The Astronomer Royal shows how the behaviour and origins of the universe can be explained by just six numbers.
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
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›