- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books (August 7, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594482551
- ISBN-13: 978-1594482557
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 78 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The View From the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos
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About the Author
Joel R. Primack, emeritus professor of physics at the University of California, received his AB from Princeton in 1966 and his PhD from Stanford in 1970. He was then a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He is one of the principal originators and developers of the theory of Cold Dark Matter, which has become the basis for the standard modern picture of structure formation in the universe. Primack was made a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 1988 “for pioneering contributions to gauge theory and cosmology.” He served on the executive committee of the APS Division of Astrophysics from 2001 to 2002. He has won awards for his research from the A. P. Sloan Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In addition to more than 200 technical articles in professional journals, Dr. Primack has written a number of articles aimed at a more popular audience. These include articles on “gravitation,” “matter,” “dark matter,” “dark energy,” and other physics and astronomy topics in the World Book Encyclopedia, and articles in publications such as Astronomy, Beam Line, California Wild, and Sky and Telescope, and in the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and the Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Dr. Primack shared the APS Forum on Physics and Society Award in 1977 with Frank von Hippel of Princeton for their book Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena (Basic Books, 1974; New American Library, 1976). In 1995 Dr. Primack was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) “for pioneering efforts in the establishment of the AAAS Congressional Science Fellows Program and for dedication to expanding the use of science in policymaking throughout government.”
Nancy Ellen Abrams is a writer and lawyer with a background in the history, philosophy, and politics of science who has worked on science and technology policy. She has also for more than two decades closely followed her husband Joel R. Primack’s research, attended countless astrophysics conferences, and talked to almost everyone in the field. She received her BA in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, her JD from the University of Michigan, and a diploma in international law from the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City. She was a Fulbright scholar and a Woodrow Wilson designate. Her writing has appeared in journals, newspapers, and magazines such as The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Environment, California Lawyer, Science and Global Security, and Tikkun. Abrams is also a songwriter who has performed at conferences, concerts, and events in eighteen countries, released three albums, and been featured on National Public Radio and television.
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To get specific: Particularly the first author needs no introduction as a serious contributor to modern physics and astronomy. This gave at least me an impetus to approach the more philosophical section with a more open mind than I otherwise would have. His successful science popularization shows teaching experience in physics and astronomy at all levels - it’s accessible to anyone who made it a little bit past high school.
The philosophical part, the reasoning and the encouragement to embrace those scientific findings as a new world view from which to derive an equally new sense of belonging, self-worth and personal as well as communal responsibility for shaping the future, I admire as quite a bold proposal. And a proposal, an invitation to think, is all this is meant to be. Anyone who expects a neatly packaged answer or a tried and true recipe that requires no further participating thought is, in my view, missing the whole point.
Make no mistake: the authors repeatedly stress that all philosophical concepts must rest on science (“Scientific accuracy has to be our minimum standard”, p. 295). Hence folks who are hoping for any sort of mystical or spiritual drivel will be thoroughly disappointed. Neither does the book propose or support any form of ‘humans as some ultimate divine intent’, no matter what the religion. Rather, conventional religious anthropocentrism is quite put in its place.
The great Steven Weinberg in his famous little book: ”The first three minutes” wrote towards the end of the epilogue: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless”, and many notables have since criticized this phrase. (I much suspect in no small part because it’s far harder to argue with Weinberg about actual physics!). The current book turns this nihilism on its head and instead proposes to be aware that living things are, on the cosmic scale, a remarkably complex and rare occurrence, embodying (in the most literal sense of the word) everything from the constituents of elementary particles all the way to baryonic structure formation due to the opposing effects of gravity by dark matter, versus space-time expansion by dark energy, and just about everything in between. From this connection, so the authors argue, we should not derive any sense of pointlessness, but instead a sense of integral belonging to it all, being part of it all on a, yes, cosmic scale. Above all, from this we should derive a sense self-worth and of serious responsibility to care for the future to the degree that we can.
I recommend anyone with the willingness to try out thinking differently once in a while, to read this book, and think about it enough to form their own opinion.
I purchased this book because of the middle scientific section. It clarified many points for me and was worth the price of the book. It is a completely non-mathematical treatment of modern cosmology. It is highly readable and I now understand why we can consider ourselves at the center of our visible universe (as can every other point in the universe). I have always been puzzled as to why, even though initially the universe was microscopic is size, that light from the early universe (whose wavelength has increased to the microwave range due to the expansion of space), has taken 13 billion years to reach us. This part of the book has given me a much better feeling of why this is so. According to the cosmic inflation model, the universe was initially expanding faster than the speed of light (which is allowed for, but not for things in space) and the universe has continued to expand while the light was moving towards us. There is a good discussion of dark energy and dark matter and why they makeup almost all of the mass in the universe. Cosmology has recently become an incredibly fast moving field. This book was published in 2006, so it covers topics like dark matter and dark energy. In contrast, a book published in 1996 would not cover these topics.
The middle of the book should appeal to those who want an overview of modern cosmology and I recommend it as such, but such a reader might not be interested in the first and third sections of the book. I found the first section interesting, but I found the third section to be unfocused and uninteresting. All in all I enjoyed only about half the book, hence I can give it only four stars. (Also note, the hard cover version of this book is available as a bargain book and is a better deal than the soft cover version.)
Note - I have just finished Brian Greene's "The Fabric of the Cosmos", which covers some of the same topics. Greene does a much better job of explaining why some of the statements made in "the View from the Center of the Universe" are so and if I could only recommend only one of these books it would be Greene's.