A physicist and philosopher delivers a provocative set of meditations on the nature of life, the universe, and everything.
If you think hard enough about the unlikeliness that you are you—to say nothing of the fact that the universe is not only infinite, but also expanding—your head is likely to hurt. All the more so when Aguirre (Physics/Univ. of California–Santa Cruz; co-editor: What Is Fundamental?, 2019, etc.) throws in a monkey wrench on the latter point: “It’s got just one glaring flaw: the actual universe that astronomers observe is not like this.” Throw in other imponderables worth pondering, as the author does—e.g., “if the electric repulsion between protons in the nuclei of atoms were just a bit stronger, then those atoms, and hence chemistry, and hence life itself, could not apparently exist”—and the throbbing temple threatens to explode. Some of Aguirre’s forays into cosmological questions can be as squishy as any New Age guru’s, as when he asks us to consider ourselves not just part of the universe, but central to it, but he tempers the fuzziness with some truly engaging questions (and questions, he hints, are vastly more interesting than answers when it comes to matters of the universe). Of what, for instance, are atoms made? The textbook answer is quarks and mesons and electrons and such, but also, Aguirre writes, information. And not just any old information, but information that projects dimensionally, proving Zeno’s paradox and Galileo’s notion that “there is nothing particularly natural or easy or special about being at rest.” Though written with the generalist in mind, Aguirre’s arguments can be a little difficult to grok sometimes, which is probably the point: It stands to reason that “quantum reality is somewhat ambiguous,” but it gets a little shaky when we ask, since everything is quantum mechanical, why do we die?
A delight for readers raised on books like Gödel, Escher, and Bach and The Dancing Wu Li Masters.