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81 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why is there something instead of nothing?, August 10, 2012
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This review is from: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story (Hardcover)
During the initial pages, I found my concentration slipping as I was looking for a focus, but then around page nineteen the focus became sharper as Holt writes, "A theory about the birth of the universe is called a cosmogony, . . . The ancient Greeks were the pioneers of rational cosmogony, as opposed to the mythopoetic variety exemplified by creation myths." And then Holt brings in metaphysics which he defines as "the project of characterizing reality as a whole." But why should anyone be concerned about the birth of the universe or the fundamental nature of being and the world? Perhaps this is the most critical question for people to ask. Whence did it all begin, and what was there before? Science has certainly opened our eyes; up until the twentieth century, astronomers believed that the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the entire universe. Then, in in 1923, Edwin Hubble, with the use of the new 100-inch telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California, determined that the clouds of gas observed by previous astronomers, first thought to be incubators for stars within our own galaxy were in fact distant galaxies. It is now theorized that the universe is made up of over one hundred billion galaxies like our Milky Way. So now the Earth has become an even smaller speck in the universe, though its size has not changed since antiquity.

When did something from nothing occur? And why? Was it 4˝ billion years ago, nine billion years after the creation of the universe, when the hot gases orbiting our star (the Sun) cooled down and our planet Earth was formed? Or was it 13.75 billions years ago when a body of extremely densely compacted mass, no bigger than our solar system exploded, and the Big Bang occurred and thus created more than one hundred billion galaxies? Or was it before then, and what was there before? Were there earlier moments, before the Big Bang when nothing existed, not even time? Holt addresses these issues and takes us on an amazing journey, illuminating dark passageways, while enabling us to open our eyes and our minds.

I majored in philosophy in university, and Holt certainly has a firm grasp of philosophy, as well as physics, mathematics, religion, and other specialties, which he is able to weave together in an engrossing treatise -- get ready, though this is an erudite book for the serious and well informed reader.

There is an insightful public radio ThoughtCast interview with Jim Holt that is accessible on the Internet[...], when he was in the midst of writing this book. If you listen to this interview, you would be inclined to purchase this book.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 8, 2012 2:29:34 PM PDT
So why only 3 stars? You seem to like the book fairly well. If I had read your review before seeing the stars, I think that I would have guessed it to be a 4 or 5 star review. In a 3 star review I usually expect "good, but...." I'm looking for negatives and I get the message that the reader may be challenged, but that doesn't really seem a reason to take it down and peg or two. For a book like this it seems more of an endorsement. Just wondering.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2012 3:33:06 PM PDT
Actually I enjoyed the book a lot; it covers an interest of mine, and the radio ThoughtCast interview was excellent and prompted me to purchase the book. I see Amazon took out the website I included in my review but one can simply refer to the interview and it will pop up on the Internet. I did feel that it was particularly hard to stay with the first twenty pages, such that the book could have benefited from better editing. I had majored in philosophy back in university studying the Greeks along with Husserl and Heidegger, after which I had been a poor student in Paris for two years where I spent a lot of time at Café de Flore reading Sartre and Schopenhauer. For me the last one hundred pages was definitely a five-star read, I just had a bit of difficulty making my way through the first three chapters and that's why I gave it three stars overall, maybe I could have been more generous and given it four stars, but not five.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2012 4:12:29 PM PDT
Thanks for the elaboration. And you are right - I had already Googled "ThoughtCast Jim Holt" and went right to the page. Despite your reservations, I think it sounds like I want to give it a try. (And, BTW, I would have to say that it is hard to imagine a more prototypical experience for a philosophy grad than to spend two years as a poor student reading continental philosophy at Café de Flore.)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2012 5:50:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 8, 2012 6:05:55 PM PDT
I just wanted to say that I've only done about a dozen reviews and I don't give very many five-star ratings. A three-star rating for me I suppose is more like a three plus rating; I wanted to help the author who is a gifted intellectual. Buy the book; it's an enjoyable read.

Posted on Oct 16, 2012 10:52:58 AM PDT
John Matro says:
I appreciate the 3 star rating, even though you liked the book. Too many readers hand out 5 stars ratings like they were cheap candy. 5 stars should mean 100%, like school grades. That means, the book, movie, CD, etc. should be above all of its peers and almost perfect in every way. 5 star ratings should be uncommon.

Posted on Dec 25, 2012 10:19:17 PM PST
JW says:
I still don't know why you rated it 3 stars when I finished reading your comment...please.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 25, 2012 10:48:14 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 25, 2012 11:54:54 PM PST
Well, I've only written fifteen book reviews on Amazon, three of which I gave five-stars, for two I gave four-stars, and the remaining ten I gave three-stars. I suppose the primary reason that I gave this book three-stars was because the first two chapters lacked focus and appeared disjointed and were hard to follow [for me], though the book picked up around page thirty-six and became a good read from that point on. I had majored in philosophy at UC Berkeley years ago, and have continued to read philosophical works from time to time over the years. I did mention in an earlier post that "for me the last one hundred pages was definitely a five-star read." I hope I have answered your question.

Posted on Feb 5, 2013 10:54:46 AM PST
Martialawe says:
re: "mythopoetic variety exemplified by creation myths"

I was intrigued by Holt's reference to Thales (550 BCE) and his theory that the primordal element was water. Immediately, the Genesis story of universal creation from watery chaos comes to mind. Considering that many scholars believe that the Torah was compiled in Babylon by Ezra circa 450 BCE, isn't it stunning to have reason to suspect that the Judeo-Christian creation account (including the re-creation story of Noah) was originally based on the best Hellenistic science available at the time? And, if so, whether all religious revelation should be re-interpreted in the light of modern science? Imagine. Suppose the flash of insight that led the scribe to illustrate the beneficience of a Universal Spirit with a story based on the science of Thales had been based instead upon the science of Hubble! I look forward to Jim Holt applying his considerable talent to this meditation.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2013 11:41:44 AM PDT
I thought that first part of the Bible was composed around year 1000 BC, then a second part was supposedly written aroung year 750 BC. Please don't bet on it, I have not real knowledge of the Bible history!
But if you are right, and Ezra (I thought he only "reorganized" the holy book by order of the Persian Emperor) is responsible for Genesis, you are also right that this changes the all shebang. Dramatically! Excellent intuition: let the Bible-wise ones speak.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2014 11:56:19 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 14, 2014 12:02:35 PM PST
To Emilio and Martialawe:
Gentlemen your speculations are correct. Although the Hebrews always claimed that their books are of very old origin in reality they only date from the 5th century BCE. A vast amount of information of this subject can be found below The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts
They borrowed a lot from the ancients Greeks and in some cases they downright copied their stories with minute differences. The story of the Flood for example is an exact copy of the story of Deucalion and the Great Deluge. The hebrews changed the flying pigon of Deucalion to a flying crow in the bible.
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