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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 Sep 2005
This review is from: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (SCIENCE MASTERS) (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. 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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Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

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