A Short History of Nearly Everything (book by Bryson)
Happy new year 2023 to you! This is my first newsletter of this new year. I have been doing some reading and picked up this inspiring and fascinating book "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bryson. Here's a small extract to get you inspired and charged to start thinking and go on to read the book:
"Most of what we know, or believe we know, about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called inflation theory first propounded in 1979 by a junior particle physicist then at Stanford, now at MIT, named Alan Guth.
According to Guth’s theory, at one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, (after the big bang) gravity emerged. After another ludicrously brief interval it was joined by electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – the stuff of physics. These were joined an instant later by shoals of elementary particles – the stuff of stuff. From nothing at all, suddenly there were swarms of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons and much else – between 1079 and 1089 of each, according to the standard Big Bang theory.
What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently – if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly – then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent without precisely the right values to give it the necessary dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void. This is one reason why some experts believe that there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one that we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: ‘In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.’ To which adds Guth: ‘Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts.’
Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in the way that allows us to exist. He makes an analogy with a very large clothing store: ‘If there is a large stock of clothing, you’re not surprised to find a suit that fits. If there are many universes, each governed by a differing set of numbers, there will be one where there is a particular set of numbers suitable to life. We are in that one.’ Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner – specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly – from 0.07 per cent to 0.06 per cent, say – and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly – to 0.08 per cent – and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here. I should say that everything is just right so far. In the long term, gravity may turn out to be a little too strong; one day it may halt the expansion of the universe and bring it collapsing in upon itself, until it crushes itself down into another singularity, possibly dead."
That’s all in this newsletter; more next week.
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