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Dark Matter, Mankind, and Anthropic Cosmology

by John GribbinMartin Rees

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1989
ISBN: 055299443X
Publisher: Bantam

Suddenly, anthropic cosmology--which speculates on the relationship between scientific law and human life--is all the rage. David Darling's Deep Time (reviewed above) takes a self-consciously lyrical look at the field; here, Gribbin (In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, 1984, etc.) and astronomer Rees opt for a more nuts-and-bolts approach. The coauthors scamper across much of the newest turf in astrophysics and particle physics. Their main concern is to identify the nature of the "dark matter" that permeates the universe, and whose gravitational pull keeps the cosmos "balanced on a knife edge between being open and closed." This search for dark matter leads into dizzying tours through "the geography of the universe"--quasars, gravity lenses, cosmic strings, et al.--and the microcosmic "particle zoo." Since dark matter "controls the structure and eventual fate of the Universe," it also creates conditions that favor human life. The authors note that other physical events--the precise balance between nuclear, electrical, and gravitational forces; the homogeneity of the universe--also seem eerily conducive to human life. Coincidence or design? These orthodox scientists plump for the former, positing a vast number of universes, one of which--our own--just by chance gave birth to us all. The aforementioned conclusion is the book's Achilles' heel--neither Gribbin nor Rees is an accomplished philosopher, and in constructing their views on human life, they lean heavily on the most recent (and quite possibly evanescent) theories. When they're writing about what they know, however, they can knock your socks off. A heady introduction to a complex subject.