i n t e g r a l c o u n s e l i n g i n s t i t u t e
April 2007 Book Review and Quotes Archive
The View from the Center of the Universe
Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams
Riverhead Books 2006
Review by John Parker
Who of us, as a child, did not look up at the night sky and wonder about its vastness, whether it had limits to its
size and, if so, what was on the other side of its boundaries?
It is these “Big Questions” which are at the center of this book’s exploration. But it does not present just the
answers that science has been providing over a very rich period in cosmological exploration. It moves to a
deeper level—what do these emerging discoveries say about the human experience.
From earliest recorded history, people have formulated stories about creation, the nature of reality, how to live
in accordance with reality and to what end. These formed the myths of various religions, the speculations of
philosophy and now the explorations of science. All of these pursuits addressed the question of meaning.
The authors bring an ideal blend of backgrounds to look at the question of meaning from a new perspective.
Joel Primack is a physicist specializing in cosmology. He coined the phrase “cold, dark matter” to describe
the relatively recent discovery that 95 percent of the universe is comprised of dark matter and dark energy—
invisible to observation. In fact, the visible universe is comprised of only slightly more than one-half of one
percent. Nancy Abrams is a lawyer and science policy writer with a background in history and philosophy.
Their central point is that all historical cultures developed “stories” to answer the questions of origination and
purpose. “Ours is probably the first major culture in human history with no shared picture of reality.”[i]
And the consequence of this lack is an uncertainty and confusion leading to what they call the existential or
skeptical view of the universe. This view was famously summed up by physicist Steven Weinberg: “The more
the universe seems comprehensible--the more it seems pointless.”
In contrast, these authors propose that the greatest and most accurate “story” that has been developed is
precisely the one that modern cosmology and astrophysics has provided. It is a perspective that provides a
deeper meaning the more fully it is understood.
“Though we know far better than the ancients what the universe is made of, we have far less sense of what
it might mean for us; we lack images and stories that can connect us to this new universe. A central goal of
this book is to begin to provide some images by which we can visualize our universe—not random fragments
of it, which we all that even the most stunning NASA astronomical photos give us, but its fundamental nature.[ii]
To provide this understanding, they present this story from both historical and scientific perspectives. The
cosmologies of ancient Egypt, the Bible, early Greece, and Alexandria are reviewed. Then they present a summary
of the scientific cosmology that has emerged over the last few centuries. Their point is that the new cosmology is even
more awe inspiring and beautiful than the traditional mythologies. And rightly understood it provides meaning and
purpose to the human experience.
But the book is not the only way they are attempting to tell this story. They have developed a website with additional
resources on the subject at www.viewfromthecenter.com
Of particular note is the video of a presentation presented in 2006 at the NASA Research Park. (Find on the Links
page.) It presents their central ideas in a multimedia format with stunning pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope
and a Voyage to the Virgo Cluster. The site also includes articles, interviews, excerpts as well as color figures from
the book such as:
Cosmic Uroboros (showing the relative sizes from the smallest particles to the largest galactic structures
This book is an important step towards the articulation of a new story for out times. It is built upon the incredible
advancement in our understanding of the universe that has been gained from the first Copernican revolution to the
Hubble telescope. It is a story more awesome than humans could ever devise on their own, for it is indeed the story
of the universe itself.
We uphold the new universe—but only if we too, like the ancients, consciously do uphold it in our thoughts and
actions. The way to uphold the universe is to embrace scientific reality to the extent the evidence supports it, and
commit ourselves as a culture to develop its meaning collectively.[iii]
April Quotes of the Month
In their hearts, most people are still living in an imagined universe, where space is simply emptiness, stars are
scattered randomly, and common sense is a reliable guide. In this imagined universe, we humans have no special
place and often feel insignificant. But today’s golden age of astronomy is revealing that this lonely understanding
of the universe is misguided. Our universe is rich, fascinating, and meaningful, and in it we humans occupy an
extraordinary place.  ~ The View From the Center of the Universe, Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams
Becoming aware of the universe is like suddenly seeing in color, and that changes not just what’s far away but
what’s right here. The universe is here, and it’s more coherent and potentially for our lives than anyone imagined.
 ~ The View From the Center of the Universe, Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams
When with all our minds and hearts we grasp that we are central to the expanding universe, we will have connected.
Then we too, like our ancient ancestors the world over, can say once again with confidence and commitment that we
uphold the universe.  ~ The View From the Center of the Universe, Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams
We uphold the new universe—but only if we too, like the ancients, consciously do uphold it in our thoughts and actions.
The way to uphold the universe is to embrace scientific reality to the extent the evidence supports it, and commit
ourselves as a culture to develop its meaning collectively.  ~ The View From the Center of the Universe,
Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams