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Probability 1 Paperback – January 20, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (January 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156010801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156010801
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,846,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a universe infinitely large, what is the probability of intelligent life on another planet? Sounds like a trick question, but for anyone versed in cosmology and statistics, the answer is 1; that is, there must be life on at least one other planet in the universe. This is Amir Aczel's theorem. But, as physicist Enrico Fermi once asked, if that's true, where is everyone? Aczel tackles that paradox after he goes through the statistical calculations for the probability of intelligent life, considering factors such as how many stars are in a galaxy, how many of those stars might be hospitable, how many might have planets, and how many planets might have environments suitable to support life as we know it (or as we don't). Aczel also provides an overview of the relevant developments in astronomy and biology--laying the groundwork to show that the universe's chemistry must add up to life. Whether life was spread through the universe by chunks of debris like ALH84001--the enigmatic meteorite from Mars that contained tantalizing hints of the possibility of life--or arose independently, Aczel is sure it is out there. After teasing readers with scientific history, Probability 1 delivers on its promise to prove Aczel's conjecture through a clearly explained application of known statistical theory to the chaos of the universe. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A top science author (e.g., Fermat's Last Theorum, LJ 10/15/96) looks at the evidence for life beyond Earth.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

My recommendation is not to buy this book.
Peter Whiteside
The author seems to know very little about arguments others have made in support of his thesis, and he seems to know nothing about the arguments which oppose it.
Tom Illsworth
Save your time (and cents), don't read this book.
alphapsa

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Probability 1 : Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe by Amir D. Aczel
Amir D. Aczel,a professor of statistics at a small college in Massachusetts, provides a rudimentary review of various topics relevant to the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI) such as the probabilities of extrasolar planets, evolution of DNA, and lifespan of stars. He is extremely topical, if anything, as he discusses findings and reports from the early 90s up to 1998. However I cannot recommend this book to anyone who knows the Drake equation or anything about SETI going in, as this is at best an unremarkable introductory work to SETI. I'd recommend "Are We Alone?" by Paul Davies or "Is Anyone Out There?" by Frank Drake & Dava Sobel above the current work.
Aczel writes best when he describes historical anecdotes: how Pascal's contribution to probability emerged from a gambling friend's request, how Gaussian receives credit for a curve that was described 100 years earlier by an impoverished math tutor. The history of science and mathematics is always interesting as it provides a context within which our now-everyday concepts developed, revealing the incremental nature of the innumerable aspects of scientific discoveries we take for granted.
The title of the work -- Probability 1 - refers to his conclusion that mathematically the probability of life existing elsewhere in the universe is 100% likely, or nearly so. He supports this claim with a dubious calculation. Essentially he says that the probability of life out there = 1 - ((a-1)/(a)) ^ b where ((a-1)/(a)) is the probability of life existing anywhere and where the power b is the number of anywheres (stars) in the universe. The term heads toward zero as a and b approach infinity.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Scholes on April 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
The quality and range of popular science books has substantially improved over the last 20 years. This book barely deserves to be read.
The book's thesis is demonstrably unproven. It claims that it is almost certain that there is life on other planets. Simplifying slightly, let p be the probability of life on any given planet and N the number of planets. We assume that N is comparable to the number of stars. N is a huge number (typical estimates are around 10^22). So the only way that they can all be bereft of life is if p is exceedingly small. Aczel assumes arbitarily that it is small but not that small, so that the product Np is large. His result then follows.
But the whole question is just how small p is. Both Freeman Dyson and Fred Hoyle have given fairly detailed arguments showing that it might indeed be exceedingly small. Others disagree. Aczel appears to know nothing of this debate.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What's the probability of life forming on a planet? To even think about making an intelligent guess, you should have an idea of what science knows/speculates about the origin of life - self-replication, a possible RNA-world, Eigen cycles and stuff like that. You will find none of this in Aczel's book. For a book that purports to tell you about the probability of life in the universe, that's pretty poor.

So how, you may ask, does the author arrive at the "probability 1" that the book takes its title from? Easy: At the very end of the book, Aczel makes what he calls a conservative guess - the probability of life is one in a trillion (or some such number)! Where does that number come from? Is it really conservative, or could the real probability be much, much lower, invalidating Aczel's claim that, all in all, the probability for other lifeforms - besides ourselves - is 1? Good questions. And not questions which this book adresses, let alone answers.

Add to this that the author gets a lot of what he tells you about astronomy, biology and physics plainly wrong, - no, pulsars do not release energy in pulses, in spite of their name; no, electrons are not baryons; no, DNA doesn't sit "inside genes" and so on - and you get an utterly misleading book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Elvin on April 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
In order to estimate the probability that there is life on other planets in our universe, you need to be aware of the Drake equation, which is stated in the first chapter, and to be able to make informed guesses of the sizes of the variables in this equation, which you can read about in the last three pages. The rest of the book, however, is merely entertainment - interesting science, astronomy and math, and it is fun to read. It's just that the title is a bit of a con. "After dinner topics for the scientifically literate" might be a better title, but it would sell fewer books. I think that the probability of reading about the chances of life on other planets in the universe, if you turn to a page at random in this book, is rather low. Buy the book only if you're not that concerned about the somewhat disingenuous title.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a pleasant, even charming book about the possibility of extraterrestrial life written by a mathematician who failed to read the popular literature on the subject. He thought that the general public was in doubt about the probability of extraterrestrial life, and he wanted to make one modest point, namely that because the universe is so incredibly vast, it is almost a cinch that life exists elsewhere. The problem with this is, just about anybody with an interest in extraterrestrial life knows that. Aczel thought he was bringing us a bulletin, carefully framed and double checked, and proven. What he should have known is that not only is his news is not news, but as Hamlet said to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, "Your news is not true."
Aczel is the author of Fermat's Last Theorem, a book that enjoyed a popular success that perhaps gave him the encouragement he needed to think that he should write a book announcing to the world that he had proven, mathematically, that life does indeed exist on other worlds. Alas and alack, he really didn't prove anything. Most people are more convinced by common sense, given the billions of stars in our galaxy and the billions of other galaxies, that life must exist elsewhere, than they would ever be by such a mathematical "proof" as is contained herein. Fact is, one of the numbers Aczel plugs into his proof is not known, and is merely an assumption on his part. He declares without a shred of evidence "that the probability of life occurring on any single planet that is already within its star's habitable zone is extremely extremely remote: one in a trillion" (p. 212). Sorry, but that is not good enough. As someone else has pointed out on this site, the number could just as easily be one in a trillion, trillion, trillion.
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More About the Author

Amir D. Aczel, Ph.D., is the author of 17 books on mathematics and science, some of which have been international bestsellers. Aczel has taught mathematics, statistics, and history of science at various universities, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard in 2005-2007. In 2004, Aczel was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is also the recipient of several teaching awards, and a grant from the American Institute of Physics to support the writing of two of his books. Aczel is currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University. The photo shows Amir D. Aczel inside the CMS detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the international laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, while there to research his new book, "Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider"--which is about the search for the mysterious Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle," dark matter, dark energy, the mystery of antimatter, Supersymmetry, and hidden dimensions of spacetime.
See Amir D. Aczel's webpage: http://amirdaczel.com
Video on CERN and the Large Hadron Collider: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ncx8TE2JMo


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