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273 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, informative reading for science buffs.
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...
Published on February 3, 2000 by Midwest Book Review

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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing - neither fish nor fowl - but bold
The intriguing thesis of this book - that our universe is one of many, each with its own unique "fine tuning" - is bold and provocative, but sadly obscured in a fog of poorly structured writing. It doesn't help that it's not clear who Rees wants as a reader: the book is very hard work for a novice, but not as enlightening as it could have been for someone...
Published on May 12, 2000 by Vincent Toolan


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273 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, informative reading for science buffs., February 3, 2000
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. The fourth number, only recently discovered, is a cosmic 'antigravity' and appears to control the expansion of the universe even though it has no discernible effect on scales less than a billion light years. The fifth number is the ratio of the energy required to break apart a galaxy compared to its 'rest mass energy' and is about 10-5. If this ratio were smaller the universe would be inert and structureless: if much larger the universe would be so violent that no stars or sun systems could survive. The sixth number, surprisingly, is the number of spatial dimensions in our world (3). Life could not exist if this was 2 or 4. In this book Sir Martin discusses each of the above and develops reasons for the limits that he gives. He postulates that perhaps there are some connections between these numbers but states that at the moment we cannot predict any one of them from the values of the others. Perhaps a 'theory of everything' will eventually yield a formula that interrelates them. More thought provoking is Sir Martin's discussion of what or who 'tuned' these numbers. He identifies three scenarios. One is the hard-headed approach of 'we could not exist if these numbers weren't adjusted in this special way: we manifestly are here, so there's nothing to be surprised about'. Another is that the 'tuning' of these numbers is evidence of a beneficent Creator, who formed the universe with the specific intention of producing us. For those who do not accept the 'providence' or Creator arguments, and Sir Martin places himself in this category, there is another argument, though still conjectural. This is that the 'big bang' may not have been the only one. Separate universes may have cooled down differently, ending up governed by different laws and defined by different numbers. Certainly, reading this book (and its no light task in coming to grips with the scale or immensity of the numbers) has been rewarding for me and has awakened in me an interest in looking further into other discussions regarding the 'big bang', time and parallel universes.
David Skea, Reviewer
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136 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Speculations About the Implications of Cosmology, December 14, 2000
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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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. Basically, Professor Rees describes the background behind how the numbers were developed, then explores the implications of the number (especially by looking at what happens if the number was much larger or smaller), and then ties the number to implications for other cosmological questions and puzzles. Building from one to the next, he describes the current state of cosmological thinking through an architecture of these six numbers. To this summary of the known science, he adds his own conjectures by way of potential hypotheses for future testing.
We are at an interesting time for cosmological study. Because our ability to peer into space is improving rapidly due to advances in space and earth telescopes, more kinds of observations can be conducted to test basic theories about the nature of the forces in the universe. We should expect rapid progress in knowledge, as a result. Stephen Hawking has placed a twenty dollar bet that the elusive "unified field theory" that frustrated Einstein will appear within twenty years (but you should also know that he just paid off a loss on the same bet). A pathway that follows along understanding superstrings of 10 dimensional matter seems promising in this regard for now.
I found the writing to be very appealing in this book. Professor Rees is gifted in using examples to make the incomprehensible more meaningful. He is also ruthless in excising any detail that you do not need to know to comprehend the points he is developing. So you get a lean, compact argument. He writes clearly, which simplifies the reader's task while increasing the reader's pleasure. The text is benefited by several interesting illustrations, as well.
After you have finished reading this informative and stimulating book, ask yourself what the implications of a stable system are. Does it mean that some greater hand has been involved? Does it have no further implications, whatsoever? Does it mean that even greater systems should be assumed? How does it square with the notion of entropy (order becoming disordered)? If you are like me, new questions and perspectives will occur to you after reading this book that will greatly increase your interest in and appreciation of cosmology and physics.
Look backward and outward to see the future more clearly, and then ask, "What is the essence?"
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good scientific reading, unsupported metaphysical conclusion, August 28, 2000
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but Unnerving, March 27, 2000
By 
quarmix "quar-mix" (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
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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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing - neither fish nor fowl - but bold, May 12, 2000
By 
Vincent Toolan (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The intriguing thesis of this book - that our universe is one of many, each with its own unique "fine tuning" - is bold and provocative, but sadly obscured in a fog of poorly structured writing. It doesn't help that it's not clear who Rees wants as a reader: the book is very hard work for a novice, but not as enlightening as it could have been for someone familiar with the subjects. Neither a reference nor an introduction; so neither fish nor fowl.
Still, one has to admire the courage of someone with such a prominent position - Astronomer Royal - putting forward such a controversial idea. The "multiverse" hypothesis is very appealing and convenient in some ways, and touches on the most deeply held philosophical beliefs. Was God the blind watchmaker? No, no need for that: all possible combinations of dials and springs were jumbled together in a great cosmic experiment, and inevitably one of those combinations gave birth to an inhabitable and observable universe.
One criticism of this line of thought is simply that it is not disprovable and therefore does not count as a scientific hypothesis.
Nevertheless, a great anthology of ideas, marred mainly by a lack of focus.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much better than his last book, April 20, 2000
By 
Frank Paris (Happy Valley, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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"Just Six Numbers" is a fascinating and quick read on how six crucial numbers describe the characteristics of the universe we live in. If any of them were changed ever so slightly, the character of our universe would change drastically and it would no longer be a friendly place for life to evolve. There are a dozen books a year written on cosmology at this level. I judge a book like this by how many times my brain lights up with an insight that I'd never realized before. This happened a lot more reading this book than Rees's previous book, "Before the Beginning" to which I gave three stars. Even if you read lots of books like this every year, you probably will not waste your time reading this one, especially since it is such a quick read.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give me 6 numbers, and I'll give you the world..., August 22, 2000
By 
Adam Rutkowski (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Could the entire universe be described with just six numbers? To an extent, that is what this book proposes. Another addition to the marvellous Science Masters series, this book looks at six important numbers that describe various aspects of our universe, and how the present state of the universe is largely describable by just these numbers.
Rees actually goes further, by showing us also that these six numbers MUST not vary by much if a universe where intelligent beings can emerge is desired. 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. Given that these six numbers require values within such a small range, does this mean that there must be a creator to explain how such precise values can come about? Not really. Some people prefer the Anthropic Cosmological Theory, which simply states that if these values were any different, we wouldn't be around to ask the question, so the values simply have to be what they are. Rees puts forward a different spin on this idea, which is his preffered explanation: There are several ways in which the universe may in fact be a `multiverse', an infinite number of disjoint universes, each with different starting configurations, and thus different values for the six numbers. This means that we do not need to find a special explanation for the values we see in this universe, since all possible values will occur in some universe.
This is an all-round excellent book, covering a great deal of information in a very accessible manner. It is also a great way to get up to date with the latest findings and ideas in astronomy. It is possibly a bit difficult for the newcomer, but for anyone who's read a pop science book or two, it should be smooth sailing the whole way.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is this "just the way things are?",, October 6, 2004
By 
Duwayne Anderson (Saint Helens, Oregon) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe (Paperback)
This book is about cosmology, and specifically the manner in which our universe is constructed. The basic premise is that six dimensionless numbers govern the state of our universe so precisely that if any of them changed by even a tiny amount the result would be the impossibility of life, as we know it.

The term "number" here is important, as these are all dimensionless ratios and fractions. According to Rees the numbers are:

1) Ratio of electrical force to gravitational force (10^36)

2) Fraction of rest mass converted to energy when hydrogen fuses (0.007)

3) Ratio of actual density to critical density in universe (close to 1.0)

4) Ratio of gravity to antigravity (very small)

5) Ratio of gravitational binding energy of galaxies to their rest-mass energy (10^-5)

6) Number of spatial dimensions in our universe (3)

Rees argues that if any of these numbers were slightly different from what they really are, the universe as we know it would not exist. For example, if the ratio of electrical force to gravitational force was larger (by just a "few zeros") the universe would exist for only a short time and there would be no time for the biological evolution that led to animals such as us. Similarly, if the fusion of hydrogen to helium released much more energy than it does, stars would burn out more quickly, again leading to a universe in which animals like us would not have time to evolve.

Punctuated throughout the book are references (sometimes abbreviated) to the larger question of why these six numbers, and why the values they have. There's a natural sense of awe and amazement that these numbers all just happened to have precisely the values needed to make life, as we know it, possible. Such amazement leads, naturally enough, to various attempts to explain the apparent coincidence.

Perhaps the first question is whether it's a coincidence at all. That is, perhaps the universe was "designed" by a "god" who picked the numbers, knowing before hand exactly what values were needed. Of course this explanation leaves us asking why there is a "god," which seems like as big (or bigger) question than why a half-dozen ratios have the values they do. So this line of reasoning doesn't seem to take us very far.

Another approach is to invoke the anthropic principle (I think this is the one Rees prefers). In other words, we see the universe the way it is because if it were any other way we would not exist to wonder about it. Okay, so that doesn't really "explain" anything, either - or, at the very least, it seems just a little too convenient. After all, couldn't we invoke the anthropic principle for just about anything? And if we did, what would happen to our sense of wonder and our desire to learn more - to push back the string of "why?" questions at least one more level?

On the other hand, suppose the apparent coincidence is just that; apparent? Suppose these numbers are all somehow related. Suppose that if any one of them is in the right range, all the others will be in the right range, too. That might be the case, but as Rees explains, "At the moment ... we cannot predict any one of them from the values of the others." Although we don't know for sure, it's possible that physics will eventually uncover the "theory of everything" and the ratios will all be in there, in a very nateral and logical way.

Or, perhaps the answer is simply "because that's the way things are."

Anyone who's been around children (or been a child themselves) knows about the "why?" game. It starts out with something like this: "Daddy (or Mommy), why is the sky blue?" So you explain about Rayleigh scattering and the fact that molecules in the atmosphere scatter photons with an efficiency that's inversely proportional to the fourth power of the wavelength. You are hardly finished when the next question shoots across your bow: Daddy (or Mommy) why is there an atmosphere?" So you dutifully explain planetary evolution, the expulsion of vast quantities of carbon dioxide that facilitated the evolution of life forms that exploit photosynthesis, producing oxygen, etc. Then the third question comes "Daddy (or Mommy) why do planets form?" You follow this question with a short lecture on the planetary nebular hypothesis. But the questions don't stop; they just keep coming and coming and coming. There is, it seems, never an answer that cannot be followed with "why?"

If we did have a "theory of everything," and if it did explain these six ratios, there would still be the question "why this theory of everything?" And if we answer that, there undoubtedly will be another "why" question after it. Is there ever an answer that cannot be followed with "why?" That's the real question, for me, in Rees' book. Would the string of questions stop if we could answer why there are just "six numbers," and why they have the values they have? Or, could it be that we might answer that question simply to discover a new "why" question? And if not, how would we know if or when we've arrived at the final answer: "Because that's just the way things are?"

This book covers a lot of ground, and does so in abbreviated style in many instances. It's something of a quick cosmic tour. I liked it best for the way it helped me think a little more deeply about the bigger picture. It's a fun book to read, and definitely well worth the time.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very basic and qualitative, April 12, 2000
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This is a good book for someone who has never read a cosmology book before and needs an easy to understand qualitative introduction to the field. The ideas in the book are very interesting but I personally would have prefered more detailed and quantitative descriptions of the meaning of the six numbers and how they were determined. In particular I think the author really glossed over the description of Q. It is unfortunate that most authors of popular science books are afraid to use even high school level mathematics in their books.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A simply written little book on a difficult topic, May 7, 2002
By 
Atheen "Atheen" (Mpls, MN United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe (Paperback)
The author, noted astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, is Astronomer Royal and Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University. His life time achievements in areas such as the cosmic microwave background, quasars, black holes and gamma ray bursts was recently recognized by the Peter Gruber Foundation which bestowed it's Cosmology Prize on him last year (2001). His credentials as an author on the subject are thus well founded.
Just Six Numbers is a very concise discussion of the defining factors that shape the universe as we know it, and although the underlying physics of the book would probably consume volumes, Rees' little (165 pages) book certainly does a very adequate job of clearly putting the topic across for the lay reader. It adds very little that is truly new, however, except the discussion of the recent concept of Lambda, the so-called cosmic antigravity constant which may control the expansion of the universe. Rees is one of the proponents and designers of the multiverse theory of reality, about which he was recently interviewed by a popular science magazine, but the book dwells very little on this philosophically intriguing subject, dedicating only about 13 pages to it.
This would be a good book for young people with an interest in the subject of cosmology to begin their research on the topic of the physics of the universe. It requires adequate reading skills but little actual math. Unfortunately, the bibliography is essentially nonexistant, although the footnotes to the text contain some references that the student might pursue.
A simply written little book on a difficult topic by a very competent scientist.
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Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe
Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe by Martin J. Rees (Paperback - May 3, 2001)
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