April 6, 2006
For thousands of years, humans thought of themselves as central to the universe and created symbols and myths to make sense of the world and their special place in it. When Copernicus and Galileo shattered the view of Earth is the center of the universe, we turned away from the intuitive symbols that had sustained our ancestors, and for the past four hundred years we have seen ourselves as adrift, living on an inconsequential rock in an endless expanse of space.
But recent discoveries in astronomy, physics, and cosmology have uncovered an astonishing truth: Humans actually are central to the universe and profound in important ways that derive directly from science – ways that Copernicus and Galileo could never have imagined.
In this strikingly original book, Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams argue that, for the first time in human history, a scientific theory of the universe as a whole is emerging – a theory that explains how the universe operates, what it’s made of, where it came from, and how it’s evolving. Drawing from the latest discoveries and ideas in astrophysics and cosmology, Primack and Abrams show how we are indeed central to the universe and what this might mean for our culture and our personal lives. The result is extraordinary: a science-based cosmology that allows us to understand the universe as a whole and our extraordinary place in it. We are the first generation, the authors explain, capable of grasping what the nature of the universe may imply about Earth – and how this knowledge can be used to protect the long-term future of our planet.
Primack is one of the world’s leading cosmologists and an originator and developer of the theory of Cold Dark Matter, now accepted as the standard theory of the structure and evolution of the universe, while Abrams is a gifted writer who expresses the life-changing significance of these cosmic discoveries. They have written a book that requires from us no prior scientific knowledge and that satisfies our fundamental need for meaning in our world and in our lives. Lyrical and readable, yet fact-based and rigorous, The View from the Center of the Universe is a fascinating exploration for all of us who have ever wondered how we fit into the universe.
Joel R. Primack, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has done foundational research in cosmology. He and his team use some of the world’s biggest supercomputers to simulate the evolution of the universe, and compare the results with observational data. He has recently chaired the Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society, as well as the Committee on Science, Ethics, and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a coauthor of Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena.
Nancy Ellen Abrams is a lawyer, writer, and former Fulbright scholar, with a long-term interest in the history, philosophy, and politics of science. While working on the staff of the U.S. Congress, she co-created a novel method by which government agencies can make wise policy decisions in cases involving scientific uncertainty, and she has consulted on this for the Swedish government, several state governments, and various corporations. Her articles have appeared in journals, magazines, and books. She has also released three albums of her songs and performed in eighteen countries.
For a decade, Primack and Abrams have been co-teaching a course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, called “Cosmology and Culture,” from which this book developed. They are married and have a daughter.