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The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos Hardcover – April 6, 2006
"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
If greeting card poet Susan Polis Schultz wrote about physics and the universe, this is the book she would produce. Filled with simplistic observations ("In their hearts most people are still living in an imagined universe where... we humans have no special place and often feel insignificant") as well as romantic cheerleading ("We need to overflow with gratitude that our universe... is filled with light and possibilities"), it offers cosmology disguised as a self-help guide to the universe. The authors—Primack is a physicist at UC–Santa Cruz, and Abrams is a philosopher of science—contend that Newton's picture of the universe as shapeless and endless left humans feeling cosmically homeless, but in response they articulate a Peter Pan physics in which humans are intimately related to the universe because we are made of stardust, i.e., we're an integral part of the cosmos. Our place in the universe is extraordinary, they claim, because the universe will never be in this moment of time again, and we have a responsibility to take care of the Earth since there is still time to solve some of our cosmic problems. Attempting to weave science and spirituality into one cosmic fabric, the authors satisfy the reader in neither realm. B&w illus. (Apr.)
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From Scientific American
In this thoughtful and original book, a husband-and-wife team presents a science-based cosmology aimed at allowing us to understand the universe as a whole and our place in it. "Most of us have grown up thinking that there is no basis for our feeling central or even important to the cosmos," they write. "But with the new evidence it turns out that this perspective is nothing but a prejudice. There is no geographic center to an expand-ing universe, but we are cent-ral in several unexpected ways that derive directly from physics and cosmology." Primack is professor of cosmology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an originator of the theory of cold dark matter; Abrams is a lawyer and a writer.
Editors of Scientific American
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The authors cite about seven examples of how in the 21st century a new cosmology is emerging from astronomy and physics. In earlier centuries humans relied on myth from their faith traditions to tell them about their place in the universe. Modern science has shown that none of these myths were scientifically or historically accurate, but historians have shown that, accurate or not, they did provide meaning and insight to the generations and peoples who adhered to them. So, although humans are no longer thought to be at the center of the universe physically, according to the authors modern science is showing remarkable ways in which humans do play a central role in the unfolding history of the universe.
This is an important theme, because now, say the authors, it is possible to develop a modern creation myth that actually accords with scientific facts, the actual history of the universe. And based on this new conception of the universe, and man's place in it, the authors propose that human beings can develop an ethic globally which will help them to solve modern day problems.
Candidly, I found parts of the presentation more persuasive than others. My favorite concept, presented earlier in the book, is the Cosmic Density Pyramid. This concept was so useful that I quoted it in a new book that I am currently writing--The Divine Curriculum: How God's Plan Is Revealed In The World's Great Religions, which will be out later this year. I used the concept in a chapter entitled "The Purpose Underlying All Creation: Asking Religion and Science" to illustrate how human beings represent a precious and rare aspect of the physical cosmos. Of course, I was glad to give full credit to the authors for coming up with the idea of the Cosmic Density Pyramid, because I never would have thought of making this point if I had not first been inspired by what they had to say in this book.
So, bottom-line, the book is highly recommended. Enjoy.
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.