Customer Reviews


7 Reviews
5 star:
 (4)
4 star:
 (2)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reassuring humility from leading scientist
Harrison is a veteran scientific cosmologist. Now in his eighties, he offers his own personal perspective on the subject after many decades in the field. Much as John Wheeler (the great Princeton physicist now well over 90) was forced to look back on his subject after a recent heart attack, Harrison also takes a broader perspective on the subject.

For...
Published on November 22, 2006 by Greg

versus
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Book category of "its impossible to know."
"The Universe is everything. What it is, in its own right, independent of our changing opinions, we never fully know." page 1.
That is where this book starts.

It ends near page 303 with the quote:
"Belief in an unknown and unknowable God, or Universe, or UniGod, counsels humility and hope, not arrogance and despair."
This is not a science book,...
Published 10 months ago by bowonwing


Most Helpful First | Newest First

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reassuring humility from leading scientist, November 22, 2006
By 
Greg (Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos (Hardcover)
Harrison is a veteran scientific cosmologist. Now in his eighties, he offers his own personal perspective on the subject after many decades in the field. Much as John Wheeler (the great Princeton physicist now well over 90) was forced to look back on his subject after a recent heart attack, Harrison also takes a broader perspective on the subject.

For Harrison, cosmology is not just a scientific enterprise. Of course scientific cosmologists do scientific cosmology, and it is perfectly legitimate to do so. However in Harrison's view, there is the Universe and the universe. The Universe is what the philosopher might call 'Reality' beneath appearances, or the mystic or theologian would call God or the Absolute. Harrison divides the Universe into the universes which each person's worldview creates, whether they are scientists, poets, philosophers, theologians, or just ordinary people. Harrison's view is somewhat Kantian and he regards the Universe in itself as unknowable. He offers several interesting arguments to support this, including quotes from the writer of the mystical tract 'The Cloud of Unknowing.'

Harrison concludes that many scientific schemas have come and gone over the ages which purport to supply the 'grand theory' which will explain everything. He looks at the way some systems are adopted and others rejected and in a somewhat Kuhnian vein, adopts a position from Nicholas of Cusa he calls learned ignorance. This is an essentially humble approach to the universe, the belief that what we know is only the tiniest tip on an unfathomable iceberg of the unknown. There is no final theory and there never will be one, as the cosmos and its riches are infinite and will always be probed at ever new levels, so long as the human race lives.

This metaphysical argument is very interesting and has also been posed in other forms by physicists such as Paul Davies and mathematicians such as Roger Penrose (though applied to mathematical realities rather than the physical). The humility is somewhat refreshing in the face of the hubris which occurs in some scientists, who seem to look at all culture outside of science as deeply inferior to the way science contemplates the universe. While such an argument might be wrong (one day we may come up with a final theory) it is interesting to consider.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Humility, December 13, 2003
By 
John Smeltzer (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos (Hardcover)
I feel contempt for the hubris that often accompanies a comparison of scientific and pre-scientific (i.e. religious) world views. There is no reason for contempt with Edward Harrison's awesome humility. The distinction Harrison makes between a conceptual model of the Universe (which is designated by the initial lower case `u') and the actual Universe itself (capital `U'), proves to be very practical. By explicitly preserving the mystery of the Universe, a new perspective on the old conundrums of free-will and determinism as well as consciousness and brains is gained. Because he looks at our underlying assumptions, the book has a philosophical character to it.
The majority of the book is divided into three sections, each with six chapters. The first section deals with the various world-views in chronological order, not a history of the Universe, but a history of universes. The second section deals with the contemporary scientific view. I don't have much alacrity for science writing - popular or otherwise - but this was an exceptional case. He covered many things I have only a vague idea about such as quantum theory, special and general theories of relativity, the anthropic principle etc. It was the final section that I was most excited about. Harrison deals with some problems that have vexed me for quite some time. I especially like his commentary on the brain and Ultima Sentiens. I would recommend this book over the Huston Smith's Why Religion Matters on matters of religion and science. He deals with agnosticism wonderfully, and he makes it explicit that his thinking about God is not pantheism. He doesn't use the word himself, but I think the word "panentheism" is a closer match to what Harrison suggests.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in world-views and issues between science and religion.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Universe Behind the Masks, March 28, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Masks of the Universe (Paperback)
University of Massachusetts Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Edward R Harrison, takes the lay reader on a thought-provoking and learned journey through the epochs of humanity, and our attempt to unravel the workings and the meaning of the many universes which we have created in our image. Writing in beautiful prose, Professor Harrison reawakens us to the lives,the words and the views of the thinkers, sages and mystics of all-times. The everchanging character of the Universe as it is pictured in time, bounded by the confines of our religious and scientific prejudices, is rendered here like fine brushstrokes upon a canvas. In the finely crafted "Masks of the Universe," Science meets History and Religion. In the Professor's words: "All who claim freedom of will and deny the determinism of the universe in which they live are guilty of the Pelagian heresy. I am myself a Pelagian heretic."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful review of the history of cosmological thought., March 14, 2013
By 
John D. Axe (Lecanto, FL United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos (Hardcover)
Takes you through the history of human thought about the cosmos. The writing is clear, delightful, and full of insights.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars The universes we make from the Universe that made us, April 1, 2013
Once in a rare while you find a book that might have been written specifically for you, addressing your most pressing concerns & questions at the deepest level. Edward Harrison has done exactly that for me in this astonishing examination of the Universe (all that was, is & ever will be) & the many universes humanity has constructed in order to define & grasp that ultimately unknowable Universe. This is philosophy as much as it is cosmology, as Harrison explores the various models of existence that we've created for ourselves over the centuries, quite sure that THIS time we've got it right ... until the next model takes its place. In the end, he argues, there is no direct & immediate understanding of the Universe -- only the models we constantly build as imperfect approximations of it, tailored to suit our current needs & outlooks.

This would be heavy going from many writers, but Harrison has the gift of elucidating the most complex material with warmth, wit, humanity, and above all the humility cited by previous reviewers. In so doing, he makes us reconsider all that we take for granted as "reality" & realize just how much of it is a human construct, an agreed-upon fiction that enables us to make some small sense of this endlessly vast Universe & permits us to live within it.

Inevitably this leads to both metaphysical & existential questions. Harrison explores these as well, not so much offering answers as encouraging us to think more deeply about those questions ourselves. It's an experience both unsettling & liberating, as we're forced to see ourselves from a perspective far removed from the tight, narrow, often petty focus of everyday life in one transient civilization among many, past & present. How insignificant we are on the cosmic scale, after all! And yet how wondrous that we can not only think of such questions, but wrestle with them.

Most highly recommended!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Book category of "its impossible to know.", October 12, 2013
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos (Hardcover)
"The Universe is everything. What it is, in its own right, independent of our changing opinions, we never fully know." page 1.
That is where this book starts.

It ends near page 303 with the quote:
"Belief in an unknown and unknowable God, or Universe, or UniGod, counsels humility and hope, not arrogance and despair."
This is not a science book, but an exposition of Mr. Harrison's religious beliefs: and the his assumption that the Universe is "unknowable."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do no over look cases of gods, God, universes, & Universe, September 3, 2001
By 
Joel Brown (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Masks of the Universe (Paperback)
This book touches on the subject of many different universes. Now, when you hear this you might automatically think I'm talking about the Hugh Everett's many-worlds-interpretation of quantum mechanics. Whereas the infinite universes of that idea are taken to be the objective universes of a Universe (the multiverse), Edward Harrison is talking about the universes taken to be the subjective universes (of our creating) of The Universe. (ultimate objective reality, perhaps even the multiverse)
He does not have any comforting truths about the Universe found here. He aims to show us that we strive to reach such absolutes from a cloud of unknowing and instead create our own limited models of The Universe--universes. The first chunk of his work is devoted to tracing the history of such universes. These cosmologies are as such: The Magic Universe, The Mythic Universe, The Geometric Universe, The Medieval Universe, The Infinite Universe, and The Mechanistic Universe. Thus this concatenation is also deeply intertwined with our religions and spiritual evolution. Also, it is blatant that with each new picture of reality the universe becomes more mechanistic, less alive, and always contains some "mythology" of the previous one.
[pp.40 "a myth is any component taken from the world-view of another society that fails to fit naturally into our own."
pp.117 "At last we come to the twentieth century. Adrift like shipwrecked mariners, in a vast and meaningless mechanistic universe, we are found clingin for life to the cosmic wreckage of ancient universes."]
The middle fraction of his book introduces some of the ideas of modern physics from the quantum dance of subatomic particles, to a treatise on general relativity and understanding the curvature of space time as the gravity of the outdated Newtonian universe. It then proceeds to expose a less rational universe that was left out of the pantheon of the original chapters--The Witch Universe. With this perspective of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance he ties into the question of what is valid science by using Popper's philosophy of falsifiable facts.
This all leads into his final message about The Universe, the Absolute Reality. We aim to know it by creating universes, but that The Universe remains unknowable. He thinks exactly the same of God. We aim to know "him" by creating gods, but God remains truly unknowable. He offers valuable scientific insight against these gods of classical theism and divine intervention or special creation, but claims that the true "God" is still beyond doubt since both God and The Universe are the same inconceivable Ultimate Reality. ( since The Universe no doubt is real, and he equates that reality with God, thus creating a simple theosyllogism ) But then shouldn't "gods" and "universes" be pictures of the same thing? They clearly aren't. (yet he says they can be equated, if we wish to, on pp.267) YHWH doesn't equal quantum mechanics. Though he has acknowledged that gods and universes are confused with absolute truth, my point is that this means little when you have changed the definition of God so much from external anthromopomorhized beings to the sum of all that is--or--The Universe. (I suppose you could equally change the definition of Satan to The Universe and say that Satan no doubt exists.) Though I understand his idea and the reasons why it is embraced ( I used to profess the same thing ), I have realized that it is too much of a misnomer for me to still say that, "I believe there exists a God." Not that it is quite illogical or absurd, but only that I think it is pointless to say that anyone who believes in the universe before them believes in the "existence" of God. (So was Carl Sagan unknowingly a theist?) It is pointless in the paradigm of classical theism, something which is irrational and even absurd. I do not think this idea should be used until you can change the people's view to this paradigm of Absolute Reality (which is in itself a "universe") since in the meantime God is taken in the widespread context of classical theism. Why perpetuate theistic thinking at all when all you have really done is taken the word "God" away from the essence of theism and applied it to a new definition of something we already have a name for--The Universe. ?
This was a highly enjoyed and appreciable book that I would not refuse to recommend (though I don't make it incumbent on the reader) yet in the end he makes the flaw of constructing his own universe of "The Universe". He even said himself "I hold that it is impossible to find proof of the existence of God within the framework of a particular universe, for all universes are the handiwork of human beings."---pp.263
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos
Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos by Edward Robert Harrison (Hardcover - June 2, 2003)
$64.00 $59.14
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.