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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Of course, these matters are not the subject of simple experiments but it is remarkable that our understanding of nature allows such speculation.
This book is aimed at a non-technical audience and the overall style is clear and the arguments lucid.
The author starts with an introduction that explains our universe as it has been understood through the main developments of physics in the last one hundred years. The sections on gravitation effects, ranging from stellar collapse to massive black holes missing mass and expansion were presented with great clarity.
However, if you are looking for a book that talks about "Before the Beginning", you may just find yourself wondering why you read the first nine chapters. They are a good, non-technical introduction but they are about our universe from the big bang to the present time.
The last 40% of the book actually contains material hinted at in the title. The author makes the point that our universe is remarkable in the way that it is fit for human life. He then links this observation to the current thinking about the origins of the universe.
Perhaps, our universe is one of many. Very, very many and this one just happens to suit the development of life but there may be many universes "out there" that are still born in the sense that they cannot support life.
Reese explains how space time inflation may lead to universes with different laws of physics and how universes may spawn new universes through the formation of black holes. At the end of this arguement, he talks about the "Anthropomorphic Reasoning" by which we can understand this. These ideas are very speculative and are disputed by many others. Reese achieves a good balance by writing about these disputes.
If you want a book that will give you the current state of the art view of cosmology together with some fascinating speculation about fuuture developments then this is just the job.
I can only level a small number of criticisms at the book. I suspect that most of the target audience will already be familiar with the first 60% of the book so, perhaps, it would have been better to condense that material. The "Further Reading" list at the end just has a collection of titles and authors with no expansion on the contents of these references. Some more information here would be a huge help to readers wondering what to look at next.
One page 158 Rees writes about the universe at the Planck time (ten to the minus 43 seconds) which is as early as we can get, and incidentally the universe at that time was as small as anything can get: "At this stupendous density...quantum effects and gravity would both be important. What happens when quantum effects shake an entire universe?"
Now that is a question! And the way it is put propels us into something like a glimpse of the universe at that ultra early stage. The Planck time is a constraint on the size of anything including space. One of the things that this means is that spacetime is not infinitely divisible. Space itself has a quantum-like quality. Really?
On page 24 he is talking about communicating with other intelligent beings: "It would be easy to devise signals that would be incontrovertibly artificial: for instance, attention could be attracted by a series 1,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29... These are prime numbers: no natural process could generate them, but they would be recognized by any culture that was interested in (and capable of) picking up cosmic radio waves." Notice how simply but beautifully put this observation is.
On the same page he makes the point that even though we might get some startling advice from a more advanced civilization, there is some question about whether we would follow it, or even if we could benefit from it. He writes: "Optimists claim that such signals could convey enlightening messages of such import that they would enable us to bypass centuries of scientific endeavor and discovery... But such a gap would be hard to bridge, even within human culture. Could, for instance, a short `message from the future' have guided a leading intellect from an earlier era toward some aspect of modern scientific knowledge? Could Newton have been steered from alchemy toward chemistry...? It would be a daunting challenge to bridge even a few centuries of human cultural change, essentially because scientific advance depends on gradual advances of interconnected techniques and technologies."
I was delighted to find on page 161 my favorite "Zen koan" question, "Why is there anything at all? Why isn't there nothing?" being asked in a slightly different form by Stephen Hawking: "What is it that breathes fire into the equations?...Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?" In my opinion, it is a question like this that makes the study of cosmology so compellingly religious. I stopped being concerned with the question of whether God exists or not when I realized how incredibly vast is the known universe that beings superior to us almost certainly must exist and therefore it would be only a matter of degree to get to some being approximating the anthropomorphic conception of "God." That there are demigods out there is clear. That there are demigods who could pass for God among humans is also clear. As for a creator or a first cause, or any sort of nonpersonal "God," the Universe itself is sufficient. So, strangely, I became a deist of sorts. Still on page 161, Rees makes the very important distinction between the physicist's vacuum (which is actually a "rich construct," including "all the particles and fields described by the equations of physics") and the philosopher's "nothing," which really is nothing. Now that I think about it, however, maybe that sort of "nothing" is not even possible, just a philosopher's construct.
Notice that what is wonderful about Rees's book is how freeing it is instead of confining. The mind soars. If his intent was to communicate to a large audience I believe he has succeeded. This is the most informative and readable book on cosmology that I have read in quite a while.
One last speculation: suppose that instead of the expansion of spacetime, we have the implosion of matter, that is to say, instead of having the universe expand, we have matter shrink. Is it possible to tell the difference? Although this may seem frivolous, and perhaps it is, asking such a question has the virtue of engaging the mind, which is what Rees does in this book.