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Science Books

April 5, 2007

Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life
Paul Davies (2007)
ISBN: 0618592261

Like a well-tailored Italian suit, our region of the universe is a perfect fit for life. It's an observation that inevitably sparks a raft of controversial questions - such as: "was the universe designed by an intelligent creator?" - that sends many "serious" scientists into a fit of rage or disillusionment. Not one to be put off by the views of the great majority of his scientific peers, physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies, winner of the 1995 Templeton Prize and chair of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence post-detection committee, sets out to explore the reasons why the universe appears to be designed for life. There are a number of theories about the nature of the universe currently being bandied about; with some of them even suggesting that multiple universes exist. While Davies fleshes out these theories in lay terms admirably, he presents his own, even more bizarre theory for our life-propagating universe. Interestingly, Davies suggests that it is not the universe that created the conditions necessary for life, but that life and consciousness are in part responsible for the configuration of the universe. While Davies admits that his anthropic musing on a universal consciousness, or "life principle," is more a feeling than hard science, can we really ignore the meditations of such a preeminent scientist?

The Motion Paradox: The 2,500-Year Old Puzzle Behind All the Mysteries of Time and Space
Joseph Mazur (2007)
ISBN: 0525949925

While the world's greatest minds have been stumped by Zeno's claim that motion is a logical impossibility, most people probably think the idea absurd. Nonetheless, Zeno's paradox - which, if solved, possibly holds the key to understanding the mysteries of time and space - is still as relevant and vexing today as it was during Aristotle's time. Now, mathematician Joseph Mazur, recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and professor of mathematics at Marlboro College, delves into the history and philosophy of Zeno's paradox, and why it has managed to withstand numerous challenges unbeaten. The puzzle presented by the Greek philosopher Zeno is, like many truly perplexing problems, relatively simple to understand, but notoriously difficult to resolve. The puzzle is best known as the race between Achilles and a tortoise, with the latter having a head start. According to Zeno, Achilles can never win against the tortoise, as he would first have to cover half the distance between himself and the tortoise, and half that distance again, ad infinitum. Basically, Achilles never makes it off the starter's block. Though Zeno's paradox is well known, Mazur's dazzling prose and lucid explanations on how the paradox is enmeshed in current mathematical modeling of motion make The Motion Paradox a great read.

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