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The Artful Universe: The Cosmic Source of Human Creativity Paperback – September 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; F First Paperback Edition edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316082422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316082426
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,241,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


`... thought-provoking and illuminating... a wide-ranging and imaginative tour de force... provocative and compelling nonetheless.' New Statesman and Society, 24 November 1995

`thought-provoking and illuminating ... a wide-ranging and imaginative tour de force ... provocative and compelling nonetheless' New Statesman and Society, 24 November 1995

`provocative book ... This is a stimulating book on being human beings conceived as advanced and advancing children of the universe ... it's a genuinely educational experience. A Big Bang of a book.' Alan Bold, Glasgow Herald

... The Artful Universe is full of good things. s

`...he has a real knack for clearly explaining and synthesizing disparate areas of science, and the book is a marvellous assemblage of recent research on topics such as ancient astronomy, the unique features of Earth in our solar system, the origins of language acquisition, and the perception of colour and sound.' Choice

`Relating the complexity of biological species to the complexity of the universe is likely always to be daunting but this author does very well indeed without resorting to mysticism, common enough nowadays. Thus he managed to unearth a number of phenomena which are rarely adduced to support his thesis. The history of technology is somehow incorporated and the whole is cleverly contrived to demonstrate how aesthetics is grounded in science.' Aslib Book Guide, vol.61, no.10, October 1996 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

About the Author:
John D. Barrow is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sussex. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Pi in the Sky and Theories of Everything.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 8 customer reviews
As someone who teaches ecology, I would highly endorse it.
Leonard R. Bachman (lbachman@uh.edu)
In short, this is just the kind of speculative just-so story lacking either evidence or plausibility that has given evolutionary psychology such a bad name.
I took about 4 days to read the book, but maybe should have taken more time.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kristor J. Lawson on September 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Barrow, of course, is with Frank Tipler the author of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, which argues that the fundamental constants and initial conditions of the cosmos had to be more or less exactly as they are or life - thus our conscious, self-aware human life - could not have happened.
In The Artful Universe, Barrow explores in great and fascinating detail just exactly how the fine structure of the cosmos bears fruit in the structure of the human body, and in particular the structure of our ideas, preferences, values, aesthetic reactions, ways of thinking; our minds. The primary thrust of this wide-ranging survey is that animal minds and bodies subjected to natural selection are in big trouble if they embody propositions about the world, and therefore about the appropriate way to behave, that are in any important way essentially wrong. He argues that just as the structure of the eye constitutes evidence one way or the other for the correspondence to reality of our ideas about light, so the structure of, e.g., our mathematical faculties constitutes evidence for the mathematical structure of reality.
Barrow is terrifyingly erudite, and a clear, graceful writer. He manages to convey boatloads of highly technical concepts from numerous fields in crystalline arguments accessible to anyone with a basic scientific education. You will learn a ton from this book. You'll work for it - Barrow never condescends - but you will be well rewarded.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on July 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
John Barrow illuminates in this book the relationship between the sciences and the arts with a new perspective on our emergence in the Universe by means of natural selection.

As the philosopher Victor Zuckerkandl says (quoted in this book): 'Art does not aim at beauty. It uses beauty (or ugliness) to arrive ultimately at knowledge, at truth.' (as science)

Many natural adaptations have given rise to curious by-products, some of which have played a role in determining our aesthetic sense.

Although sometimes very tentative, this rich book sheds an insightful light on more or less hidden links, like

- the connection between the heavenly bodies and the pattern of life on earth (28 days)

- the importance of symmetry: living beings are symmetrical, which is rare for inanimate objects. Also, our evaluation of physical beauty focuses on symmetry.

- size as a key to survival, with the adage 'small is best'. 'The Almighty had an inordinate fondness of beetles.'

- the origin of painting: a natural outgrowth of the fallibility of human memory and the need to communicate. Also, the reason why we like savannah landscapes and not computer paintings because they seem unnatural.

- the Chomsky (innate patterns) / Piaget (blank slate) controversy on the origin of language

- the origin of literature: the craving for social cohesion and well-being met by oral history and stories in which the hearers appear in a leading role. More, 'The pen is mightier than the sword.'

- the origin of dance: a need for frenzied activity or heightened sensibilities in preparation for war, in celebration of fertility or birth or in mourning death. The rhythmic gyrations of primitive dance bind people together.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By k9lin@wenet.net on December 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The first half of the book was interesting and kept my interest enough to read every word and scrutinze every example. However, by midway, the author's points became labored and needlessly exhaustive.
I guess it took me about half the book to find out what his general points were going to be. To me the book made connections between the nature of the universe and all things (particularly humans) in it.
I really wanted to closely scrutinize the chapters on sound (I am a musician and scientist). Unfortunately, by that last third of the book, I was too fatigued by the writing style. I ended up reading a few paragraphs in each section and skimming the rest, knowing (or making a logical guess) about the rest of the material. The author's basic points had already been made.
Furthermore, I felt unsatisfied by the author's overall treatment of art (particularly music). I was hoping for something more "insightful." It seems somehow self evident that particular sights and sounds are "appealing" to us given our physiology, evolution and their relationship to the nature of the universe itself. These arguments seem like tautologies; We like what we like because we are who we are. In the end, this isn't very interesting. On the other hand I could plead guilty to expecting too much.
There is more to art and music than meets the direct senses. When you try to explain what is "more" about music, you lose the meaning. Maybe the lesson is to just play the music and let it speak for itself. If the author was trying to make this point (indirectly) it is now very well taken. It's better to explain the beauty of music with selections of Joco Pastorius...
Finally, I thought the book was in places too human centric.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
A book which explains how natural laws of the universe shape our size, our myths and legends, our attraction to certain patterns etc. Everything is explained in scientific terms, but illustrated very nicely by examples, so makes a great read.... even for those whose mother language isn' t English!
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