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                        e n e r g i z i n g    t r a n s f o r m a t i o n    t  h r o u g h    i n q u i r y ,   i n s i g h t ,   a n d   i n t e g r a t i o n

   

                   April 2007 Book Review and Quotes Archive

 

                                                                                                           

                 The View from the Center of the Universe

                                          Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams

                                                                 Riverhead Books 2006

                                                                  ISBN: 1-59448-914-9 

                                                                 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]

 


 

[i] P.4

[ii] P. 111

[iii] P. 295

 

 

                                  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.  [3]  ~ 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. 

[7] ~ 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.  [299] ~ 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.  [295] ~ The View From the Center of the Universe,

Joel Primack & Nancy Abrams

 


                                                                                    

 

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