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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
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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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"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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Despite the fact that Gleiser abandoned his search for a unified theory, he hopes that science will someday discover it. As for me, such a theory will not be expressed as a formula, an equation, or a group of equations, but it will be revealed as a process instead. In my view, the current so-called laws of nature that are expressed as equations found in science books only describe the behaviors of systems we can measure, and not the underlying processes through which those laws emerge (refer to Erik Verlinde's theory of entropic gravity and inertia). Science won't uncover what the underlying processes are until scientists abandon the reductionist paradigm that has dominated Western thought since Newton and Laplace. Although Gleiser doesn't seem quite ready to abandon reductionism himself, I suspect he might reach that point some day.
Gleiser correctly concludes that the field of cosmology is in a shambles, quoting Leonard Susskind, "We could be wrong about cosmology for the next thousand years. Deeply wrong." I also agree with Gleiser that the probability of intelligent life emerging anywhere is extremely small and so we should consider ourselves to be effectively cut off from any other intelligent life that may exist "out there." Hence, the human species is very special so we should be making more of an effort in caring for each other and our planet. This is one of the most important points he made in the book.
The book is organized in 56 rather short chapters in five main sections, followed by an epilogue. Some other reviews of this book complain there is nothing new to be found in these chapters. I disagree. While it is true that the author doesn't offer any radically new theory that explains everything, he does a pretty good job of banishing the myth that science is getting close to coming up with such a theory and gives very good reasons why science is completely missing the mark.
I would recommend A Tear in the Edge of Creation, although I prefer Gleiser's other book, The Island of Knowledge, better. I didn't give this book five stars because he spent a bit too much time explaining orthodox science, which at times made him seem more like an apologist than a critic of orthodoxy. But it was worthwhile reading nonetheless.
The Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser is a wonderful contribution to this category of non-fiction. The author is clear and direct in his explanation of current theory from physics to biology and he writes beautifully. In addition in this book he has provided an insightful philosophical perspective as well. He presents two serious themes: The first is that there is no grand design or purpose to the universe. And the second is that science has its own limitations; the search for a `final theory' is based upon a Platonic belief (or alternatively upon monotheistic religion which was influenced by neo-Platonic thought) that is unfounded. Both of these themes resonate with me due to the fact I have written about them in a book of my own, The Bridge, in chapters one and two respectively. I therefore found myself considering and comparing arguments throughout. But beyond such sweeping comparisons, Mr. Gleiser's book takes a very different trajectory. He has painstakingly laid out the evidence to demonstrate that the scientific search for a final theory, a new discovery in physics which would finally unify relativity and quantum mechanics is quite possibly chasing down a blind ally. The belief in a final theory which could explain the fundamental forces of nature is based in a belief in the symmetry of nature. Yet Gleiser argues that there is now ample evidence to suggest that the existence of matter and the presence of life on earth are possible only by virtue of asymmetry. (Hence he has shown through detailed scientific evidence what I myself presented as philosophical propositions.) The intention is not to discourage scientific research. On the contrary science has offered tremendous knowledge of the processes of nature and will continue to do so. But we should not expect that we are even close to discovering encompassing and simple models which will illuminate these processes completely. Rather, as the author says, `we can only know what we can measure.'
Later in the book the author entertains the question of whether life is spread throughout the universe and whether we might find intelligent life on other planets. His argument on this topic is well presented, but a more in depth inquiry into this question is available in a recent book by Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence. In the final chapters Mr Gleiser encourages readers, whether scientists or laypersons, to abandon the view that the universe is the product of a grand design or that it is imbued with purpose. Rather we should accept that the universe itself and we in its tow are the products of chance imbalances in the workings of nature. We should not feel threatened by this knowledge but rather rejoice in it. And we should assume responsibility for preserving this chance `gift' of nature. I couldn't agree more, but I am a little disappointed that the author failed to expand upon and develop this final theme.
This book is for those who have a serious interest in but only a vague idea about The Big Bang, quantum physics, subatomic and atomic particles, inanimate matter to living matter and much more.
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