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Australian ABC radio broadcaster Phillip Adams interviews Physicist Paul Davies. This is the second part of a two part interview; Big Questions and More Big Questions about the Universe. Since the year dot, humans have wondered about, and pondered upon, and come to strange conclusions concerning the Big Questions. In this series, Paul Davies and Phillip Adams examine the whys and wherefores of the cosmos; its beginning, its endings, and where - if at all - humans fit. This is by far the most interesting part of the book: Phillip: .. life forms may be as bountiful in the cosmos as they are on Earth. After all, in the observable universe there are 1020 — 100 billion billion — suns. Paul: That’s a lot, isn’t it, a big number. Unfortunately not so big that if life formed as a result of an accidental shuffling of molecules — that is, if life is a chemical fluke — then it would be bound to occur twice. Phillip: But what if you add to those 100 billion billion suns the number of possible planets? You are then dealing with an even greater number. Paul: It’s just another factor of ten or so. People are very bad at large number estimates. They think that a million is awfully big, and a billion just a bit bigger, and so on. Although 100 billion billion sounds like an enormous number, it is still absolutely tiny compared to the odds against forming life by random shuffling. It is undeniably true that the universe is vast: there are a huge number of stars and probably planets too. Nevertheless the odds against shuffling, say, amino acids into proteins, which we were talking about previously, are enormous — like one followed by 130 zeros as opposed to your puny number here of one followed by twenty zeros! A hundred billion billion doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the improbability of forming life, if it formed purely by accident. So if life is merely a chemical fluke, we are alone. The only possibility of us not being alone is if there is something other than just a random shuffling process involved. I can't stop wondering where this 1 over 10 to the power of 130 probability of forming the simplest protein comes from. If you project how many times experiments could have been repeated on a given mass (eg. Earth) and for how long (100's of millions of years?, billions of years?), on top of 10 to the power of 20 stars, then the odds may not be as low as he predicts. Paul Davies believes "Universe favours life". He doesn't say openly but his view implies ID (Intelligent Design). Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion wrote, "Paul Davies' The Mind of God seems to hover somewhere between Einsteinian pantheism and an obscure form of deism - for which he was rewarded with the Templeton Prize (a very large sum of money given annually by the Templeton Foundation, usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion).
This is a great collection of short stories. They vary in length, topic and tone, but all of them have an almost pungent insight into a character's experience of life. They are extremely relatable, and genuinely interesting. I had read "Hunters in the Snow" in high school, and had found it, along with a classic Wolff story not in this volume ("Bullet in the Brain") to be among the most memorable short stories I had ever read. It's still a chilling, bizarre story. Other stories take us all over North America, from Army recruits preparing for Viet Nam to prep school boys jockeying for social status, from old married couples to ossified professors. The story that took this from four to five stars though, just five minutes ago as I finished, was the last story, "The Liar". I say with no exaggeration that that story was worth the price of the entire book in humor, bizarre truth, and picayune beauty.