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The constants of nature are the numbers that define the essence of the Universe. They tell us how strong its forces are, and what its fundamental laws can do: the strength of gravity, of magnetism, the speed of light, and the masses of the smallest particles of matter. They encode the deepest secrets of the Universe and express at once our greatest knowledge and our greatest ignorance about the cosmos. Their existence has taught us the profound truth that Nature abounds with unseen regularities. Yet, while we have become skilled at measuring the values of these constants, our frustrating inability to explain or predict their values shows how much we still have to learn about the inner workings of the Universe. What is the ultimate status of these constants of Nature? Are they truly constant? Could life have evolved and persisted if they were even slightly different? And are there other Universes where they are different? These are some of the issues that this book grapples with. It looks back to the discoveries of the first constants of Nature and the impact they had on scientists like Einstein. This book also tells the story of a tantalising new development in astronomy. For the first time astronomical observations are suggesting that some of the constants of Nature were different when the Universe was younger. So are our laws of Nature slowly changing? Is anything about our Universe immune from the ravages of time? Are there any constants of Nature at all?

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099286479
ISBN-10: 0099286475
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 27mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Aug-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » This book deals with mind-boggling questions about how the universe works, whether there are other universes besides our own, and even whether the laws of physics are really immutable. The 'constants' referred to in the title are the numbers that define the universe. A constant, says Barrow, is a 'pure' number; something that has a dimension, such as speed or length, cannot be a constant because its numerical value changes with the units in which it is expressed. The speed of light, which might seem like a constant to the layperson, is not really a constant at all because it could be expressed as 186,000 miles per hour or 300,000 kilometres per hour. On the other hand, the number of photons per proton, and the ratio of dark to luminous matter densities, are constants. Barrow, a professor of physics, leads us through a history of modern physics and its attempts to define and understand constants, outlining the work of theorists such as Planck, Einstein and Dirac. He does his very best to make the text accessible, peppering it with quotations from Oscar Wilde and Douglas Adams, using analogies with readily understandable ideas (such as traffic flow) and including lots of diagrams and pictures. Unfortunately, the subject matter itself is so difficult that it is almost impossible to follow the argument in all its detail unless you have a good grounding in mathematics or physics. As a lay reader, even if you grasp the basic ideas - the importance of constants, the search for a Theory of Everything, the possibility of different universes - you are very unlikely to understand the mathematics that illustrate Barrow's argument. Nonetheless, this is a book worth persevering with, because even if your brain aches at the end of it, you will have discovered what modern physicists are thinking about - and some of their current theories about the way the universe works are truly startling. (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - John D. Barrow

John D. Barrow is Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the current Gresham Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London. His principal area of scientific research is cosmology, and he is the author of many highly acclaimed books about the nature and significance of modern developments in physics, astronomy, and mathematics, including The Origin of the Universe, The Universe that Discovered Itself; The Book of Nothing, The Infinite Book: a Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless, The Artful Universe Expanded, New Theories of Everything, Cosmic Imagery and, most recently, The Book of Universes.