implications in nonmathematical ways.
Donald Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

274 of 280 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book, Sir Martin Rees, is the Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University and holds the title of Astronomer Royal. One must assume, then, that the arguments that he puts forward in this book represent the very best thinking of what is to me a very esoteric science. He apologies for the slow gestation of this book, written especially for the Science Masters series. But in my mind he need not apologise as has completed a formidable assignment - that of explaining in everyday terms some of the leading-edge theories in the realm of cosmology. In this book Sir Martin shows how just six numbers, imprinted in the 'big bang', determine the essential features of the physical cosmos. He also shows that cosmic evolution is highly sensitive to the values of these numbers and that if any one of them were 'untuned' there could be no stars and no life. Or at least not in the way that we know them today. So what are these six fundamental numbers? The first is a ratio of the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together divided by the force of gravity between them. It is very large, about 1036, and were it a few zeros shorter, only a short-lived miniature universe could exist and there would be no time for biological evolution. The second number is also a ratio and is the proportion of energy that is released when hydrogen fuses into helium. This number is 0.007, and if it were 0.006 or 0.008 we could not exist. The third number, also a ratio, relates the actual density of matter in the universe to a 'critical' density. At first sight this number appears to be about 0.4. If this ratio were too high the universe would have collapsed long ago: if too low, galaxies or stars would not have formed.Read more ›
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136 of 141 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Popular science books are often so simplified that little is gained by reading them. Add equations, and some people will ignore the book. Become detailed in mathematics, and more people will be lost. Professor Rees has done a remarkable service in this outstanding book by taking mathematical ratios and exploring their implications in nonmathematical ways. The result builds a totally new metaphor for considering the structure of the universe . . . that of a stable system.
He then takes that metaphor and uses it to build an understanding of the important unanswered questions about cosmology and how answers may be derived through a combination of experimenation, observation, and systems analysis. As a result, the nonscientist is brought into the "thinking" part of these scientific areas without needing to have much scientific background.
I was attracted to the book by the concept of how six numbers could explain a great deal about the universe. The development of that theme turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The six numbers are:
nu (a ratio of the strength of electrical forces that hold atoms together compared to the force of gravity which is 10 to the 37th power)
epsilon (how firmly the atomic nuclei bind together which is 0.004)
omega (amount of material in the universe)
lambda (force of cosmic "antigravity" discovered in 1998, which is a very small number)
Q (ratio of two fundamental energies, which is 1/100,000)
delta (number of spatial dimensions in our universe)
Doesn't look overwhelming, does it? Well, that highlights the book's strength, which is to explain the importance of these numbers.
Read more ›
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Manuel Alfonseca on August 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Interesting book on Cosmology. It describes the current situation well: the values of many of the basic physical constants in our Universe are critical to the existence of life and ourselves (the Anthropic Principle). Rees chooses six of these constants (he could have taken more) and explains in detail why they are critical. Five are interesting and up to date. The sixth (3 dimensions) is a little disappointing, and has been discussed in length, in the same context, for more than a century. The arguments given in the book could also be taken as clues for the existence of God, but the author prefers the hypothesis of infinite universes. It's interesting to see that Occam's razor, which was used once against God's existence, is now against the multiverse theory, which multiplies entities to infinity. Rees simply answers that Occam's razor may not be applicable at this level! In any case, God's existence and the multiverse hypothesis are both outside science, for they cannot be falsified. This means that the book, although purporting to be science, ends in a metaphysical conclusion. Good reading, anyway, though one may not agree with the conclusion.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By quarmix on March 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The more one reads about science, the more one either does not believe in God or strongly believes in God. This book is rather unsettling in that it really points out some extraordinary facts about not just our existence but the existence of the universe.
This book is very well-written by someone who is well known in the field. I liked the style here, it was constantly interesting to read, except at the end, where it seemed to me that dwelling on parallel or additional universes was rather pointless from a scientific perspective if one could never prove their existence. Outside of that, it was fascinating reading, even though I knew a lot about the area.
One complaint, the book's size is obnoxiously narrow -- it was very difficult to read this way. I felt the publisher didn't have enough text to justify the price and came up with this idea to get more pages in.
Anyway, enjoy. The one thing that science keeps showing over and over again is the incredible "strangeness" of existence. I can deal with the 3-dimensions and the omega of one, but the values of "E," the 23% helium created at the Big Bang, and mostly, the way the various energies of atoms result in the right prevalence of carbon created in the destruction of stars to create life on this planet, that's what keeps me up at night.
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