The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking

The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking

The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking

The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking

Synopsis

What is the cosmos? How did it come into being? How are we related to it, and what is our place in it? The Book of the Cosmos assembles for the first time in one volume the great minds of the Western world who have considered these questions from biblical times to the present. It is a book of many authors -- Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Galileo are here, of course, in all their genius, but so are Edgar Allan Poe, Annie Jump Cannon (a "human computer" and lyrical classifier of stars), and Sir Martin Rees, who proposes an "ensemble of universes" of which ours happens to be among the most interesting.

In these pages the universe is made and unmade in a variety of configurations; it spins along on superstrings, teems with intelligent life, and could end without warning. The Book of the Cosmos provides a thrilling read to set the heart racing and the mind soaring.

Excerpt

Canadian cosmologist Werner Israel tells of the time he was interviewed for a television show by someone who had carefully prepared a list of questions to ask him about lipstick, blusher, and mascara. Although the kinship between cosmology and cosmetology probably did little to advance the career of that interviewer, it actually helps me here to introduce an idea central to the purpose of this book. In lecturing about cosmology, I sometimes try to break the ice by asking how many members of the audience wear cosmetics—and then I take advantage of their candor by pointing out that our word cosmetics derives from the Greek verb meaning "to bring order out of chaos." My point, simply, is that cosmology, like its etymological cousin cosmetology, is indeed about order, and about beauty.

Are we not drawn to the heavens in the first place because they are beautiful and because they are awesome? Their grandeur humbles us, thrills us, calls forth our contemplation, and inspires a craving (as Alan Guth has put it) "that has been part of human consciousness from the writing of Genesis to the scientific era of relativity and quantum mechanics." What is the cosmos? How did it come into being? How are we related to it, and what is our place in it? Furthermore, when we contemplate the universe, isn't what we see and experience molded by what others of our species have seen and thought elsewhere and before us? What I see is in large measure an amalgam of what we see and have seen—and it is a very long and complex we. From the beginning of human history, others have looked at and spoken and written about this cosmos that is the object of our awe and our contemplation. And, to echo Wordsworth, the world is rich and dear to us both for itself and for the sake of those others who have preceded us and shaped our vision.

To make available and audible the voices of some of "those others"—of exceptional minds across time who have spoken and written about the cosmos—is this book's principal aim. Although we most naturally talk about looking at the heavens, the essence of The Book of the Cosmos is more pre-

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