From the acclaimed author of Einstein's Dreams and Mr. g comes a meditation on the unexpected ways in which recent scientific findings have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.
With all the passion, curiosity, and precise yet lyrical prose that have marked his previous books, Alan Lightman here explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. He looks at the difficult dialogue between science and religion, the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature, the possibility that our universe is simply an accident, the manner in which modern technology has separated us from direct experience of the world, and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws. And behind all of these considerations is the suggestion - at once haunting and exhilarating - that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the extraordinary, perhaps unfathomable whole.
©2014 Alan Lightman (P)2014 Blackstone Audio
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
This is a set of related essays ruminating on humanities relation to modern science and is more rambling lyrical personal reflections than explanatory science. The essays are: The Accidental Universe; The Temporary Universe; The Spiritual Universe; The Symmetrical Universe; The Gargantuan Universe; The Lawful Universe; The Disembodied Universe.
The narration is excellent, slow paced, emotional, and poetic.
The author declares he is an atheist, but seems to believe that God, transcendent personal experience, and what created our universe are all beyond the realm of scientific analysis. I agree that such things may currently beyond complete scientific analysis, but they are not beyond scientific analysis in principle. If God, or transcendental personal experiences have any practical effects, these effects can, eventually, be tested. History is full of the phenomena that were once fervently believed beyond the realm of thoughtful enquiry (the motion of planets, weather, disease, heredity, plant growth, hallucinogenic substances, and many others). These have all, one by one, succumbed to various levels of scientific analysis. There are only a very few phenomena left that some believe are still beyond the realm of science. Many, including Lightman, have a deeply emotional desire (without fully understanding why) that some part of human experience will remain forever beyond the realm of science. Lightman seems excited that the rest of the universe follows scientific laws, yet revolts against the idea these same laws control his own essence. He is saddened by the temporality of life and seems to view the connectivity allowed by cell phone technology as disembodiment. At some level I fully understand such attitudes, but nevertheless I find them mildly quaint. Reading Lightman’s last chapter lamenting the disembodiment caused by texting I pondered if some old foggy at the dawn of humanity lamented how spoken language disembodied people from real pre-linguistic communication.
I did not dislike this book, but did not get a lot out of it. I love art and literature and music and myth and my life, but I don’t feel any need to separate these things into a spiritual realm beyond scientific analysis. There is some discussion of science in the book, but it is just a bit sloppy (like convolving quantum superposition with multi-position). When I finished this book I recalled how the end of A Brief History of Time resonated more with me than anything in The Accidental Universe; “if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."
I bought this book expecting something more along the lines of Laurence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing" with a little extra comparison to mythologies. That's not what this book is. Perhaps I should have recognized that fact from the short runtime.
This is a short collection of expositional essays about the author's views on the relation science has to the humanities and the silly beliefs we often hold in our heads. It makes almost no attempt to be a science book; Lightman makes mention of some of the amazing discoveries of physics, but does not try to explain them, which is what I was after. I think the intent was for this to be a philosophy book, but it falls short there too. I expect a philosopher to describe the logical reasoning that led him to his conclusion. This author, however, does not do so. And the final chapter/essay makes no attempt to be anything but a rant, lamenting the way life has changed with the adoption of new technologies. I may agree with a number of Lightman's thoughts, but I can get rants from friends and family for free. I expect more thoughtful reasoning from a philosophy book, and a more objective analysis from a respected scientist.
Forgive the condescension, but I think I'd describe this as a collection of polite rants, masquerading as philosophy, couched between spats of scientific wonderment. It's not the worst book ever, but it has very little actual content.
This was more of a history lesson than an articulation of the title. Masterfully narrated, I had hoped the sometimes painful obsession with academia's breadcrumbs would lead to an ending with more substance. Instead, the final lap is akin to a grumpy old man complaining about how far removed people have become through their obsession with technology. A bit of a letdown... But I was glad it was over. I think he just got tired of writing, asked himself "where is this going?" And slapped together the final chapter on a day when he was very disgruntled with humanity.
"Science in Context"
I enjoyed the wisdom and insites of the book... which lays out the nature of things and the direction of things..
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