The Constants of Nature Hardcover – 5 Sep 2002
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"Scientific revolutions don't seem to happen any more," says John Barrow in The Constants of Nature. He is talking about physics, a discipline with a folklore littered with blandishments such as this. Invariably, such statements turn out to be embarrassingly wrong.
So why does the author of such popular successes as Pi in the Sky and (with Frank Tipler) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle lay himself open so brazenly to the ridicule of future generations? The answer lies in Barrow's firm grasp of scientific practice. He demolishes, with wonderful aplomb, any notion that theories of physics since Newton have in any way "replaced" their forebears. There is no "overthrow" of old theories, only a growing appreciation of how big and how complex the world really is, so that many different theories serve to explain its various properties. Barrow believes these theories can and will one day be unified, but he goes on to show why even this "Theory of Everything" will have its rough edges.
Barrow explains how physical constants--the "rules" of the universe--are being teased out from the white-noise of local conditions, anthropocentric assumptions and numerological fancy. It is a difficult, erudite and witty demonstration of how science can be both a cultural activity and a source of objective knowledge. Barrow's catholic reading and keen interest in people balance handsomely his no-punches-pulled approach to difficult concepts. Martin Rees's slightly more approachable The Cosmic Environment, while by no means substituting for Barrow's book, would make a handy companion. --Simon Ings
"Fascinating.... The major strength of the book lies in the diversity of topics discussed." -- "Nature" "From the Trade Paperback edition."See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
But with The Constants of Nature, Barrow goes a step further from his usual philosopher's view and takes on the guise of the scientist, which indeed he has every reason to (considering he is one of Britains most famous astrophysicists).
As with all his books, Barrow shows a genuine talent for writing in a prose-like style which should appeal to both laymen and scientists. He has this uncanny knack for presenting difficult topics in a very understandable way, and although there are a couple of formula and terms which may be hard to grasp, this does not weaken this book in any way. There is also a more down-to-earth explanation of the various "antropical principles", something which helps understand the background which Barrow has when he makes his observations.
His research on varying alpha constant is very interesting, and Barrow is not one for taking all the glory: He willingly shares the names and research of his collaborators and peers.
That the constants of nature may be varying is indeed an intriguing prospect. Barrow is neither the first nor the most revolutionising researcher in this field, but I dare say he is the best writer and communicator.
The cosmology community needs more than Hawkings and Sagans to bring their research out into the open - they also need writers like John D. Barrow who takes on the more difficult aspects of our Universe.
This book may not be for everyone, but if you have the slightest interest in our Universe, its history and future, and not least our place in it, buy it. This is a great book.