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The Life Of The Cosmos [Paperback]

Lee Smolin
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 1998
This radical, exciting book draws as much on Darwinian ideas as on Einstein's to propose a way forward beyond theories that can only explain aspects of our universe, towards one that can explain it as a whole. Smolin suggests that the laws of nature are not fixed, but that they evolve in the same way that living things themselves evolve. Effectively, Smolin puts forward the possible unifica-tion of biology and physics, a view of the cosmos which moves beyond both the notion of God and the pessimism of Nietzsche and the existentialists.


Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition edition (6 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075380123X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753801239
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 690,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Science fans, hold on to your hats! Lee Smolin, a professor at the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Pennsylvania State University, is about to take you on the ride of your life. Imagine, if you will, the theory of evolution applied to physics. What if our universe is so ideally adapted to life because it developed that way? What if ours is just one among many thousands of universes, all engaged in a cosmic survival-of-the-fittest struggle? These are just two of the wildly original theories Smolin posits in The Life of the Cosmos, in which Alice in Wonderland meets quantum physics. According to Smolin, the majority of today's physicists still regard physical laws as immutable, mathematical and eternally true--to them, the universe is an intricate mechanism, a cosmic clock. But what if the laws of physics aren't really "laws" at all, but rather an evolving, developing process of natural selection that began even before the Big Bang?

From Smolin's initial theory, it's a short step to black holes, alternate universes, string theory, gauge symmetry and knots--all complicated abstractions that Smolin describes and explains in a remarkably comprehensible way. Even if you don't agree with Smolin's science, his book makes for great mind-bending reading and more than a little food for thought. If nothing else, The Life of the Cosmos proves once and for all that there really is intelligent life on this planet. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"The argument is as mentally thrilling as shooting Niagara in a dishpan, plunging the reader into a dizzying no-man's land between physics and metaphysics."--Curt Suplee, The Washington Post"It's great fun to see the implications of this fantastic idea laid out by so original a thinker.... Smolin makes some of the strongest arguments I've seen that understanding the universe will require a serious search for some kind of laws of complexity."--George Johnson, The New York Times BookReview --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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As the story is told, Nicolaus Copernicus received the first copy of his first and only book as he lay dying in the tower of the castle in northeastern Germany where he had lived and served as Deacon for the last half of his life. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Although both physicists and philosophers may find it hard to agree with Lee Smolin's ideas, neither group could deny that his views are thought provoking. The book provides a refreshing insight into ideas about the structure of space-time and a possible explanation of why the physical constants have the values they have. If you have a taste for cosmological speculation but find daffy science popularisations with "god" in the title more irritating than illuminating, then this book is for you. Smolin writes with clarity and manages to engage the reader with the wonder at the heart of physics without the use of laboured attempts at poetry. A "real" physicist who can write is a rare treat. If you have enjoyed the work of David Deutsch or Julian Barbour, try this. If you haven't, try them next.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A well written book for anyone who is interested in the Physics of the universe, but doesn't nessesserily have an acute knowledge of Mathematics. Smolin ventures into dimentions and elementary particles with a highly detailed analysis of the smallest things in the universe but sometimes lacks a wide overview. A great book even for beginners. All you need to be interested in this book is some knowledge of Physics and an active imagination.
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Format:Paperback
'The Life of the Cosmos' is an argument for a new way of looking at fundamental physics and cosmology. Its highlight is cosmological natural selection (CNS) but the underlying principle is 'relationalism', an idea derived from Leibniz (and basic to relativity theory), in which physical properties are relational rather than intrinsic. Space and time are principles relating physical things to each other, not absolute backgrounds within which physical things interact but do not themselves take part in interactions.

Lee Smolin argues that the universe is self-organised, a bit like an organism or an ecosystem (though nothing is gained by saying that the universe is actually 'alive'). The universe has evolved and possesses homoeostatic properties that keep many of its components in states far from thermal equilibrium. Another relational principle learnt from Leibniz is that a view of the whole universe as a far-from-equilibrium system does not imply a view-point from outside the universe.

CNS is a Darwinian solution to the 'special-tuning problem', which is the vast improbability that the universe should be set up precisely to suit life (as it seems to be). The answer is that a mechanism of natural selection can produce design without a designer or blueprint. In the case of cosmology, the key is the production of black holes. Assuming each universe is born as a black hole within another universe, then universes take part in a copying competition and the most typical universe (which we may assume ours to be) ought to belong to the lineage with the most fecund universes.

This prediction is testable: by changing any of the parameters of physics in our universe, one will produce a different universe with fewer black holes.
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2 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars again it's one deduction too far 13 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It's a super book but it seems that the thought process goes to far. If we and the universe continuously evolve to explain the improbability of our being here and we avoid inventing god, we only invent an unprovable theory as a substitute.
However I need to know why these other universes on the other side of black hole compare with ours. There is only so much energy around so each must be pretty limited and since they drain this one, I'm surprised we are still here.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cosmological natural selection 4 Sep 2003
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Lee Smolin's speculative book is revolutionary.
For him, physics are not mathematics, but biology. Cosmology is a question of natural selection. This selection happens via black holes, where universes are created with slightly different random new values for the parameters of the standard model in physics.
There are no eternal laws, only worlds which are the result of random and statistical processes of self-organization.
I agree, there are a lot of ifs in this book, with a crucial one on p. 93: 'If quantum effects prevent the formation of singularities ... then time does not end in the centre of black holes, but continues into some new region of space-time.'
Smolin explains that behind the central principles of relativity and quantum mechanics lies the essential fact that 'All properties of things in the world are only aspects of relations among real things, so that they may be decribed without reference to any absolute background structures.' (p.259)
For Smolin, the future of physics is to find a solution for the tension between the atomist description of elementary particles, and their relational use in the gauge principle. He believes that string theory is part of the solution.
Smolin's point of view is partly shared by the late Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine in his difficult book 'The End of Certainty'.
Even if his theory is falsified, this book is a real bargain, because it contains magnificently clear (a real bonus) explanations of the 4 basic forces in physics, the gauge principle, symmetry breaking, quantum mechanics, gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the theory of natural selection, Leibniz's philosophy, the reason why mathematical and logical truths may be eternal ... I could go on.
Into the bargain, it contains a deadly attack on determinism and a very polite but definitive refutation of the anthropic principle.
A great book by a true and free humanist.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeper into the Cosmological Argument 13 Dec 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Smolin attempts two things in this book: to put forth a novel idea of how the laws of nature have come to be as they are, and to develop for the non-expert reader the context of why such an explanation of the laws of nature is necessary. The novel idea, cosmological natural selection, which has been described in other reviews, is fascinating. Whether or not it is true, or how it could be proven either true or false, is deeply problematic. Regardless, Smolin has demonstrated that we can provide a consistent answer to the cosmological argument without resorting to theistic reasoning. And unlike the extreme reductionists, he accounts for the full intricacy of the physical, biological, and cultural world we live in. The second function of this book, providing a context for his theory, is an even more successful endeavor. The subject matter here is much the same as Paul Davies' "The Mind of God," but Smolin's book is more comprehensive. Despite being the most poorly copy-edited book I have ever encountered, I consider this a great book.
28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars some fascinating ideas, but hard going 18 Feb 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was looking forward to reading this book (despite the tiny type size mentioned previously) but found myself struggling with it. This is not because it is too technical, but more becaue of the verbose style of the author. The text is filled with tautologies and sentences that just don't make sense. One can get the gist of what Smolin is saying, but the repetition at times within the same paragraph was annoying enough to take the shine off the story. The book could be quite a bit shorter. The copious typos didn't help either.
That said, there is plenty if interesting stuff to ponder here. Perhaps because Smolin is trying to appeal to a popular audience, I sometimes found his explanations lacking in depth - for example, the assertion that certain parameters that determine the composition of the universe and its hospitability to life are fine-tuned to an accuracy of one part in 10 to the 60th power. Not being a physicist or mathematician, I can only take what Mr Smolin says at face value. I'm also not sure about black holes being the generators of new universes - it strikes me as an idea that can never betested or proved. Perhaps the development of the grand theory that Mr Smolin ultimately hopes for will provide further support for his cosmological natural selection, through testing of new mathematical models. But I still feel that much of what he is saying will always remain beyond the scope of science, and to a large degree must be taken on faith. But I take my hat off to him for thinking so big.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, if not the greatest. 14 Jan 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A unified theory that would give us an objective and complete view for our world has always been the dream of physicists.
Lee Smolin in his extraordinary book illustrates many significant views of the obstacles facing the unification of general relativity and quantum theory into one universal cosmological theory that could provide us, in principle, an objective and complete understanding for the universe as a whole. In his masterpiece, he does not only explains the previous efforts to approach such a theory like the string theory or inflationary models, but also discusses philosophical obstacles facing them in a very persuasive and intellectual way. Furthermore, he proposes a theory, which he calls "The cosmological natural selection", that is similar, to a certain extent, to the evolution theory in Biology in which universes are a product of a bounce or explosion in the blackhole when the matter reaches a certain density. Unlike the case of singularity in which time just ceases, Smolin proposes the continuity of time and an explosion which will change the parameters of the elementary particles, or their physical properties (mass, charge, etc.), in that new created universe. These parameters are the rule for creating more universes if their setting allow the universe to have more blackholes and thus, more new created universes.
What is most interesting I think is the type of questions that the author poses in each chapter. For they spark a very deep, yet casual, philosophical wonders that puzzled our world for centuries. This book is for anyone that would like the taste the joy on an intellectual philosophical and scientific journey that tries to unveil some of the mysteries of this world.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, if not the greatest 7 Jan 1999
By Jasem Mutlaq - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A unified theory that would give us an objective and complete view for our world has always been the dream of physicists.
Lee Smolin in his extraordinary book illustrates many significant views of the obstacles facing the unification of general relativity and quantum theory into one universal cosmological theory that could provide us, in principle, an objective and complete understanding for the universe as a whole. In his masterpiece, he does not only explains the previous efforts to approach such a theory like the string theory or inflationary models, but also discusses the philosophical obstacles facing them in a very persuasive and intellectual way. Furthermore, he proposes a theory, which he calls "The cosmological natural selection", that is similar, to a certain extent, to the evolution theory in Biology in which universes are a product of a bounce or explosion in a black hole when the matter reaches a certain density. Unlike the case of singularity in which time just ceases, Smolin proposes the continuity of time and an explosion which will 'slightly' change the parameters of the elementary particles, or their physical properties (mass, charge, etc.), in that new created universe. These parameters are the rule for creating more universes if their settings allow the universe to have more black holes and thus, more new created universes.
What is most interesting I think is the type of questions that the author poses in each chapter. For they spark a very deep, yet casual, philosophical wonders that puzzled our world for centuries. This book is for anyone who would like the taste the joy on an intellectual philosophical and scientific journey that tries to unveil some of the mysteries of this world.
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