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Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Helix Books) Paperback – September 23, 1998
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"Although we cannot observe them (and they may be forever inaccessible), other universes are a natural expectation from current cosmology. Moreover, many features of our universe that otherwise seem baffling fall into place once we recognize this." Sir Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, gives a vivid, occasionally acid tour of current astrophysics and cosmology, with insights into scientific politics, such as the enormous increase in the cost of the space telescope because of its association with the Space Shuttle. He also offers keen observations on personalities such as Subrahmayan Chandrasekhar and Isaac Newton, Yakov Zeldovich and Albert Einstein. Joseph Silk calls Before the Beginning "an unusual blend of wit, asperity and cosmology ... a combination of clarity and conciseness." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Sophisticated instruments and spacecraft expeditions probing deeper into space have all increased our knowlege of the universe and its place in the grand scheme of things. From the theoretical insights to experimental confirmations, this book describes the universe and our quest to understand it. Rees, the well-known cosmologist and director of Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy, outlines the historic context and explains discoveries and ideas (both his own and those of his colleagues) with clarity and in an engaging style. He successfully avoids jargon and formulas, but numbers, being too important to leave out, are mentioned in the order of magnitude rather than values. What makes this book unique is the radical theory that Rees puts forth. He asserts that there is an infinity of universes, besides our own, that were and are being created. None but our own is observable because of the hostility of the other universes' environment to intelligent life. Rees argues his case eloquently and without invoking theological issues. Essential for academic libraries.?Jayashri Nagaraja, Engineering Lib., Princeton Univ., N.J.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
He wrote in the Acknowledgements section of this 1997 book, "This book presents an individual view on cosmology---how we perceive our universe, what the current debates are about, and the scope and limits of our future knowledge." In the first chapter, he adds, "Our universe, and the laws governing it, had to be... rather special to allow our emergence... The apparent fine-tuning on which our existence depends could be a coincidence. I once thought so. But that view now seems too narrow. What's conventionally called `the universe' could be just one member of an ensemble. Countless others may exist in which the laws are different. The universe in which we've emerged belongs to the unusual subset that permits complexity and consciousness to develop. Once we accept this, various apparently special features of our universe---those that some theologians once adduced as evidence for Providence or design---occasion no surprise. This line of thought---the enlarged perspective of the `multiverse'---supplies a motive for this book." (Pg. 3)
He explains, `My Cambridge colleague, Stephen Hawking, claimed in A Brief History of Time that each equation he included would have halved the book's sales. He followed that injunction, and so have I. But he (or maybe his editor) judged that each mention of God would double the sales... In that latter respect I shall not follow Stephen's lead. Scientists' incursions into theology or philosophy can be embarrassingly naïve or dogmatic. The implications of cosmology for these realms of thought may be profound, but diffidence prevents me from venturing into them." (Pg. 6)
He suggests, "If evolution on Earth could be rerun, the outcome might be quite different... But would INTELLIGENCE necessarily emerge?... Once intelligence has emerged, and developed beyond some threshold, it controls the biosphere, and natural selection no longer has free rein. Unless the dominant species wiped itself out, intelligence would never have a second independent chance to evolve. Even when simple life exists, we don't know the chances that it evolves toward intelligence, nor how long it persists even when it does emerge. Intelligent life could be `natural'; or it could have involved a chain of accidents so surprisingly rare that nothing remotely like it has happened anywhere else in our Galaxy." (Pg. 22)
He adds, "The odds may be stacked so heavily against intelligent life that none has developed at any other site in our Galaxy---conceivably there is none anywhere in the part of the universe that we can observe. Some may find it depressing to feel alone in a vast, mindless cosmos. But I would personally react in quite the opposite way. It would in some ways be disappointing if SETI searches were doomed to fail, but we could then envisage our Earth in a less humble cosmic perspective than it would merit if our universe already teemed with advanced life forms." (Pg. 25)
He states, "Our entire observable universe could be an oasis in a grand ensemble of other universes. Although we cannot observe them (and they may be forever inaccessible), other universes are a natural expectation from current cosmology. Moreover, many features of our universe that otherwise seem baffling fall into place once we recognize this. A main theme of this book will be to elaborate the concept of a `multiverse.'" (Pg. 28)
He summarizes, "The history of our universe divides into three parts: 1. The first millisecond... The relevant physics is still speculative---indeed, one motive for studying cosmology is that the early universe may offer the only real clues to the laws of nature at extreme exigencies. 2. The second stage runs from a millisecond to about 1 million years. It's an era where cautious empiricists feel more at home... There is good quantitative evidence... and the relevant physics is well tested in the lab. Part two of cosmic history, though it lies in the remote past, is the easiest to understand." (Pg. 160)
He acknowledges, "It may seem counterintuitive that an entire universe at least 10 billion light-years across... can have emerged from an infinitesimal speck. What makes this possible is that, however much inflation occurs, the total net energy is zero. It is as though the universe were making itself a gravitational pit so deep that everything in it has a negative gravitational energy exactly equal to its rest-mass energy... This realization makes it easier to swallow the concept that our entire universe emerged almost `ex nihilo.'" (Pg. 169)
He states, "Could a collapsing universe rebound phoenixlike into a new cycle? Nothing could stop the density from rising to infinity---to a `singularity.' ... Physical conditions in the `bounce' would transcend the physics we understand, so that nothing could be said about the possibility of a rebound into a new cycle---still less about what had gone before. The concept of an `arrow of time' ... breaks down under these extreme conditions." (Pg. 195)
He notes, "Nobody has proved that it is utterly impossible to create, in our present universe, the kind of warped space-time that would allow time travel... Could there be closed time-loops on some microscopic scale? Would `time machines' be so much stranger than the other strange paradoxes of the quantum world?... These issues are certainly not settled, but I would tend to believe ... that physics has a kind of internal integrity that prohibits travel into the past." (Pg. 219)
He says, "The physical laws `laid down' in the big bang seem to apply to everywhere we can now observe. But though they are unchanging (or almost so), they seem rather specially adjusted. This could be a coincidence: I used to think so. But an enlarged cosmological perspective suggests an interpretation that seems compellingly convincing. There may be other universes---uncountably many of them---of which ours is just one. In the others, the laws and constants are different. But ours if not randomly selected. It belongs to the unusual subset that allow complexity and consciousness to develop. Once we accept this, the seemingly `designed' or `fine-tuned' features of our universe need occasion no surprise." (Pg. 238)
He admits, "Scientists commonly pay obeisance to `Ockham's razor' ... which ... means `Don't multiply entities more than is absolutely necessary.' Nothing, perhaps, could seem to violate this more drastically than postulating an infinite array of universes! Nor does it, at first sight, seem properly `scientific' to invoke regions that are unobservable, and perhaps always will be. The concept of an ensemble of universes of which ours is just one member (and not necessarily a typical one) is, needless to say, not yet in sharp theoretical focus. But it helps to explain basic (and previously mysterious) features of our universe, such as why it is so big, and why it is expanding. In the broader perspective of a `multiverse,' anthropic reasoning acquires genuine explanatory force." (Pg. 247)
He speculates, "The other universes may even be completely disjoint from ours, so that they will never come within the horizon of our remotest descendants. We may be part of an infinite and eternal multiverse within which new domains `sprout' into universes whose horizons never overlap... The multiverse could encompass all possible values of fundamental constants, as well as universes that follow life cycles of very different durations... In some there could be no gravity... In others, gravity could be so strong that it crushes anything large enough to evolve into a complex organism. Some could always be so dense that everything stayed close to equilibrium, with the same temperature everywhere. Some could even have different numbers of dimensions from our own." (Pg. 247-248)
This is a well-written, thought-provoking presentation of many current cosmological ideas, that will be of great interest to anyone studying this area.
Now, why do I recommend to read "Before the beginning" anyway?
It is because the same reason that anyone of us reads "The Odyssey" although we know there is no Cyclopes out there. The same we have to read Darwin's "The Origin of Species," even though he didn't know about genes. And the same reason we have to read the correspondence between Einstein and Michele Besso that stopped in 1955.
In a word: it is because we need to see the whole picture. Because it is good to remember that what we know today in cosmology is a summation of several approaches and attempts, some successful and some failed, that constitutes the curious economy of science. Martin Rees tells you about that from the very first chapters (see, for example, his discussion about Fred Hoyle and his ('erroneous') steady-state model of the universe). In fact, I would say that the book dedicates more than a half to prepare you to understand the important issues that are going to be discussed from chapter nine onwards.
Thus, the historical contents are the platform that Rees uses to launch you beyond the questions. And here is where the author, in my opinion, moves like the fish in the water. He is really good at conjecturing and speculating seriously about the hard topics. He proposes solutions to the big enigmas of the creation based on what we know and what we could get to know in the near future. This is the case, to put an example, of the omega value that establishes "the ratio between the actual and the critical density" of the universe. (Note that Omega is one of the six numbers that Rees revise in his "Just six numbers.") So he asks: "Can it be as large as 1? We still can't answer this question." But after seven pages he adds: "If I were to place a bet now, it would be that omega will indeed equal 1." I insist, Rees is a scientist and he thinks and even reflects without losing sight of the data. From time to time you feel that he is a bit much pondered and measured but I guess that in doing that he brilliantly solves the temptation of being certain and dogmatic in an elusive field like this. One with a story whose end is open.
As I have said, the first eight chapters are fundamentally a preparation for reading the last seven. From chapter nine, "Back to 'the beginning'," up to chapter thirteen, "Anthropic Reasoning...," the book put the cards on the table. These are the chapters where Rees make you feel you didn't lose your money, just the opposite.
Now well, for doing this, the author touches the tough topics: the creation and the need for a creator; the inflation and the multiverse; the destiny of the universe; the time. He explains with simple words what is hard to grasp and in doing this he ensures himself of being understood. The last two chapters are the best of the book. In them, Rees talks about the nature's constants and the anthropic principle. He faces the difficult parts with intelligence and eloquence. You feel obliged to think and consider your own beliefs.
But I cannot finish this review without mentioning that Rees writes with an elegant style. In doing so he builds a narrative which is full of appropriate quotations and well constructed images. Talking about dark matter, he says: "We know far more, of course, about the bright matter --made of ordinary atoms-- but this could be a misleading "tracer": galaxies may, for instance, lie preferentially in the largest concentrations of dark matter, just as the white crests highlight the highest ocean waves."
Rees (1942) is a cosmologist who loves what he does and wants to transmit what he knows to everyone. If this isn't love what else could be? Whoever tries to transmit difficult issues have the problem of being trapped or lost in the translation. The foam that makes up the universe and the different images that are used to put it in words are always provisional and incomplete. Rees faces the risks of doing it without the equations and the math, and so delivers a highly illustrated guide to the universe and its possible beginnings.