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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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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: 1 x 5.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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

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The one thing that the author does seem to be sure of, is the truth of the Big Bang Theory.
Richard E. Noble
The breadth of his knowledge, as well as his enthusiasm for his subject, make A TEAR AT THE EDGE OF CREATION engaging, understandable, and thought-provoking.
NYH
Copernicus' great achievement was still characterized by his desire to fit things into aesthetic harmony (i.e. perfect circles for orbits).
DCCHEF

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 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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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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By DCCHEF on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marcelo Gleiser is a physicist who has begun to wax reflective about the methods and limits of science. His main message is that the idea of a final theory, or "theory of everything" (TOE), is misguided and counterproductive. A TOE is a simple powerful theory underlying the complexity of the universe, marked by elegant symmetries and beautiful equations. He says this is an unattainable holy grail: in fact this sort of search for "oneness" displays an unattractive parallel with religious ideas.

After a bit of autobiography, Gleiser starts by tracing the history of the final theory concept. The idea of finding the perfect truth or "oneness" standing behind nature was part of Greek thought, and the Pythagoreans elevated mathematical beauty to religious heights.

A couple of brief chapters on Copernicus and especially Kepler are highlights of the book. Copernicus' great achievement was still characterized by his desire to fit things into aesthetic harmony (i.e. perfect circles for orbits). Kepler had his vision of the five platonic solids nested in spheres guiding his solar system model. He, of course, made great strides despite this misguided fantasy. The reader quickly sees the paradoxical aspect of this: thinkers throughout history have been inspired to make valuable advances via this "misguided" pursuit of elegance and perfection which themselves remained out of reach.

Gleiser spends several chapters tracing the numerous *asymmetries* in Nature which are actually behind the rich phenomena we observe. In addition to examples of cosmic and subatomic asymmetries, he discusses at some length the chiral asymmetry of organic molecules needed for life He is critical of recent TOE efforts such as string theory and the supersymmetry extension of the standard model.
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Format: Hardcover
Marcelo Gleiser's new book A TEAR AT THE EDGE OF CREATION asks an important question; why do we believe that there is a single unifying force or theory that can tie together everything we know about the universe? The more important question he asks is why we are afraid of the concept of an imperfect universe where we can't neatly explain everything? Using his own life (he lost his mother as a child)and the lifes of others who were looking for much the same thing (and how it helped them make major discovers in physics) as an example of the need to believe in purpose and the underlying "oneness" of everything, TEAR is as much a personal journey of one man looking for order in chaos because of the chaos of his life. Ultimately, though Gleiser comes to a startling conclusion--everything we know emerges out of imperfection and chaos. Asymmetries and imperfections are the REASON we are here and that WE can can find our own sense of purpose as amazing creatures that can try and understand the complexity and disorder of our universe.

Well written and engaging TEAR makes a quantum leap turning over centuries of movement towards imposing our view of order over chaos and often coming up with creative, sometimes absurd theories to keep our view of a well balanced explainable universe around us. It's a challenging notion and while Gleiser isn't the first physicist to propose such a view, he's probably one of the most important to embrace it and look into the implications with intelligence as to how it could effect our view of the universe but, ultimately, ourselves.
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