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The Life of the Cosmos

43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195126648
ISBN-10: 0195126645
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Editorial Reviews Review

Lee Smolin is not afraid to think big--really, really big. His theory of cosmic evolution by the natural selection of black-hole universes makes what we can experience into an infinitesimal, yet crucial, part of an ever-larger whole. Smolin says, "the new view of the universe is light, in all its senses, because what Darwin has given us, and what we may aspire to generalize to the cosmos as a whole, is a way of thinking about the world which is scientific and mechanistic, but in which the occurrence of novelty--indeed, the perpetual birth of novelty--can be understood." Other scientists are, to say the least, divided on whether Smolin has much chance of being right, but they agree with Paul Davies that he is "a deep and original thinker." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Physics has long assumed that the laws of nature are immutable; here's a cosmological theory that challenges even that common-sense notion. The great problem facing physics at the end of the 20th century remains the integration of relativity and quantum theory. While both have scored impressive triumphs in their spheres of concern, the two operate at different poles of the physical universe: Relativity concerns itself with large objects and great distances, whereas quantum theory is at home with subatomic particles. And while quantum theory has brilliantly accounted for three of the four major forces in the universe, it has failed to make heads or tails of gravity--the one force that affects all the particles in the universe, no matter what the distance between them. A further difficulty, from Smolin's point of view, is that the ratios of the masses of the known particles do not fall into any coherent pattern, and small changes in those parameters would lead to a universe radically different from ours. So why is our universe as we see it? Why, for that matter, do we exist at all? Smolin (Physics/Penn. State Univ.) suggests that an evolutionary principle has been at work, that the Big Bang was only the most recent in a series of creations, and that the laws of physics can vary (although only a tiny bit) with each new bang. Universes that tend to create many stars (and thus many black holes, as those stars die) can give birth to more descendants than those with a paucity of stars. Thus the universe evolves according to a principle similar to natural selection. Much of the material is fascinating, and Smolin gives the reader a thorough tour of the latest in cosmological speculation. The early chapters are slow going, but once his argument builds up momentum, Smolin is a thought-provoking theorist. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195126645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195126648
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lee Smolin earned his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard, then went on to teach at Yale and Pennsylvania State before helping to found the innovative Perimeter Institute. He is the author of The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on September 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
Lee Smolin's speculative book is revolutionary.
For him, physics are not mathematics, but biology. Cosmology is a question of natural selection. This selection happens via black holes, where universes are created with slightly different random new values for the parameters of the standard model in physics.
There are no eternal laws, only worlds which are the result of random and statistical processes of self-organization.
I agree, there are a lot of ifs in this book, with a crucial one on p. 93: 'If quantum effects prevent the formation of singularities ... then time does not end in the centre of black holes, but continues into some new region of space-time.'
Smolin explains that behind the central principles of relativity and quantum mechanics lies the essential fact that 'All properties of things in the world are only aspects of relations among real things, so that they may be decribed without reference to any absolute background structures.' (p.259)
For Smolin, the future of physics is to find a solution for the tension between the atomist description of elementary particles, and their relational use in the gauge principle. He believes that string theory is part of the solution.
Smolin's point of view is partly shared by the late Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine in his difficult book 'The End of Certainty'.
Even if his theory is falsified, this book is a real bargain, because it contains magnificently clear (a real bonus) explanations of the 4 basic forces in physics, the gauge principle, symmetry breaking, quantum mechanics, gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the theory of natural selection, Leibniz's philosophy, the reason why mathematical and logical truths may be eternal ... I could go on.
Into the bargain, it contains a deadly attack on determinism and a very polite but definitive refutation of the anthropic principle.
A great book by a true and free humanist.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Smolin attempts two things in this book: to put forth a novel idea of how the laws of nature have come to be as they are, and to develop for the non-expert reader the context of why such an explanation of the laws of nature is necessary. The novel idea, cosmological natural selection, which has been described in other reviews, is fascinating. Whether or not it is true, or how it could be proven either true or false, is deeply problematic. Regardless, Smolin has demonstrated that we can provide a consistent answer to the cosmological argument without resorting to theistic reasoning. And unlike the extreme reductionists, he accounts for the full intricacy of the physical, biological, and cultural world we live in. The second function of this book, providing a context for his theory, is an even more successful endeavor. The subject matter here is much the same as Paul Davies' "The Mind of God," but Smolin's book is more comprehensive. Despite being the most poorly copy-edited book I have ever encountered, I consider this a great book.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was looking forward to reading this book (despite the tiny type size mentioned previously) but found myself struggling with it. This is not because it is too technical, but more becaue of the verbose style of the author. The text is filled with tautologies and sentences that just don't make sense. One can get the gist of what Smolin is saying, but the repetition at times within the same paragraph was annoying enough to take the shine off the story. The book could be quite a bit shorter. The copious typos didn't help either.
That said, there is plenty if interesting stuff to ponder here. Perhaps because Smolin is trying to appeal to a popular audience, I sometimes found his explanations lacking in depth - for example, the assertion that certain parameters that determine the composition of the universe and its hospitability to life are fine-tuned to an accuracy of one part in 10 to the 60th power. Not being a physicist or mathematician, I can only take what Mr Smolin says at face value. I'm also not sure about black holes being the generators of new universes - it strikes me as an idea that can never betested or proved. Perhaps the development of the grand theory that Mr Smolin ultimately hopes for will provide further support for his cosmological natural selection, through testing of new mathematical models. But I still feel that much of what he is saying will always remain beyond the scope of science, and to a large degree must be taken on faith. But I take my hat off to him for thinking so big.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A unified theory that would give us an objective and complete view for our world has always been the dream of physicists.
Lee Smolin in his extraordinary book illustrates many significant views of the obstacles facing the unification of general relativity and quantum theory into one universal cosmological theory that could provide us, in principle, an objective and complete understanding for the universe as a whole. In his masterpiece, he does not only explains the previous efforts to approach such a theory like the string theory or inflationary models, but also discusses philosophical obstacles facing them in a very persuasive and intellectual way. Furthermore, he proposes a theory, which he calls "The cosmological natural selection", that is similar, to a certain extent, to the evolution theory in Biology in which universes are a product of a bounce or explosion in the blackhole when the matter reaches a certain density. Unlike the case of singularity in which time just ceases, Smolin proposes the continuity of time and an explosion which will change the parameters of the elementary particles, or their physical properties (mass, charge, etc.), in that new created universe. These parameters are the rule for creating more universes if their setting allow the universe to have more blackholes and thus, more new created universes.
What is most interesting I think is the type of questions that the author poses in each chapter. For they spark a very deep, yet casual, philosophical wonders that puzzled our world for centuries. This book is for anyone that would like the taste the joy on an intellectual philosophical and scientific journey that tries to unveil some of the mysteries of this world.
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