Short works

Books : reviews

Paul C. W. Davies.
Space and Time in the Modern Universe.

Paul C. W. Davies.
Stardoom (== The Runaway Universe) .

Paul C. W. Davies.
Other Worlds.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Edge of Infinity.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Accidental Universe.

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Cosmic Blueprint.
Unwin. 1987

(read but not reviewed)

p131. The case of Saturn's rings illustrates a general phenomenon. Complex physical systems have a tendency to discover states with a high degree of organization and cooperative activity which are remarkably stable. The study of thermodynamics might lead one to expect that a system such as Saturn's rings, that contains a vast number of interacting particles, would rapidly descend into chaos, destroying all large-scale structure. Instead, complex patterns manage to remain stable over much longer time scales than those of typical disruptive processes. It is impossible to ponder the existence of these rings without words such as 'regulation' and 'control' coming to mind.

Paul C. W. Davies, Julian R. Brown, eds.
Superstrings: a Theory of Everything?.
CUP. 1988


John Schwarz. Superstrings, chapter 2. 1988
Edward Witten. Superstrings, chapter 3. 1988
Michael B. Green. Superstrings, chapter 4. 1988
David Gross. Superstrings, chapter 5. 1988
John Ellis. Superstrings, chapter 6. 1988
Abdus Salam. Superstrings, chapter 7. 1988
Sheldon Glashow. Superstrings, chapter 8. 1988
Richard P. Feynman. Superstrings, chapter 9. 1988
Steven Weinberg. Superstrings, chapter 10. 1988

Paul C. W. Davies.
The Last Three Minutes.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1994

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 May 2000

When people think about immortality, they tend to fall into two main groups: those who think about living for a few hundred years, worrying they might get bored; and those who are planning what to do when the last proton decays. In this slim book we discover how even the latter group are being a bit short sighted.

Davies gives us a whistle-stop tour of stellar evolution, the Big Bang (including the inflationary model, where the very early universe is in a excited vacuum state, whose enormous pressure causes a rapid increase in size, followed by collapse to the current true vacuum), black holes, and the difference between second law of thermodynamics entropy and organisational complexity, before getting on to the meat of the book: the End of the Universe. Well, several possible ends, actually, all extrapolations form currently known physics.

If the universe is open, it will go on expanding for ever, getting colder and more diffuse -- Freeman Dyson has shown that life can go on forever, albeit at a slower and slower rate, and moreover needs only a finite, and amazingly modest, amount of energy to do so. On the other hand, if the universe is closed, it will ultimately stop expanding, and contract back to nothing, ending in a Big Crunch. Frank Tipler has shown, surprisingly, that life can also go on "forever" (that is, have infinite subjective experience) in such a universe, by running ever faster as the Big Crunch comes. Davies is a little more skeptical about this extrapolation -- because we know that we don't know the physics at the Crunch.

In either case, even if life doesn't manage to arrange infinite subjective experience, it can certainly last a long time -- for Dyson creatures proton decay will be but a dim and distant memory. Ironically, the inflationary model predicts the universe is very nearly flat, delicately poised between a future of infinite expansion or the Big Crunch -- and that we may have to wait an arbitrarily long time before we find out which.

Davies also touches on some other, more exotic theories: a catastrophic transition to the real vacuum ground state from our current (maybe) false vacuum, and the corresponding "baby universe" models; a cyclic universe model, and why each cycle gets longer; Linde's multiple inflationary bubble model; even the old Steady State model.

In fiction Charles Sheffield gives a good feel for the sheer scale of the universe, and length of time to the big Crunch, in his novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow; Greg Egan has a wonderful description of falling into a black hole in his short story "The Planck Dive"; here we have the fascinating physics behind that kind of fiction.

Overall, Davies paints an optimistic picture of the potentially infinite future, partly in an attempt to counterbalance past authors, from Bertrand Russell to Steven Weinberg, who have been daunted by a vision of a cold, empty, ultimately pointless universe. Davies sees the possibility of a cooling universe, but still full of life and increasing complexity. He does stumble slightly in his last paragraphs, where he asks "Can there be true purpose in a project that is never completed?", and appears to answer this with no. But I think this shows a confusion between an achievable finite goal, and an ongoing infinite purpose. Such a purpose could be that of developing ever increasing complexity, and ever increasing kinds of complexity, ever "onwards and upwards". Chemistry emerges from physics, biology from chemistry, and intelligence from biology. Why think the process stops there? It can be like a class of fractal landscapes with its series of higher and grander peaks, yet with no final summit.

John D. Barrow, Paul C. W. Davies, Charles L. Harper Jr, eds.
Science and Ultimate Reality: quantum theory, cosmology and complexity.
CUP. 2004

This volume provides a fascinating preview of the future of physics, covering fundamental physics at the frontiers of research. It comprises a wide variety of contributions from leading thinkers in the field, inspired by the pioneering work of John A. Wheeler. Quantum theory represents a unifying theme within the book, along with topics such as the nature of physical reality, the arrow of time, models of the Universe, superstrings, gravitational radiation, quantum gravity and cosmic inflation. Attempts to formulate a final unified theory of physics are discussed, along with the existence of hidden dimensions of space, space-time singularities, hidden cosmic matter, and the strange world of quantum technology.


Paul C. W. Davies. John Archibald Wheeler and the clash of ideas. 2004
Jaroslav Pelikan. The heritage of Heraclitus: John Archibald Wheeler and the itch to speculate. 2004
Lucien Hardy. Why is nature described by quantum theory?. 2004
Freeman J. Dyson. Thought-experiments in honor of John Archibald Wheeler. 2004
David Deutsch. It from qubit. 2004
H. Dieter Zeh. The wave function: it or bit?. 2004
Wojciech H. Zurek. Quantum Darwinism and envariance. 2004
Juan Pablo Paz. Using qubits to learn about "it". 2004
Juan M. Maldacena. Quantum gravity as an ordinary guage theory. 2004
Bryce S. DeWitt. The Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. 2004
Anton Zeilinger. Why the quantum? "It" from "bit"? a Participatory universe? Three far-reaching challenges from John Archibald Wheeler and their relation to experiment. 2004
Aephraim M. Steinberg. Speakable and unspakable, past and future. 2004
Raymond Y. Chiao. Conceptual tensions between quantum mechanics and general relativity: are there experimental consequences?. 2004
Serge Haroche. Breeding nonlocal Schrodinger cats: a thought-experiment to explore the quantum-classical boundary. 2004
Paul G. Kwiat, Berthold-Georg Englert. Quanum erasing the nature of reality: or, perhaps, the reality of nature?. 2004
Hideo Mabuchi. Quantum feedback and the quantum-classical transition. 2004
Christopher R. Monroe. What quantum computers may tell us about quantum mechanics. 2004
Andreas Albrecht. Cosmic inflation and the arrow of time. 2004
John D. Barrow. Cosmology and immutability. 2004
Andrei Linde. Inflation, quatum cosmology, and the anthropic principle. 2004
Max Tegmark. Parallel universes. 2004
Lee Smolin. Quantum theories of gravity: results and prospects. 2004
Joao Magueijo. A genuinely evolving universe. 2004
Fotini Markopoulou. Planck-scale models of the universe. 2004
Lisa Randall. Implications of additional spatial dimensions for questions in cosmology. 2004
Philip D. Clayton. Emergence: us from it. 2004
George F. R. Ellis. True complexity and its associated ontology. 2004
Marcelo Gleiser. The three origins: cosmos, life, and mind. 2004
Stuart A. Kauffman. Autonomous agents. 2004
Shou-Cheng Zhang. To see a world in a grain of sand. 2004

Philip D. Clayton, Paul C. W. Davies.
The Re-Emergence of Emergence: the emergentist hypothesis from science to religiou.
OUP. 2006

The power of science lies in the connection of events into lawlike patterns. Many today concede that the reductionist philosophy once dominant in scientific theory has proved inadequate, and significant new work is now being done to formulate its successor. Among the alternatives, the concept of emergence is receiving perhaps the most intense attention and interest.

This collection of essays offers the first systematic presentation of what emergence means across the natural and social sciences and in the sphere of religion. Experts lay out the distinctive features of emergence in their respective fields—in quantum physics and astronomy, in cell biology and primatology. Building on this background, leading philosophers of mind then debate the perplexing question of whether, and if so how, consciousness emerges from the functioning of the brain. Again drawing on the results of earlier chapters, theologians and philosophers of religion speculate on how the sphere of religion might be reconceived in light of the emergentist paradigm. Are there significant parallels between instances of emergent complexity in different sorts of natural systems? Is it acceptable to speak of new, emergent forms of casuality? Does emergence further complicate the relation between science and religion, or does it hold a key to overcoming some of the deep tensions between them that have characterized the modern age?

The Re-Emergence of Emergence contains the work both of leading proponents of emergence theory as well as of its most outspoken critics. It provides the clearest presentation yet of this exciting new theory of science—and of its potential pitfalls. It is both an invaluable introduction to the field and a contribution to the ongoing scholarly debate.

Paul C. W. Davies, Niels Henrik Gregersen.
Information and the Nature of Reality: from physics to metaphysics.
CUP. 2010

Many scientists regard mass and energy as the primary currency of nature. In recent years, however, the concept of information has gained importance.

In this book, eminent scientists, philosophers, and theologians chart various aspects of information, from quantum, information to biological and digital information, in order to understand how nature works. Beginning with a historical treatment of the topic, the book also examines physical and biological approaches to information, and the philosophical, theological, and ethical implications.

Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies, George F. R. Ellis, eds.
From Matter to Life: information and causality.
CUP. 2017

Recent advances suggest that the concept of information might hold the key to unravelling the mystery of life's nature and origin. Fresh insights from a broad and authoritative range of articulate and respected experts focus on the transition from matter to life, and hence reconcile the deep conceptual schism between the way we describe physical and biological systems. A unique cross-disciplinary perspective, drawing on expertise from philosophy, biology, chemistry, physics, and cognitive and social sciences, provides a new way to look at the deepest questions of our existence. This book addresses the role of information in life and how it can make a difference to what we know about the world. Students, researchers, and all those interested in what life is and how it began will gain insights into the nature of life and its origins that touch on nearly every domain of science.


Introduction to "Matter and Life". 2017
Sara Imari Walker, Paul C. W. Davies. The “Hard Problem” of Life. 2017
Chiara Marletto. Beyond Initial Conditions and Laws of Motion: Constructor Theory of Information and Life. 2017
Anne-Marie Grisogono. (How) Did Information Emerge?. 2017
Jillian E. Smith-Carpenter, Sha Li, Jay T. Goodwin, Anil K. Mehta, David G. Lynn. On the Emerging Codes for Chemical Evolution. 2017
Denis Noble. Digital and Analogue Information in Organisms. 2017
Christoph Adami, Thomas Labar. From Entropy to Information: Biased Typewriters and the Origin of Life. 2017
David C. Krakauer. Cryptographic Nature. 2017
Steven Weinstein, Theodore P. Pavlic. Noise and Function. 2017
David H. Wolpert, Eric Libby, Joshua A. Grochow, Simon Dedeo. The Many Faces of State Space Compression. 2017
Hector Zenil, Angelika Schmidt, Jesper Tegnér. Causality, Information, and Biological Computation: An Algorithmic Software Approach to Life, Disease, and the Immune System. 2017
Jessica Flack. Life's Information Hierarchy. 2017
Keith D. Farnsworth, George F. R. Ellis, Luc Jaeger. Living through Downward Causation: From Molecules to Ecosystems. 2017
Larissa Albantakis, Giulio Tononi. Automata and Animats: From Dynamics to Cause–Effect Structures. 2017
Karola Stotz, Paul E. Griffiths. Biological Information, Causality, and Specificity: An Intimate Relationship. 2017
Simon Dedeo. Major Transitions in Political Order. 2017
Michael Wibral, Joseph Lizier, Viola Priesemann. Bits from Brains: Analyzing Distributed Computation in Neural Systems. 2017
G. Andrew D. Briggs, Dawid Potgieter. Machine Learning and the Questions It Raises. 2017