Short works

Books : reviews

Paul C. W. Davies.
Space and Time in the Modern Universe.

Paul C. W. Davies.
Stardoom (== The Runaway Universe) .

Paul C. W. Davies.
Other Worlds.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Edge of Infinity.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Accidental Universe.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Cosmic Blueprint.
Unwin. 1987

(read but not reviewed)

p131. The case of Saturn's rings illustrates a general phenomenon. Complex physical systems have a tendency to discover states with a high degree of organization and cooperative activity which are remarkably stable. The study of thermodynamics might lead one to expect that a system such as Saturn's rings, that contains a vast number of interacting particles, would rapidly descend into chaos, destroying all large-scale structure. Instead, complex patterns manage to remain stable over much longer time scales than those of typical disruptive processes. It is impossible to ponder the existence of these rings without words such as 'regulation' and 'control' coming to mind.

Paul C. W. Davies, Julian R. Brown, eds.
Superstrings: a Theory of Everything?.
CUP. 1988


John Schwarz. Superstrings, chapter 2. 1988
Edward Witten. Superstrings, chapter 3. 1988
Michael B. Green. Superstrings, chapter 4. 1988
David Gross. Superstrings, chapter 5. 1988
John Ellis. Superstrings, chapter 6. 1988
Abdus Salam. Superstrings, chapter 7. 1988
Sheldon Glashow. Superstrings, chapter 8. 1988
Richard P. Feynman. Superstrings, chapter 9. 1988
Steven Weinberg. Superstrings, chapter 10. 1988

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Last Three Minutes.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1994

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 May 2000

When people think about immortality, they tend to fall into two main groups: those who think about living for a few hundred years, worrying they might get bored; and those who are planning what to do when the last proton decays. In this slim book we discover how even the latter group are being a bit short sighted.

Davies gives us a whistle-stop tour of stellar evolution, the Big Bang (including the inflationary model, where the very early universe is in a excited vacuum state, whose enormous pressure causes a rapid increase in size, followed by collapse to the current true vacuum), black holes, and the difference between second law of thermodynamics entropy and organisational complexity, before getting on to the meat of the book: the End of the Universe. Well, several possible ends, actually, all extrapolations form currently known physics.

If the universe is open, it will go on expanding for ever, getting colder and more diffuse -- Freeman Dyson has shown that life can go on forever, albeit at a slower and slower rate, and moreover needs only a finite, and amazingly modest, amount of energy to do so. On the other hand, if the universe is closed, it will ultimately stop expanding, and contract back to nothing, ending in a Big Crunch. Frank Tipler has shown, surprisingly, that life can also go on "forever" (that is, have infinite subjective experience) in such a universe, by running ever faster as the Big Crunch comes. Davies is a little more skeptical about this extrapolation -- because we know that we don't know the physics at the Crunch.

In either case, even if life doesn't manage to arrange infinite subjective experience, it can certainly last a long time -- for Dyson creatures proton decay will be but a dim and distant memory. Ironically, the inflationary model predicts the universe is very nearly flat, delicately poised between a future of infinite expansion or the Big Crunch -- and that we may have to wait an arbitrarily long time before we find out which.

Davies also touches on some other, more exotic theories: a catastrophic transition to the real vacuum ground state from our current (maybe) false vacuum, and the corresponding "baby universe" models; a cyclic universe model, and why each cycle gets longer; Linde's multiple inflationary bubble model; even the old Steady State model.

In fiction Charles Sheffield gives a good feel for the sheer scale of the universe, and length of time to the big Crunch, in his novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow; Greg Egan has a wonderful description of falling into a black hole in his short story "The Planck Dive"; here we have the fascinating physics behind that kind of fiction.

Overall, Davies paints an optimistic picture of the potentially infinite future, partly in an attempt to counterbalance past authors, from Bertrand Russell to Steven Weinberg, who have been daunted by a vision of a cold, empty, ultimately pointless universe. Davies sees the possibility of a cooling universe, but still full of life and increasing complexity. He does stumble slightly in his last paragraphs, where he asks "Can there be true purpose in a project that is never completed?", and appears to answer this with no. But I think this shows a confusion between an achievable finite goal, and an ongoing infinite purpose. Such a purpose could be that of developing ever increasing complexity, and ever increasing kinds of complexity, ever "onwards and upwards". Chemistry emerges from physics, biology from chemistry, and intelligence from biology. Why think the process stops there? It can be like a class of fractal landscapes with its series of higher and grander peaks, yet with no final summit.

John D. Barrow, Paul C. W. Davies, Charles L. Harper Jr, eds.
Science and Ultimate Reality: quantum theory, cosmology and complexity.
CUP. 2004


Paul C. W. Davies. John Archibald Wheeler and the clash of ideas. 2004
Jaroslav Pelikan. The heritage of Heraclitus: John Archibald Wheeler and the itch to speculate. 2004
Lucien Hardy. Why is nature described by quantum theory?. 2004
Freeman J. Dyson. Thought-experiments in honor of John Archibald Wheeler. 2004
David Deutsch. It from qubit. 2004
H. Dieter Zeh. The wave function: it or bit?. 2004
Wojciech H. Zurek. Quantum Darwinism and envariance. 2004
Juan Pablo Paz. Using qubits to learn about "it". 2004
Juan M. Maldacena. Quantum gravity as an ordinary guage theory. 2004
Bryce S. DeWitt. The Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. 2004
Anton Zeilinger. Why the quantum? "It" from "bit"? a Participatory universe? Three far-reaching challenges from John Archibald Wheeler and their relation to experiment. 2004
Aephraim M. Steinberg. Speakable and unspakable, past and future. 2004
Raymond Y. Chiao. Conceptual tensions between quantum mechanics and general relativity: are there experimental consequences?. 2004
Serge Haroche. Breeding nonlocal Schrodinger cats: a thought-experiment to explore the quantum-classical boundary. 2004
Paul G. Kwiat, Berthold-Georg Englert. Quanum erasing the nature of reality: or, perhaps, the reality of nature?. 2004
Hideo Mabuchi. Quantum feedback and the quantum-classical transition. 2004
Christopher R. Monroe. What quantum computers may tell us about quantum mechanics. 2004
Andreas Albrecht. Cosmic inflation and the arrow of time. 2004
John D. Barrow. Cosmology and immutability. 2004
Andrei Linde. Inflation, quatum cosmology, and the anthropic principle. 2004
Max Tegmark. Parallel universes. 2004
Lee Smolin. Quantum theories of gravity: results and prospects. 2004
Joao Magueijo. A genuinely evolving universe. 2004
Fotini Markopoulou. Planck-scale models of the universe. 2004
Lisa Randall. Implications of additional spatial dimensions for questions in cosmology. 2004
Philip D. Clayton. Emergence: us from it. 2004
George F. R. Ellis. True complexity and its associated ontology. 2004
Marcelo Gleiser. The three origins: cosmos, life, and mind. 2004
Stuart A. Kauffman. Autonomous agents. 2004
Shou-Cheng Zhang. To see a world in a grain of sand. 2004

Philip D. Clayton, Paul C. W. Davies.
The Re-Emergence of Emergence: the emergentist hypothesis from science to religiou.
OUP. 2006

Paul C. W. Davies, Niels Henrik Gregersen.
Information and the Nature of Reality: from physics to metaphysics.
CUP. 2010