Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees

Martin Rees

This may not be the sharpest review, because I finished this over the weekend and I’m feeling a bit lazy this morning. I shall try though!

I COULD describe what this book is about to you in my own words, but part of the blurb on the back does it so well so here ya go:

“The nature of our universe is remarkably sensitive to just six numbers, constant values that describe and define everything from the way atoms are held together to the amount of matter in our universe. If these values were “untuned” there could be no stars and no life. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our place in the universe, on the deep forces that shape, quite simply, everything.”

Yup. Sounds like a page-turner, right?

Actually, it was really engrossing and as it’s only about 180 pages long, it was a good book that I read pretty quickly. As always when I read science books, I pay attention to the publication date – this was in 2000, so some info or things may have changed since then but if so I didn’t notice it. Sooooo, do you wanna know the six numbers that help shape our universe? Of course you do!*

  1. Ν / Nu – A ratio of the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together compared to the force of gravity (basically, gravity is super super super weak)
  2. ε / Epsilon – Defines how firmly atomic nuclei bind together
  3. Ω / Omega – Amount of matter in the universe
  4. λ / Lambda – A cosmic force of “antigravity” that seems to be affecting the expansion of the universe
  5. Q – Ratio of how much energy would be required to break apart a large “structure” like a galaxy compared to it’s rest mass energy
  6. Δ / Delta – How many spatial dimensions there are in our universe

And basically if any of these numbers or values were just a teeny tiny bit off, the universe wouldn’t have evolved the same way and we most likely would not be here. Fascinating! Right? Well shut up, I think so.

Martin Rees also talks a bit at the end about how you can take all of this information. He talks about the obvious – that some people will take the fact that the universe seems to have been made perfectly so that we could exist is proof of God’s existence, or that some people will say it’s just a coincidence. What I liked most was that he proposed a third way to think about it – that our universe is just one of a larger multiverse. It could be that these numbers are different in other universes, that the laws of physics as we know them only apply to our universe. You guys might know that I’m a fan of multiverse theory, so I was really happy that he discussed that possibility.

Overall, Just Six Numbers was a really interesting read. My only real complaint is that a summary or glossary or something would be handy as a reference – I like concise definitions, and sometimes even after reading a whole chapter I had to look up the number being discussed to make sure I was grasping the concept correctly. But basically,  think all science-y books should come with a glossary built into it somewhere, cause come on – it’s just helpful.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

*I hope I used all those little Greek symbols right.

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4 comments

  1. Yeah, so. . . .this book does not sound like one I will add to my list of books to read, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I also look at publication dates when reading a book about science or a current event, because it can be “off” based on the date. For instance, for one of my grad school classes like a year ago, we were reading a TECHNOLOGY (yes people, I said TECHNOLOGY) book that was from 2003. Mind you, we read this in 2012. Plus, since the book was published in 2003, the data it referenced was old. That was such a depressing book to have to read because I kept thinking, this info is 9+ years old. . .

    Anyway, I also agree that there should have been a glossary or reference section to help readers. The author shouldn’t assume everyone who reads the book is an expert in the subject.

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    1. Yeah, non-fiction stuff should be kept as up-to-date as possible, ESPECIALLY in school classes! And ESPECIALLY in reference to technology! Technology changes practically on a day-to-day basis now.

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