New York: Pantheon Books, 2003. — 368 p. — ISBN-10: 0375422218; ISBN-13: 978-0375422218In 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.ContentsPrefaceBefore the BeginningSamelinessJourney Towards Ultimate RealityMission to Mars Measure for measure - parochial standards Maintaining universal standards A brilliant ideal Max Planck's natural units Planck gets real About timeSuperhuman StandardsEinstein on constants The deeper significance of Stoney-Planck units the new Mappa Mundi Otherworldliness The super-Copernican PrincipleFurther, Deeper, Fewer: The Quest for a Theory of EverythingNumbers you can count on Cosmic Cubism New constants involve new labour NumerologyEddington's Unfinished SymphonyCounting 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 physicsThe Mystery of the Very Large NumbersSpooky numbers A bold hypothesis Of things to come at large Big and old. dark and cold The biggest number of allBiology and the StarsIs 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 universeThe Anthropic PrincipleAnthropic arguments A delicate balance Brandon Carter's principles Aclose-run thing? Some other anthropic principlesAltering Constants and Rewriting HistoryRigid worlds versus flexi worlds Inflationary universes Virtual history - a little digressionNew DimenslOnsLiving 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 braneVariations on a Constant ThemeA prehistoric nuclear reactor Alexander Shlyakhter's insight The Clock of Ages Underground speculationsReach for the SkyPlenty of time Inconstancy among the constants? What do we make of that? Our place in historyOther Worlds and Big QuestionsMultiverses The Great Universal Catalogue Worlds without end Journey's endNotes Index
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