Just Six Numbers The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe by Rees, Martin J. ( Author ) ON Oct-05-2000, Paperback Paperback – October 5, 2000
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The book is divided into 11 chapters of which 6 are dedicated to the numbers themselves. Of those six numbers, in the author words: "Two of them relate to the basic forces; two fix the size and 'overall' texture of our universe and determine whether it will continue for ever; and two more fix the properties of space itself." With respect to the other chapters they work as links between the numbers so you as a reader never get lost in the details and can keep the general view over the big picture.
Although the themes are hard to the common reader (which is my case) the author provides good examples in order to be understood: "We cannot distinguish two events [...] when the time interval between them is less than the Planck time. These scales are smaller than atoms by just as much as atoms are smaller than stars." No matter how hard the theme is, M. Rees manages himself somehow for being comprehended.
Now, and given that the topics touch different sensibilities, the author provides his own vision about the fine tuning problem without being disqualifying. That's why instead of closed statements he opts for new and open questions. In a word, he is polite. Very polite indeed. You have to take into account that Rees is telling us that the universe is a perfectly tuning machine so the answer appears almost spontaneously: Who did tune it? No matter what you think or believe, the numbers and the harmony among them is astonishing. So we as humans need somebody there in the origin just pressing the right buttons.
Mr. Rees knows that the discussion is not going to stop before the last human being breathes for the very last second here on Earth. That's why he prefers to live without abandoning the search for the ultimate answers. He needs to know how does the universe work and how it became the site we live in. So that "...even if we know the basic laws, exploring how their consequences have unfolded over cosmic history is an unending quest."
As I have hinted, this book is for believers and not believers. Everyone can drink from the waters of this (cosmic) river. It is full of knowledge and savvy. You can read it in two days maybe one. Is cheap and it works very well as a link with more recent titles as "The elegant universe" by Brian Greene, "A universe from nothing" by Lawrence Krauss, and "Many worlds in one" by Alex Vilenkin. There are others, of course, but don't miss the fact that "Just six..." is from year 2000 and several things have happened since then.
As a technologist in my chosen niche, I tend to hobby reach for the stuff that I would not ordinarily consider in the course of paying the rent. I've also been fascinated for years by Feynman's quote from 1985 "QED: The strange theory of light and matter":
writing on the fine-structure constant of 1/137.063 ... "It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don't know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly..." .
All of the constants have a curious 'magic' in space-time as they intermingle in their extrordinarily precise operation. With QM, the predictive precision is unprecedented. It might take a lot of time and experience, but every physicist (I think) must come to the irreducible question of "Why?". The pursuit of "Why?" might seem to separate physics from other sciences at core. Physicists are driven by "Why?" to get the "How?". The "How?", then "Why?" is the alternative. Until we know "Why?", capturing "How?" feels incomplete. So as the title "Just Six Numbers" suggests, Rees attempts to name the tune of the universe in just 6 notes.
Dr. Martin Rees is an important mind. What he writes must be considered. His tenure is so long and his experience so great that he can speak in ways few peers would attempt and he will not so easily preclude the chance of "a finely tuned" universe. What he writes here is not at all what I anticipated. The 6 numbers cover three aspects. The first two numbers relate to basic forces. Then, two aspects to align the overall size and texture of the universe. And finally, two aspects to address the properties of space itself. And finally, a consideration regarding the synergy of the 6 aspects
For some scientific readers, a finely tuned and a decided bias of avoiding intelligent design that Rees considers in context with known science must seem an abomination. My recommendation to those firmly decided on the nature of the universe, that this is not the read for you. On the other hand, it seems that not all is certain to explain a formulaic reality or untestable, un-provable infinitely probabilistic QM multiverse variant. If you have a background in physics, the book can be a deep exploration and even difficult. If not, it certainly must be at least interesting. Rees's 6 number proposition requires intellectual effort. For the hobbyist, it might seem a robust and easy read. The concepts are easy to understand, the derivative science on which Rees tests his hypothesis is not.
One reviewer suggest s "unsupported metaphysical conclusion". Metaphysics seems by definition to not-be-physics. As Rees goes to the boundary of the knowable and unknowable and questions "Why?", the lack of an answer remains the question. Plumbing the physical/metaphysical boundary does not make Rees wrong and makes the book far more interesting.
The book needs an update from 1999. More is now known and even more unknown to curiously support Rees's argument by degrees. Current scientific readers will notice that the universe has grown by 2.7B years in the last 10 years for instance. As current physics, 4-stars instead of 5 solely for the lack easily updated science.
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Good reading for the science practitioner or (I imagine) the layman. It may even be thought-provoking for mystics.