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A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe Hardcover – April 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For most of his career, physicist Gleiser (The Dancing Universe) was a "true believer in unification," seeing in string theory a "more profound description of Nature" with "a higher level of mathematical symmetry." He now rejects the search for a perfect theory as an improvable article of belief akin to monotheism. Explaining his turnaround, Gleiser points to the game-changing 1998 discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, indicating that 96 percent of the "stuff of the cosmos" is undetectable "dark matter" or "dark energy." Even the 4 percent of matter contained in the known universe reveals anomalous behavior, like the predominance of matter over anti-matter, and the asymmetry of "left-handed" neutrinos. Gleiser argues that life, and perhaps even matter, could not have developed in a symmetrical universe: "Behind every imperfection there is a mechanism for generating structure and complex behavior." The conclusions Gleiser draws from his reconfiguration include the idea that time has a beginning and that "human understanding of the world is forever a work in progress"; though Gleiser has a remarkable gift for elucidating complex scientific concepts (without mathematics), this is not a volume for novices.
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Review

"Peppered with personal anecdotes and wisdom from one of the science’s most eloquent statesmen, this sweeping exploration of the imperfections at the heart of existence culminates in a hopeful message for humanity’s self-fulfilling purpose in an otherwise meaningless universe."--SEED

“Marcelo Gleiser is our lucid guide to where beauty is to be found in an imperfect, unsymmetrical, accidental universe. In a masterful and brave argument he shows how grand unification, long a dream of science, will never come. For it is just a projection of our almost desperate longing for simplicity onto life’s complex, chanced, rich reality.”
—Roald Hoffman, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus at Cornell University, Nobel Laureate

“It's always made sense to me to live as if this planet was in fact unique—and in any event precious. This fascinating account reminds us of one key reason why we need to take really seriously the environmental predicament into which we've stumbled: we may be playing for all the marbles.”
—Bill McKibben author Earth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet

“A scientist’s deeply personal plea to accept and cherish the universe as it is—with all its rich and creative imperfections—rather than seek in vain some sterile notion of simplistic ‘oneness.’ Urging humility above all before the fantastic complexity of our universe, Gleiser reminds us that neither the universe nor life needs a ‘reason’ in order to be meaningful. Only by embracing the fragility and unlikeliness of our existence can we create a new morality aimed at fighting not each other, but together as a species, for the continued existence of what is probably the only life in the universe capable of fully appreciating all that surrounds us.”
—K.C. Cole, author of Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens

“Cherish this book. With powerful clarity Gleiser argues that there is a profound link in Western science between monotheism and the scientific search for a Theory of Everything. He argues persuasively that we must give up this dream. This may augur a profound transformation in our understanding of the world.”
—STUART KAUFFMAN, FELLOW OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY, CANADA, AUTHOR OF REINVENTING THE SACRED

“With compelling lucidity and in an engagingly personal voice, Gleiser sets out to smash my most ardently held intuitions about the deep structure of the universe. All the more wonder then that I found his book as illuminating as it is provocative, and from start to last a pure joy to read.”
—REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN, AUTHOR OF 36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD: A WORK OF FICTION

"Much of the march of science, from the ancient Greek atomists up through the Renaissance and into today, can be seen as a quest for explanations of nature’s mysteries that are, above all else, elegant and symmetrical. From such motivations sprang the Pythagorean music of the spheres, the Newtonian laws of motion, and modern searches for a grand unified theory of physics. But, according to Dartmouth astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser, the quest for elegance is ill-conceived and doomed to failure: The very things that make the cosmos interesting (and allow thinking creatures to evolve to contemplate it) are its multifarious asymmetries. Peppered with personal anecdotes and wisdom from one of the science’s most eloquent statesmen, this sweeping exploration of the imperfections at the heart of existence culminates in a hopeful message for humanity’s self-fulfilling purpose in an otherwise meaningless universe."--SEED
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439108323
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439108321
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcelo Gleiser is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is a world-renowned theoretical physicist, the author of over 100 scientific papers and four popular science books in English. (In his native Brazil--he proudly grew up by the shores of fabulous Copacabana beach--where he sometimes is compared to Carl Sagan, he has published 12 books, including a historical novel based on Johannes Kepler's life.) He is fascinated with questions of origins: of the universe, of matter, and of life-- the main topics of his research.

When he is not teaching, doing research, or writing, he loves exploring the still pristine streams of Vermont and New Hampshire with his fly rod in search of wild trout. No, he doesn't ever kill a fish, although sometimes the fish, or their pursuit, come close to killing him. He is also an avid trail runner and obstacle racer, especially Spartan races.

If you want to know more about Marcelo's activities please visit his official web page: www.marcelogleiser.com
and his blog on science and culture at National Public Radio, shared with four other colleagues: www.npr.org/blogs/13.7

You can also follow Marcelo on twitter: http://twitter.com/MGleiser

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marcelo-Gleiser/181684578568436

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Goska on January 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I received this interesting book as a gift. The person who gave it to me had an ulterior motive: she wanted me to explain it to her so that she could discuss it at embassy balls and other such social events. I thought I might as well pass along the result. It may give you a start if you find yourself in a similar situation.

"Our mind is the cosmic mind...we are how the universe thinks about itself...this is a life-transforming revelation, the substance of this book."

I appreciate it when an author tells me what the substance of his book is, saving me from having to guess and get it wrong. If you just wanted to know what the substance of this book is you can probably stop reading here. But we're only up to page six.

Disregard the sub-title, "A radical new vision for life in an imperfect universe." This sub-title is just Marcelo Gleiser's publisher trying to sell some books. Hey, business is business. I am sorry to disappoint anyone who actually is looking for a radical new vision for life in an imperfect universe. For that you might try LSD. For its greater part this book is a discussion of some ideas in science, sprinkled with philosophy.

The science in question is cosmology, although Dr. Gleiser also makes forays into biology and organic chemistry.

During working hours cosmologists ask "Where did the universe come from, and what is its nature?" Gleiser deals with these questions in an autobiographical fashion, recalling his changing states of mind from childhood up to the publication of this book. His various states of mind might be said to constitute the theme (not to be confused with the substance) of the book.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By From Elder on March 25, 2014
Format: Paperback
Hegel proposed a model for philosophical exploration. Two contrary ideas – thesis and antithesis – become subsumed within a larger concept, the synthesis, which eliminates the contradictions. In A Tear at the Edge of Creation, Marcelo Gleiser resolves the approaches of religion and science, often viewed as opposed, into a model we might call the Imperfect Universe, but which he would probably call the ‘Asymmetric Universe’.

Gleiser’s credentials are particularly impeccable. He is a physicist, one who early on believed in and sought after the Grand Unified Theory (GUT), which is a theory of all things that mankind has been seeking in one form or another since philosophy began. From the earliest Greeks onward, the attempt to reduce the diverse cornucopia of existence to some simplified model has obsessed humanity. In the 1990’s he began to doubt both the feasibility and the wisdom of the search. He is quick to point out that religion has been on a parallel track, but with a different breed of “explanations”, ones that do not rely on observations, experience or even nature. The supernatural explanation subsumes everything under a model that neither requests nor requires proof; belief becomes entirely a matter of faith and feeling. Though Gleiser appears not to be religious, he is honest enough to admit the similarity between the two methods, particularly at the cutting edge of modern physics, where very little predictive proof exists. Much of the modern string theory and the multi-dimensional-universe concepts are not only not testable, but probably never will be. Hence, he shows that while today’s cutting-edge physics is not a religion, it is based on a degree of faith.
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Fernanda S. Vieira on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book. I'm not surprised, since in my native
country, Brazil, Marcelo is a star, compared often to Carl Sagan. (He
was born and grew up there too.) In fact, the book has been in the
best-selling list for the past 5 weeks there. The book is amazing
because it's not like just about science. It's using science to make
us think about who we are, and even what is the meaning of being
human! The writing is very clear, even I could understand the physics,
and I'm not a specialist at all. Marcelo is a physicist with a soul,
someone that takes you on a long journey through centuries of
knowledge and convinces you that the way we and everyone else have
been thinking about science and the world is simply wrong! I love the
notion that beauty is not in what is perfect but in what is imperfect.
The book ends with a wonderful message, lifting humanity to the center
of the universe but not because we were created by God, but because we
are rare and precious. In a world full of wars and conflicts this book
is like a ray of sunlight, something to be celebrated.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Karen Saum on March 17, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderfully written, it is worth struggling through the hard parts to get some understanding of how we came to be and, for me at least, a sense of awe for the simple fact of our existence. Ironically, I read "A Tear..." at the same time as I was reading Dava Sobel's "The Daughter of Galileo." Galileo barely escaped death for suggesting the earth moved around the sun; a mere 400 years later we get Gleiser taking us back to the first second after the bang that started it all. Some parts of the book are a hard slog, but as Gleiser urges in the beginning, just keep going for it will get easier and it will be worth it.
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