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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!
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...
Published on 7 Mar. 2001

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not gripping
As its title suggests, this 1999 book by Martin Rees, the UK's Astronomer Royal, addresses six numbers that determine whether a universe can support life as we know it. The first number Rees calls N, which is the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force and is about 10^36. He explains how, if this ratio were less, and therefore gravity was relatively...
Published 4 months ago by Roger

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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!, 7 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars What is the difference between .006 and .007?, 16 Sept. 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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. The "creator" thesis has esthetic appeal, he admits, but divinities reduce the study of physics to an absurdity. Why learn about these forces and their origins if it's only to result in a "divine plan?" It's too easy an answer, in Rees' view. The fine balance of cosmic forces should lead us to learn more, not be satisfied with metaphysical platitudes.
He also engages in some speculation about what else the cosmos might reveal. His conclusion, that there might be "multiverses" instead of the solitary one we inhabit is based on good logic results from his discussion of the Big Bang. We can see only so far back in time. We can't "see" either the Big Bang nor objects such as black holes. Both these phenomena stretch the limits of today's physics. Yet we can infer their existence from what we can see and extrapolate from other evidence. Since a single cosmos is likely illogical, the concept of multiple universes must be given serious thought. Bigger and more sensitive telescopes may someday allow us to perceive these entities. It's not a subject we should dismiss out of hand.
In short, this is a book for anyone wishing to understand how the universe came to be and our place in its existence. Rees carries his theme with precision in a deftly structured framework. He brings many years of experience to present this summation to us. He's to be applauded for a vivid portrayal of what might otherwise be a daunting topic. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Speculations About the Implications of Cosmology, 19 Aug. 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 127,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Science Masters) (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. Basically, Professor Rees describes the background behind how the numbers were developed, then explores the implications of the number (especially by looking at what happens if the number was much larger or smaller), and then ties the number to implications for other cosmological questions and puzzles. Building from one to the next, he describes the current state of cosmological thinking through an architecture of these six numbers. To this summary of the known science, he adds his own conjectures by way of potential hypotheses for future testing.
We are at an interesting time for cosmological study. Because our ability to peer into space is improving rapidly due to advances in space and earth telescopes, more kinds of observations can be conducted to test basic theories about the nature of the forces in the universe. We should expect rapid progress in knowledge, as a result. Stephen Hawking has placed a twenty dollar bet that the elusive "unified field theory" that frustrated Einstein will appear within twenty years (but you should also know that he just paid off a loss on the same bet). A pathway that follows along understanding superstrings of 10 dimensional matter seems promising in this regard for now.
I found the writing to be very appealing in this book. Professor Rees is gifted in using examples to make the incomprehensible more meaningful. He is also ruthless in excising any detail that you do not need to know to comprehend the points he is developing. So you get a lean, compact argument. He writes clearly, which simplifies the reader's task while increasing the reader's pleasure. The text is benefited by several interesting illustrations, as well.
After you have finished reading this informative and stimulating book, ask yourself what the implications of a stable system are. Does it mean that some greater hand has been involved? Does it have no further implications, whatsoever? Does it mean that even greater systems should be assumed? How does it square with the notion of entropy (order becoming disordered)? If you are like me, new questions and perspectives will occur to you after reading this book that will greatly increase your interest in and appreciation of cosmology and physics.
Look backward and outward to see the future more clearly, and then ask, "What is the essence?"
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Speculations About the Implications of Cosmology, 19 Aug. 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 127,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
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. Basically, Professor Rees describes the background behind how the numbers were developed, then explores the implications of the number (especially by looking at what happens if the number was much larger or smaller), and then ties the number to implications for other cosmological questions and puzzles. Building from one to the next, he describes the current state of cosmological thinking through an architecture of these six numbers. To this summary of the known science, he adds his own conjectures by way of potential hypotheses for future testing.
We are at an interesting time for cosmological study. Because our ability to peer into space is improving rapidly due to advances in space and earth telescopes, more kinds of observations can be conducted to test basic theories about the nature of the forces in the universe. We should expect rapid progress in knowledge, as a result. Stephen Hawking has placed a twenty dollar bet that the elusive "unified field theory" that frustrated Einstein will appear within twenty years (but you should also know that he just paid off a loss on the same bet). A pathway that follows along understanding superstrings of 10 dimensional matter seems promising in this regard for now.
I found the writing to be very appealing in this book. Professor Rees is gifted in using examples to make the incomprehensible more meaningful. He is also ruthless in excising any detail that you do not need to know to comprehend the points he is developing. So you get a lean, compact argument. He writes clearly, which simplifies the reader's task while increasing the reader's pleasure. The text is benefited by several interesting illustrations, as well.
After you have finished reading this informative and stimulating book, ask yourself what the implications of a stable system are. Does it mean that some greater hand has been involved? Does it have no further implications, whatsoever? Does it mean that even greater systems should be assumed? How does it square with the notion of entropy (order becoming disordered)? If you are like me, new questions and perspectives will occur to you after reading this book that will greatly increase your interest in and appreciation of cosmology and physics.
Look backward and outward to see the future more clearly, and then ask, "What is the essence?"
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What makes this universe so structured and habitable?, 22 Jun. 2010
By 
Rama Rao "Rama" (Annandale, VA, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Space, time and matter are principal components of the universe in which matter and energy are interconvertible given by the famous Einstein's energy-mass equation. The structure and functions of the universe are guided by the laws of physics and four principal forces. These forces operate on matter and energy in spacetime to provide structure. The cosmic structures include; the clusters of galaxies, galaxies, clusters of stars, stars, planetary systems and various sub-planetary objects and stellar debris that fill the interstellar and interplanetary space. The atomic and subatomic particles are controlled mainly by the electromagnetic force, the weak force, and the strong force; the gravitational force is very weak and insignificant at the atomic level but plays a dominant role in the structure and functions of large cosmic bodies in the heavens. The classical laws of physics that includes the Newtonian physics and Einstein's theory of relativity are satisfactory in explaining the behavior of macroscopic structures of matter and energy, but the laws of quantum physics are necessary to explain the behavior of microscopic structures. The physical laws are described by equations and mathematical formulas, and these formulas quantitatively describe an observed behavior of matter and energy, and it also predicts unobserved behavior of physical objects.

There are several universal constants that appear in physics equations and in this book the author discusses the fundamentals of cosmology in easy to understand language with a focus on six physical constants that help shape our universe. These constants are as follows: the ratio of electromagnetic force to the gravitational force between two electrons is of the order of 10e(39). This is puzzling since pure numbers not associated with any measuring units must be close to unity when describing physical properties. Herman Weyl first observed this phenomenon and suggested that there may be a universal selection principle in operation. A small deviation from this would have produced a universe with no living beings. The structural constant which has a value of 1/137, determines how various atoms are formed from hydrogen, and what made our universe rich in carbon and oxygen that led to the evolution of living forms. A small deviation in this value would not have produced life forms, because enough life supporting carbon and oxygen wouldn't have been formed by the stars. The third constant is the cosmological constant that is very close to unity; if this constant was a little higher then the universe would have collapsed in big crunch, conversely if this constant was a little lower then the universe would have expanded at a tremendous pace without giving the matter the opportunity to undergo mass accretion to produce galaxies, stars and planetary systems. The fourth constant is the lambda - a cosmic antigravity force that controls the expansion of the universe and it has no discernable effect on scales less than a billion light years. This force is responsible for the expansion of our universe. The fifth constant, Q expresses how tightly clusters of galaxies bound together because this constant measures the ratio of the energy needed to break them apart to their rest energy. This value is small about 1/100,000. The sixth constant is the number of spatial dimensions of our universe which is three. In extra dimensions the life forms would have been too complex because the chemistry would have been different. The author sees that these fundamental constants made this universe unique because stars, planetary systems and life could be formed under these conditions.

There are many theories that explain why these constants are so finely tuned; some physicists argue that this is due to anthropic principle, which requires fine tuning of constants for the evolution of life. Others postulate that we are one universe in a multiverse where there are billions of universes, and all possible values for constants exists and ours is unique in that it has the desired values for the evolution of life.

1. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford Paperbacks)
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 19 Mar. 2008
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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. Elements such as helium would never form.

If E was larger (say 0.008) no hyrdogen (which has one proton, no nuetron) would have survived from the big bang. Two protons would have been able to bind as they would have easily overcome the electrical repulsion to each other. This would have happened in the early universe so that all hydrogen would quickly be gone. No hydrogen, amongst other things means no water.

3. Omega.
The universe is quite empty. Omega is the ratio of actual density to critical density. If the universe were closer to critical density, gravitational force would over come explosive energy and the universe could collapse. If the actual density was too small, no stars or galaxies would have formed because gravitational energy would not be strong enough.

4. Lambda. This controls the expansion of the universe. It relates to the anti gravitational force (a new force and recent discovery) which determines the speed of expansions of the universe. I gathered that not a lot is known about this other than it is a small number. Had it not have been galaxies etc would not have formed.

5. Q: 10 pow -5. This ratio of ratio of energy required to break up stars and galaxies to their rest mass energy (i.e. E = mC pow2). This is 10 pow -5. If Q were less the universe would be structureless. If Q were too large no stars or solar systems would survive.

6. D: Number of spatial dimensions which is 3. If D was 2 or 4 life could not exist.

Although this book is well written some of the concepts in it are difficult to grasp. There is a lot more in this book than just simple numbers. There are some very sophisticated concepts in this book. If you are doing a PhD in Theoritical Physics its probably quite easy, but I found myself having to re-read several passages to grasp the ideas. Other Universe-esque books such Stephen Hawkings' 'Brief History of Time' or Simon Singh's 'The Big Bang', I found a lot easier to understand and arguably better.

That said, the overall hypotheisis that just 6 numbers play a critical role in shaping our universe is fascinating, mind boggling and well presented.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating cosmology for first-time enthusiasts, 8 Feb. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Science Masters) (Hardcover)
What an eye opener! Martin Rees has an amazing gift of being able to explain mathematics and physics in an imaginative and readable way which kept me, as a mathematical novice, completely hooked from start to finish. He explains how intelligent life has evolved from a particular mix of six numbers interconnected with each other, and how if any one of the numbers had been even slightly different, life would never have existed. He uses metaphors and picture language to illustrate his points. Every time I had a question, he answered it within the next few pages, and I felt he must have known what I was unsure of. It saved me a lot of correspondence with him! My only slight disappointment was in the last paragraph of the whole book, which was not nearly as upbeat as Stephen Hawking's last paragraph in the conclusion of his "A Brief History of Time". But I shall probably write to Martin Rees anyway and tell him just how wonderful I think his book is!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not gripping, 4 Jan. 2015
By 
Roger (Bedfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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As its title suggests, this 1999 book by Martin Rees, the UK's Astronomer Royal, addresses six numbers that determine whether a universe can support life as we know it. The first number Rees calls N, which is the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force and is about 10^36. He explains how, if this ratio were less, and therefore gravity was relatively stronger, stars would be much smaller and would burn much quicker. There would not be sufficient time for life to evolve.

The second number, epsilon (ε), dictates the strength of the strong nuclear force. Rees refers to ε being equal to 0.007 and this denotes the proportion of energy that is released when hydrogen fuses into helium. If this force was weaker than it is (say, 0.006), then nuclear fusion wouldn't happen; we would have stars full of hydrogen but there would be no nuclear reactions. Conversely, a stronger force (say, 0.008) would have led to protons joining with other protons shortly after the Big Bang so that there would be no hydrogen left to fuel the stars. Either way, life as we know it would not have been possible.

The third number is omega (Ω), which Rees defines as the ratio of the actual density of the universe to the critical density needed for gravity to bring cosmic expansion to a halt. If the ratio were too high, the universe would collapse in a big crunch; too low and expansion would be too fast to allow matter time to condense into stars and galaxies. Discussion of Ω led into a discourse on dark matter, which accounts for about 90% of the universe but which could be made up of entities with masses ranged from 10^–33 g (neutrinos) up to 10^39 g (heavy black holes), an uncertainty of more than seventy powers of ten. As Rees points out, our ignorance on this subject is somewhat embarrassing.

Lambda (λ) is the fourth number, which concerns whether the expansion of the universe is increasing or decreasing. In fact, λ is almost, but not exactly, zero; it is a measure of dark energy although this phrase is not used by Rees. λ was first postulated by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity as a form of anti-gravity to achieve a static universe but he later gave up this idea when it was shown by Hubble that the universe was actually expanding. Einstein later referred to his abandonment of this concept as his "greatest blunder".

Q is the fifth number and this refers to the amplitude of the irregularities in the density of the universe shortly after the Big Bang. If the universe had been completely homogenous then there would have been no areas where gravity was slightly greater than other areas, such areas seeding the formation of stars and galaxies. Q has a value of about 10^-5 which reflects the fact that gravity within galaxies is exceedingly weak. This value is crucial; were it much smaller, or much bigger, the texture of the universe would be quite different, and less conducive to the emergence of life forms. A much smaller value of Q would stop galaxies forming, whilst if much larger it would result in super large galaxies but with black holes rather than stars.

The last of the six numbers Rees calls D which is the number of spatial dimensions. In our universe D is equal to 3 and Rees argues that if D were not equal to 3 then life would not exist.

I can't say that I really enjoyed this book and, as a consequence, it took me a long time to finish it. Undoubtedly, Rees is an expert in his field but the excitement that he must feel for his subject didn't come across to me. His account didn't grip me and it seemed to me to be rather disjointed. For example, whilst the book is concerned with six numbers, it has eleven chapters, with three of the extra five being interspersed with the six on the numbers; I found these interruptions disrupted the flow of the book. Notwithstanding these criticisms, some parts of the book were thought provoking and prompt me to read more accounts on cosmology. Essentially, it is a book about the Anthropic Principle although this is another term that the author never uses.

Aside from the discussions on the six numbers, there were some interesting observations in places. For instance, I was surprised to read that it was as early as the late 14th century that it was postulated that planetary systems were probably commonplace around other stars and that some of these planets would undoubtedly hold intelligent life. This concept was the brain child of the far-sighted Giordano Bruno but, needless to say, his views were considered heretical by the Church and for this and other "crimes" he was burnt at the stake in 1600. It was also fascinating to learn that at the time Rees wrote his book there had only been one instance where the precursor star of a super nova was known. This was in 1987 and before it exploded the star in question had been a blue one of about twenty solar masses.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and fascinating, 11 Dec. 2009
This is the best introduction to the Cosmological Anthropic Principle. Rees demonstrates just how odd the universe is. For a possible answer to the connundrum read James Gardener's Biocosm. Essential stuff to know about.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One universe or many?, 30 Jun. 2007
By 
John Hepburn (London) - See all my reviews
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What an excellent book!

Martin Rees looks at six facets of the universe, and considers how changing any one of these parameters would lead to a very different type of universe to the we can see (and infer) all around us.

He explains complex ideas beautifully and elegantly. He helps the reader wonder if this universe was designed for our purposes (sorry chaps, we're not that important), or whether we evolved to take advantage of the conditions that were available.

And the logical extensions to his thinking and writing are really quite breathtaking. Has our universe expanded and crashed many times? Or is our view of just one universe simply limited and parochial? And if there are many universes, how would they form and what would they look like?

Rees using mathematics, physics and some creative and highly enjoyable thinking to talk us through these ideas.

And the idea that there is no chance of us being here?

Well ...you're almost right. But there's at least one universe full of difference between no chance and almost no chance ...

Makes you think, doesn't it?
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