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Barrow J.D. The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega - The Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe

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Barrow J.D. The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega - The Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe
New York: Pantheon Books, 2003. — 368 p. — ISBN-10: 0375422218; ISBN-13: 978-0375422218
In this lively volume, Cambridge physicist Barrow (The Book of Nothing) considers the natural constants-the handful of seemingly eternal numerical values, such as the speed of light, the weight of the proton, Planck's constant or the four dimensions of space and time-that constitute the "bedrock" of physical reality. These constants quantify some of the simplest statements that science makes about the world, but as this fascinating work of popular science demonstrates, they have profound implications for the fate of the universe and our place within it. And, Barrow hints, they might not be truly constant. He traces scientists' evolving understanding of the natural constants as they grew to assume a central role in modern relativity theory and quantum mechanics, and outlines ongoing attempts to determine whether they are just inexplicable facts of nature or the logical consequence of some fundamental Theory of Everything. He also raises important philosophical and even religious questions. The natural constants are delicately balanced to make the universe safe for living organisms: altering them more than a hair would make stars burn out, atoms fly apart, and the world as we know it impossible. Is this a happy accident? Proof of Intelligent Design? Or is it a coincidence of our inhabiting one of an infinity of universes that just happens to have living observers? Barrow explores these issues in erudite but lucid prose that draws on an array of thinkers from Einstein to Freud, and, because he withholds his answer to the changing constants question until the end, his book has surprising narrative pull. His account makes some of the most challenging frontiers of science accessible, even enthralling, to lay people.
Contents
Preface
Before the Beginning
Sameliness
Journey Towards Ultimate Reality
Mission to Mars
Measure for measure - parochial standards
Maintaining universal standards
A brilliant ideal
Max Planck's natural units
Planck gets real
About time
Superhuman Standards
Einstein on constants
The deeper significance of Stoney-Planck units the new Mappa Mundi
Otherworldliness
The super-Copernican Principle
Further, Deeper, Fewer: The Quest for a Theory of Everything
Numbers you can count on
Cosmic Cubism
New constants involve new labour
Numerology
Eddington's Unfinished Symphony
Counting to 15.747.724.136.275.002.577.605.653.961.181,555,468.044,717.914.527.116,709.366.231.425.076.185.631.031,296
Fundamentalism
Theatrical physics
The Mystery of the Very Large Numbers
Spooky numbers
A bold hypothesis
Of things to come at large
Big and old. dark and cold
The biggest number of all
Biology and the Stars
Is the universe old?
The chance of a lifetime
Other types of life
Prepare to meet thy doom
From coincidence to consequence
Life in an Edwardian universe
The Anthropic Principle
Anthropic arguments
A delicate balance
Brandon Carter's principles
Aclose-run thing?
Some other anthropic principles
Altering Constants and Rewriting History
Rigid worlds versus flexi worlds
Inflationary universes
Virtual history - a little digression
New DimenslOns
Living in a hundred dimensions
Walking with planisaurs
Polygons and polygamy
Why is life so easy for physicists?
The sad case of Paul Ehrenfest
The special case of Gerald Whitrow
The strange case of Theodor Kaluza and Oskar Klein
Varying constants on the brane
Variations on a Constant Theme
A prehistoric nuclear reactor
Alexander Shlyakhter's insight
The Clock of Ages
Underground speculations
Reach for the Sky
Plenty of time
Inconstancy among the constants?
What do we make of that?
Our place in history
Other Worlds and Big Questions
Multiverses
The Great Universal Catalogue
Worlds without end
Journey's end
Notes
Index
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