- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 23, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691114773
- ISBN-13: 978-0691114774
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,506,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Our Cosmic Habitat
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From Publishers Weekly
The cosmos depicted in this fascinating exploration of astrophysics, now in paperback, is mind-boggling-vast and old and full of supernovae, black holes and mysterious dark matter. But its greatest conundrum is how delicately attuned and "biophilic" a habitat it is. If the laws of nature had been configured just a bit differently-if gravity were slightly stronger, the electron a smidgen heavier, the texture of ripples in the universe a bit rougher or smoother, or the infinitesimal imbalance between matter and anti-matter off by one part in a billion-then galaxies, planets, atoms and life as we know it would have been impossible. Rees, Great Britain's Astronomer Royal and the author of Just Six Numbers: The Forces That Shape the Universe, is a sure guide to the science that illuminates these mysteries, from quantum mechanics to cosmology. He takes us from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe, exploring along the way how the galaxies gelled, how elements were forged in the furnace of the stars and how planet Earth, ensconced in a warm orbit, stabilized by the Moon and shielded from asteroids by Jupiter's gravitational field, provided a sheltered breeding ground for intelligent life. He also ponders the philosophical significance of a cosmos so finely engineered to support life, asking whether our universe is a big fluke, a miracle of providential design, or just one particularly favored example of an infinite "multiverse." Rees's engaging style, lucid exposition and grand conception make this a wonderful introduction to the biggest of scientific questions.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Winner of the 2001 Peter Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize"
"Winner of the 2002 New York Book Show Award"
"[This book] has an informal style and breadth of coverage that make it a joy to read. . . . Rees's explanations are exactly right."---William G. Unruh, Science
"Rees provides a nice summary of how we got here, how the universe began and how it might end. . . . Lay readers will appreciate Rees' clear, uncomplicated prose, even when dealing with tough stuff that leaves most physicists tongue-tied. Most welcome of all, he explains how scientists know what they claim to know."---K.C. Cole, Los Angeles Times
"Ample in scope, this explicit, confident, helpful, modest and good-humored book arises from a recent lecture series spanning astrophysics and cosmology. Using not one full-fledged equation only fresh diagrams and clear, personal prose--Rees, a masterful theorist, brings readers a sheaf of insights." (American Scientist)
"[An] awe-inspiring survey. . . . Rees is not only a world-class cosmologist but one of our best living science writers."---John Cornwell, Sunday Times
"Probably the clearest and most easily understandable account of our Universe available."---Ian Morison, New Scientist
"Our very own Astronomer Royal blasts off into space, in velvety, friendly prose. His musings on the possibilities of alien life and of time travel, the necessity to colonise space, and a vision of the far future make for a pleasingly concise and always intriguing tour d'horizon."---Steven Poole, The Guardian
"In the crowded field of popular writing about the universe, Rees is genuinely in the forefront--an accomplished scientist with the superior writing skills. . . . He exudes the instinctual curiosity we all possess when looking upward, and he focuses that wonderment on the narrow range of cosmological numbers that allow us to ruminate about it all. A wonderfully appealing presentation." (Booklist)
"There is a lot of stuff in the universe--the estimated number of stars is 10 followed by 22 zeros. But as to whether there are other planets with life like Earth's, Rees says the chance of two similar ecologies is less than the chance of two randomly typing monkeys producing the same Shakespearean play."---George F. Will, The Washington Post
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He created very brief (about 200 pages only) but surprisingly complete picture of modern cosmology and scientific fields related to it.
After reading Alan Guth, Donald Goldsmith, Stephen Hawking and Igor Novikov, this book greatly summarizes and helps to put everything together: properties of our Universe, current conclusions from observations, microphysics dilemmas, speculations about time and multiverses and possible barriers further research may encounter.
Introducing Q number, Martin Rees explains cosmic texture.
Presenting simple equation for gravitational attraction he makes easy to understand negative energy of vacuum (this unfortunately in Notes, at the end of the book; should be introduced within the main text in my opinion).
I was shocked learning that our empty space could be vulnerable to a catastrophic transfiguration induced artificially by high- energy particle collisions in accelerator experiments (more about it on page 120).
Content of this book is for educated and oriented readers; author does not waste time to explain basic terms of physics. One should know for example what is "bar code" in the spectra from the galaxies.
Small correction: figure 4.1 (page 52) describes numbers:0.1 , 0.2 and 0.3 as a redshift. This is not exactly.
These numbers are related to the redshift but they represent fraction of a time since a big bang.
Concluding: if you like to read about cosmology, it is not the only subject of your interest and you want fast update - get "Our Cosmic Habitat". It will save you lots of time.
Returning to the science and context, both in space and time, in which we find ourselves, I have the following comments on several distinct topics:
a. whether and how geological catastrophes occur can drive evolution forward, as Arthur C. Clarke imagined, or cause lasting setbacks (p. 21-23). For example, there are some anthropologists who believe that the eruption of a mega-volcano, Mount Tambora, about 100,000 years ago, resulting in the rapid onset a colder and drier global climate, forced proto-humans to go through a time of starvation and an "evolutionary bottleneck", which is believed to have led to the survival of only the smarter humans (see NPR.org story);
b. over long time scales, there are various courses of stellar evolution, and our own Sun will eventually go to a Red Giant phase. The illustration he provides is also a matter that can be graphed on to the "Great Universal Catalogue" by Bernard Carr and Martin Rees, or a modified version of it (see "Cosmic Imagery", by John Barrow, p 514 and my review for The Nobel Laureates Smartest Targets for the World, by Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Center);
c. The complexity of the universe and its ability to support life derives in part from the hierarchical or layered nature of the universe -- that it ranges from the quantum scale, to the atomic, to the molecular, chemical, planetary, solar, galaxy, and intergalactic -- as shown in the book "In Praise of Science" by Sander Bais and, in an allegorical sense, by Sheldon Glashow "Cosmic Uroboros". As Martin Rees writes, "A vast range of scales is a prerequisite for an 'interesting' universe …" and "A universe that did not involve large numbers [ex. hundreds of billions of stars and planets] could not contain such a multilayered hierarchy of structures and would not allow time for complex evolution." (p. 48). Similarly, "The sciences are often likened to different levels of a building -- logic in the basement, then the rest of physics and chemistry, and so forth as we climb upwards" (p. 156);
d. The laws of nature may slightly change, or evolve, over the eons, as Prof. Lee Smolin has argued in "Time Reborn". Likewise, Rees writes that "Some have argued that it would actually be surprising if, in a changing universe, the physical laws were unchanging" (p. 143);
e. Limits of conventional science: even if a unified theory were discovered, the complexity and chaos that occurs, necessarily, at the quantum, chemical, biological, and social scale of life will mean that many events and scenarios remain unpredictable. If the world is not deterministic, is there free will? Freeman Dyson has written that, in some sense, atoms have free will, in the common way the term "free will" is understood. A detailed analysis of complexity, chaos, and degrees of freedom has been undertaken by the Santa Fe Institute, NM (there are excellent YouTube video presentations). Thus, while the physics of the very small (quantum) and the very large (gravity) may someday be unified or shown to have mathematical relations which aren't yet known, there will still be new frontiers for human understanding, sociology, politics, and science (ex. the role of contingency, and complex systems, p. 153). In addition, "There are general 'laws of nature' in the macroscopic domain that are just as much a challenge as anything in the microworld [quantum] and are conceptually autonomous from it …" (p. 154). This statement is very close to the one made by Robert B. Laughlin in "A Different Universe" or other books, in which he says that we will have continued challenges in understanding the macroscopic realm, in other words, the phenomena involved in chemistry and biology.;
f. On the philosophy of science, "Steven Weinberg has emphasized, some sciences can claim a distinctive status, a special 'depth'", and Martin Rees writes "We seek unified theories of the cosmos and microworld not because the rest of science [chemistry, biology, evolutionary theory, sociology, and so on] depends on them [because biology is in some sense an 'emergent' phenomenon, p. 154], but because they deal with deep aspects of reality." (p. 155). Related to this passage, Weinberg has several world-class books on the endeavor of science, and soon "Third Questions" will be released.