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Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (SCIENCE MASTERS) Paperback – 16 Aug 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (16 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753810220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753810224
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Just six numbers govern the shape, size and texture of our universe. If their values were only fractionally different, we would not exist; nor, in many cases, would matter have had a chance to form. If the numbers that govern our universe were elegant--1, say, or Pi, or the Golden Mean--we would simply shrug and say that the universe was an elegant mathematical puzzle. But the numbers Martin Rees discusses are far from tidy. Was the universe "tweaked" or is it one of many universes, all run by slightly different but equally messy, rules?

This is familiar ground, though rarely so comprehensively explored. What makes Rees's book exceptional is his conviction that cosmology is as materialistic and as conceptually simple as any of the earth sciences. Indeed, "cosmology is simpler in one important respect: once the starting point is specified, the outcome is in broad terms predictable. All large patches of the universe that start off the same way end up statistically similar. In contrast, if the Earth's history were re-run, it could end up with a quite different biosphere."

Rees demonstrates how the cosmos is full of "fossils" from which we can deduce how our universe developed, as surely as we infer the Earth's past from the relics found in sedimentary rocks. Rees's theme is nothing less than the colossal richness of the universe. It is an ambitious book, if anything, it deserves to be longer. --Simon Ings

Book Description

Astronomer Royal Martin Rees shows how the behaviour and origins of the universe can be explained by just six numbers.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alex Ireland on 19 Mar 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The central hypotheisis in this book is that if any of just six numbers, were different, our universe would be entirely different. Some critical consequence such as planets not been able to form, stars not emitting enough energy or evolution not having enough time for our species to develop would be the result of any of these numbers being different.

When I first heard of this book, I was naievly thinking the numbers would include PI, the speed of light or some of the well other known constants from the scientific world. The numbers and their associated concepts are far more abstract.

The six numbers are:

1. N
This is the ratio of electrical force to gravitational force between atoms. This is 10 pow 37.
If this number were slightly lower, molecules would behave similarly but less atoms would be needed to make a star and it wouldn't last as long. The star would die sooner, meaning planets such as our own wouldn't get the length of time needed for evolution to bring species such as our's into existence.

2. E
This is the percentage of mass that is converted into energy, when hyrogen atoms fuse to form helium.
Strong nuclear force, is the force which the particles that make up an atomic nucleus (protons and nuetrons) together. This force acts is the dominant force in the microworld where it overcomes the electrical repulsion which would cause the protons to fly apart. The amount of energy released when atoms undergo nuclear fusion depends on the strength of strong nuclear force as this force that is overcome.

If E was lower (say 0.006) it would mean, that the strong nuclear force or nuclear glue was weaker and protons and nuetrons would never overcome the electrical repulsion and attach.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Mar 2001
Format: Paperback
Rees's book is another addition to much maligned but (in this reader's humble opinion) highly valuable genre of popular science, in this case dealing with the amazing fact that just six surprisingly basic numbers effectively govern the fundamental forces operating throughout the entire cosmos. In the simplest language, Rees demonstrates how these six quantities shape the whole Universe as we know it by governing the worlds of the very large and the very small---the forces that operate within and between atoms and, by extension, all the matter within our Universe, explaining how if these values had been even very slightly different by the minutest degree, the Universe would not have developed as it is, even to the extent that life may not have arisen at all in the first place (the well-known Anthropic Principle). Blessedly free of equations and jargon, like Rees's other popular science works (especially 'Before the Beginning') 'Just Six Numbers is a model of clarity and concision---the sort of popular science writing that allows the lay reader to partake, albeit in a humble way, in the mysteries of the cosmos and can make even the most scientifically illiterate reader feel like something approaching a genius, which to my mind Rees (Britain's Astronomer Royal) undoubtedly is. Very, very highly recommended.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 16 Sep 2005
Format: Paperback
The answer? You're sitting here reading this. Instead of not existing at all. In this delightful study, Martin Rees describes the six fundamental cosmic forces with refreshing clarity. One of these, nuclear efficiency has a value of .007. A lower value would result the entire cosmos consisting only of hydrogen: no carbon to build your body and brain, no oxygen to breathe. A higher level would have resulted in rapid stellar evolution and decay leaving no time for life to evolve.
The image of the astronomer, especially the Astronomer Royal, locked away in an observatory, immune to human feelings and capacities is dashed forever by this book. Rees portrays the "deep forces that shaped the universe" without sinking into a pedantic morass. No arcane mathematics or arcane cosmology in this book. Rees takes us on a journey through space and time with examples of atomic forces, gravity, cosmic structure and why we live in a three dimensional universe. He shows how these forces interact and why they are important to us.
The human value of the study of cosmology permeates this excellent presentation. Cosmology is "stellar paleontology." As telescopes have improved we are observing the radiation of light and other forces that was emitted from shining object many billions of years ago. Recording and analyzing these forces has built up an image allowing us to assess how the cosmos began. Rees takes us through the instruments and techniques what the images tell us. He builds an enthralling picture, never failing to demonstrate why it's important that we all understand it. Where it's confusing or indistinct, he manages to bring clarity and wit. Most importantly, he asserts why these are physical quantities and not the result of divine interaction.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Aug 2004
Format: Hardcover
Popular science books are often so simplified that little is gained by reading them. Add equations, and some people will ignore the book. Become detailed in mathematics, and more people will be lost. Professor Rees has done a remarkable service in this outstanding book by taking mathematical ratios and exploring their implications in nonmathematical ways. The result builds a totally new metaphor for considering the structure of the universe . . . that of a stable system.
He then takes that metaphor and uses it to build an understanding of the important unanswered questions about cosmology and how answers may be derived through a combination of experimenation, observation, and systems analysis. As a result, the nonscientist is brought into the "thinking" part of these scientific areas without needing to have much scientific background.
I was attracted to the book by the concept of how six numbers could explain a great deal about the universe. The development of that theme turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The six numbers are:
nu (a ratio of the strength of electrical forces that hold atoms together compared to the force of gravity which is 10 to the 37th power)
epsilon (how firmly the atomic nuclei bind together which is 0.004)
omega (amount of material in the universe)
lambda (force of cosmic "antigravity" discovered in 1998, which is a very small number)
Q (ratio of two fundamental energies, which is 1/100,000)
delta (number of spatial dimensions in our universe)
Doesn't look overwhelming, does it? Well, that highlights the book's strength, which is to explain the importance of these numbers.
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