Chapter One Before the Beginning 'What happens first is not necessarily the beginning.' Henning Mankell SAMELINESS 'There is nothing that God hath established in a constant cause of nature, and which therefore is done everyday, but would seem a miracle, and exercise our admiration, if it were done but once.
' John Donne Change is a challenge. We live in the fastest moving period of human history. The world around us is driven by forces that make our lives increasingly sensitive to small changes and sudden responses. The elaboration of the Internet and the tentacles of the Worldwide Web have put us in instantaneous contact with computers and their owners all round the world. The threats from unchecked industrial progress have brought about ecological damage and environmental change that appears to be happening faster than even the gloomiest prophets of doom had predicted. Children seem to grow up faster. Political systems realign in new and unexpected ways more quickly and more often than ever before. Even human beings and the information they embody are facing editorial intervention by more ambitious spare-part surgery or the re-programming of parts of our genetic code. Most forms of progress are accelerating and more and more parts of our experience have become entwined in the surge to explore all that is possible. In the world of scientific exploration the recognition of the impact of change is not so new. By the end of the nineteenth century it had been appreciated that once upon a time the Earth and our solar system had not existed; that the human species must have changed in appearance and average mental capability over huge spans of time; and that in some broad and general way the Universe should be winding down, becoming a less hospitable and ordered place. During the twentieth century we have fleshed out this skeletal picture of a changing Universe. The climate and topography of our planet is continually changing and so are the species that live upon it. Most dramatically of all, we have discovered that the entire universe of stars and galaxies is in a state of dynamic change, with great clusters of galaxies flying away from one another into a future that will be very different from the present. We have begun to appreciate that we are living on borrowed time. Cataclysmic astronomical events are common; worlds collide. Planet Earth has been hit in the past by comets and asteroids. One day its luck will run out, the shield provided so fortuitously by the vast planet Jupiter, guarding the outer reaches of our solar system, will not be able to save us. Eventually, even our Sun will die. Our Milky Way galaxy will be drawn into a vast black hole deep in its centre. Life like our own will end. Survivors will need to have changed their form, their homes and their nature to such an extent that we would be challenged to call their continued existence 'living' by our own standards today. We have recognised the simple secrets of chaos and unpredictability which beset so many parts of the world around us. We under-stand our changing weather but we cannot predict it. We have appreciated the similarities between complexities like this and those that emerge from systems of human interaction - societies, economies, choices, ecosystems - and from within the human mind itself. All these perplexing complexities rush along and seek to convince us that the world is like a runaway roller-coaster, rocking and rolling; that everything we once held to be true might one day be overthrown. Some even see such a prospect as a reason to be suspicious of science 3 as a corrosive effect upon the foundations of human nature and certainty, as though the construction of the physical Universe and the vast schema of its laws should have been set up with our psychological fragility in mind. But there is a sense in which all this change and unpredictability is an illusioA major contribution to our understanding of the basic laws of the universe -- from the author ofThe Book of Nothing. The constants of nature are the fundamental laws of physics that apply throughout the universe: gravity, velocity of light, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. They encode the deepest secrets of the universe, and express at once our greatest knowledge and our greatest ignorance about the cosmos. Their existence has taught us the profound truth that nature abounds with unseen regularities. Yet while we have become skilled at measuring the values of these constants, our frustrating inability to explain or predict their values shows how much we have still to learn about inner workings of the universe. What is the ultimate status of these constants of nature? Are they truly constant? And are there other universes where they are different? John D. Barrow, one of our foremost mathematicians and cosmologists, discusses the latest thinking about these and many more dramatic issues in this accessible and thought-provoking book. From the Hardcover edition."Fascinating.... The major strength of the book lies in the diversity of topics discussed." --Nature
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