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The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? Hardcover – July 5, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stenger (Has Science Found God?), emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii, goes to great lengths to explain that, although he is not completely convinced that the laws of physics as we know them have objective reality, he doesn't subscribe to the postmodernist notion that there is no such thing as objective reality. Stenger explains that the power of currently accepted models of physics arises from what he calls "point-of-view invariance," i.e., they have the ability to make the same predictions regardless of where or when an observer is taking measurements. While this point is well made and important, Stenger's descriptions of the models of physics and his discussion of cosmology will be largely incomprehensible to the average reader. A third of the book consists of eight mathematical supplements designed for "anyone who has taken the major courses in a four-year curriculum of undergraduate physics, chemistry, engineering, or mathematics." B&w illus. (July)
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Praise for the New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis:

"I learned an enormous amount from this splendid book."
-Richard Dawkins, author of the New York Times best-seller The God Delusion

"Marshalling converging arguments from physics, astronomy, biology, and philosophy, Stenger has delivered a masterful blow in defense of reason. God: The Failed Hypothesis is a potent, readable, and well-timed assault upon religious delusion. It should be widely read."
-Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

"Extremely tough and impressive...a great book...a huge addition to the arsenal of argument."
-Christopher Hitchens, author of the New York Times bestseller God Is Not Great

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (July 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591024242
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591024248
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Victor J. Stenger grew up in a Catholic working-class neighborhood in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant, his mother the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. He attended public schools and received a bachelor's of science degree in electrical engineering from Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in 1956. While at NCE, he was editor of the student newspaper and received several journalism awards.

Moving to Los Angeles on a Hughes Aircraft Company fellowship, Dr. Stenger received a master's of science degree in physics from UCLA in 1959 and a PhD in physics in 1963. He then took a position on the faculty of the University of Hawaii, retiring to Colorado in 2000. He currently is emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. Dr. Stenger is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a research fellow of the Center for Inquiry. Dr. Stenger has also held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford in England (twice), and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy.

His research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. He also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high-energy gamma-ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Dr. Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan that in 1998 showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The Japanese leader of this experiment shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for this work.

Victor Stenger has had a parallel career as an author of critically well-received popular-level books that interface between physics and cosmology and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience. These include: Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988); Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World beyond the Senses (1990); The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995); Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes (2000); Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003); The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? (2006); God: The Failed Hypothesis--How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007); Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness (2009); The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009); The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us (2011); God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (2012). God: The Failed Hypothesis made the New York Times Best Seller List in March 2007.

Vic and his wife, Phylliss, have been happily married since 1962 and have two children and four grandchildren. They now live in Lafayette, Colorado. They travel the world as often as they can.

Dr. Stenger maintains a website where much of his writing can be found, at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Yonatan Fishman on January 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Review of Victor Stenger's Comprehensible Cosmos

January 24, 2007

Where do the laws of physics come from? The Power of P.O.V.I.

In this admirable new book, physics professor Victor Stenger once again exhibits his notable ability to convey complex ideas of physics with simplicity and elegance, while not sacrificing mathematical rigor and detail. Moreover, the book offers a "big-picture" perspective that will appeal to both physicists and non-physicists. However, although not required, a basic familiarity with physics and a mathematical background will greatly enhance readers' appreciation and comprehension of the book, particularly concerning the helpful mathematical supplements provided at the end.

Here Stenger takes on "ultimate" questions, such as, Where do the laws of physics come from? and Why is there something rather than nothing?- answers to which are commonly believed to be found exclusively within the province of theological and philosophical discourse and to be inherently beyond the reach of empirical and theoretical science. Stenger argues that the extraordinary empirical success of our current models of physics, though still incomplete and provisional, gives us good grounds to assume that they are on the right track: the cosmos is indeed comprehensible, and our current physical models provide a description of nature that is likely to faithfully reflect aspects of a reality that exists independently of our thoughts and particular physical models.

Stenger argues that, contrary to some popular views, the so-called "laws of physics", such as the great conservations laws, are not restrictions on the behavior of matter imposed by an external agent or by a world of abstract Platonic mathematical forms.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Keith Douglas on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This small (320 pages of text) is, in essence, an epitome of the basic physics of our day. It covers space and time, classical and quantum mechanics in their fundamental form, relativity, thermodynamics, cosmology, particle physics and their interactions. Each topic is treated in rough terms in a main chapter and with precision in a mathematical appendix. What makes this work unique (and not just another textbook of physics) is an attempt to systematize the material under a few very basic principles. Most important of these is the generalized form of invariance called "point of view invariance" by the author, though other postulates are introduced as necessary. My only quibbles are: (a) these principles could be summarized somewhere, (b) the debates discussed in the book over instrumentalism, realism, etc. are too perfunctorally discussed. However as this is not a philosophy of science book on those topics, the oversights can be forgiven. Finally, (c) as a non physicist, I do find myself wondering which approximations are good ones and which not. Sometimes, to achieve equality of two terms, etc. Stenger makes mathematical approximations. This is indispensible; instead what could have been useful is some discussion of where the assumptions so made break down. This is done in some places (e.g. in the discussion of the connection between Newtonian and Einsteinian understandings of motion) but not others, so the flaw, such as it is, is not ubquitous.

Other merits of the book include a clear writing style, bibliographic suggestions for further reading, helpful diagrams and some historical perspective by including years of death for various key physicists.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mike on December 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the third book from Professor Stenger that I've read. In my mind, he's certainly the "Richard Dawkins" of general-audience physics books.

I won't repeat too much of the content of other reviewers of this book, but rather just touch on a couple areas that I found particularly interesting:

I enjoyed how the professor stresses the simplicity of nature. For example, he shows in this book how almost all of physics comes from generalized gauge invariance, which he calls "point-of-view invariance." By the end of the book, we're shown how the "laws" of physics are not really laws at all. In the professor's well-expressed view, our traditional physical laws, in fact, are not somehow built into the fabric of the universe or handed down from above, but rather emerge from natural symmetries of a void.

On a related note, I also enjoyed how he went into some detail regarding how this simple view of nature (what he calls "Atoms and the Void") is at odds against the (secular) Platonic worldview. I believe he does a fair job explaining both views and why a simpler view of nature is preferable.

Anyways, it's hard to say enough about this book. Pick up a copy and enjoy!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brent Meeker on November 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After a long career in experimental particle physics, Victor Stenger presents a philosophical view of physics that steers the boundary between instrumentatlism and naive realism. He provides a wonderfully unified view of physics based on a kind of generalized symmetry he calls point-of-view-invariance. It's a requirement not on nature but on physicists to make their theories objective. It goes suprisingly far in describing why the theories of physics are what they are. It also explains why the universe as described by physics is comprehensible.

The main part of the book explains physics without equations at a level accesible to most people. The appendices are more mathematical, but they will be appreciated by engineers, scientists, and others with a more technical education. It's not a text book and it's not the place to learn these theories, but it would be a great Christmas present for any upper division or graduate physics student.
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