Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Dancing Universe

The Dancing Universe
From Creation Myths to the Big Bang

By Marcelo Gleiser

Book Review

By Richard Edward Noble

Marcelo Gleiser is a scientist and a professor of Physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He also dabbles in theoretical Cosmology and speculative particle physics. He was born in Brazil and lives in New Hampshire.

He is a great writer and “translator” of the scientific class and their “jargon.”
Professor Gleiser begins this work with a brief review of some ancient myths concerning the origins of this Universe. He divides these myths into “Creation Myths” and “No-Creation Myths.”

The Creation Myths imply a beginning to the Universe and lead the reader into the notions of God, theology, religion, mysticism etc.

The No-Creation Myths are those that imply that the Universe always was and always will be in one shape, form or another – more Hindu or Buddhist or A-theistic than Judao-Christian.

He then gets into Philosophy and the ancient Greeks. This is a prime area of interest to me and I always enjoy refreshing my memory in this area.

This book is basically a synopsis of the evolution of what we call “science.”
We begin with the ancient myths, then proceed to the Greek and Roman philosophers as we explore the root thoughts on the possible answers as to how we have this universe around us. We explore all the early suggestions with professor Gleiser as our guide and interpreter.

I have decided to use this book as my workbook on improving my knowledge of the evolution of cosmological thought.

I have already started looking up each and every name brought forward by the professor and have been reading and researching more about each of them. The professor tells us briefly what each has to say and the value of their contribution.

But this subject interests me and I would like to know more.
I have now read and reviewed two books by Professor Gleiser A Tear at the Edge of Creation and this one. I have enjoyed both immensely.

The author deals with and discusses religious and theological thoughts and its influences on this subject but make no mistake, this is a “secular” work and in no way a defense of any religious point of view.

“How necessary is this separation between science and religion? Very. It serves as a protective device against subjectivism in the practice of science, insuring that it remains a common language in a very diverse community. The scientific discourse is, and should be, devoid of any theological content. Invoking religion to fill in the gaps of our scientific understanding today is, in my view, an anti-scientific attitude. If there are gaps in our knowledge (and there are plenty of them!) we should try to fill them with more science and not with theological speculation.”

He makes this distinction clear throughout the book.

The book and the Professor should stimulate any reader in deeper thoughts.

A few of my thoughts:
1) It is becoming more and more clear to me how science is so easily spun back into religion and mysticism. Cosmology, for example, is so very speculative and hypothetical that the door to Voo-doo is left wide open.
2) The science of light … it is a big problem but very interesting area for more research on my part.
3) Newton posited God and His invisible hand in the regulation of the Universe to solve his problem with motion and other discrepancies in his theory of gravity. God supposedly threw the initial stars and planets into the sky. Einstein has a similar problem trying to justify his theory’s shortcomings – the cosmological constant. And now we have Hubble’s Constant. All of which points out the hidden personal agenda of even the supposed objective scientists. Readers therefore must always be critical of whatever and whoever they are reading. Skepticism comes with the territory.
4) I feel even Professor Gleiser may have his own deity and Cosmological constant permeating his blanket acceptance of the Big Bang Theory. I still haven’t bought the idea.
5) Unlike Stephen Hawking who stated that Philosophy is dead, professor Gleiser gives due credit to Philosophy and blends the Philosophers into his story. A much more realistic and historically accurate point of view in my opinion.

The Dancing Universe (re: Ocillating Universe – expanding/contracting) is written for the non-scientist and I must repeat, the author does a wonderful job in this respect. Although much of science/math is above my head, this author is able to bring these lofty concepts and thoughts down to my level. He knows how to talk to the regular guy. He has a third book, The Prophet and the Astronomer – A Scientific Journey. It is on my list. This is a wonderful, wonderful book, for the science student and amateur, scientific explorer.

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