Mind-boggling science proves the world is a marvellous place.
(I already knew that.)
350 pages, ★★★
The Goldilocks Enigma follows the same structural model as The Future of Physics, The Science Delusion and 23 Things. All these books are collections of easy-to-read scientific essays with introductions, fact-boxes, conclusions and summaries that plug a single thesis (in this case, “Life is miraculously improbable“). This formulaic approach to non-fiction really works, and the arguments stick in my head this way.
The Goldilocks Enigma proposes that the universe seems so perfectly suited for life that to some people, it looks purpose-built (the anthropic principle), or created by a deity (creationism). The author renounces multiverse theories as ridiculous (reductio ad absurdum) both on scientific and philosophical levels. I agree.
I saw author Paul Davies speak at the AAAS Annual Conference in Chicago in 2009. He emphasised the sheer miraculousness of Earth’s existence—six physical constants are calibrated perfectly:
- N = ratio of the strengths of gravity to that of electromagnetism;
- Epsilon (ε) = strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei;
- Omega (ω) = relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the Universe;
- Lambda (λ) = cosmological constant;
- Q = ratio of the gravitational energy required to pull a large galaxy apart to the energy equivalent of its mass;
- D = number of spatial dimensions in spacetime. (From Wikipedia)
Tweak any one of these constants and life becomes impossible! Some people liken this impossibility to “a hurricane sweeping through a scrapyard and assembling a perfectly-formed Boeing 747”. It’s reassuring to see scientific evidence of how precious and rare our planet is.
The physics in this book overlaps significantly with The Trouble with Physics, Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction and The Science Delusion. While it’s an easy book to understand, it’s only mildly entertaining. Unless you’re really interested, only read one of these popular physics books. The Science Delusion is the best. ★★★