Astronomy through the Ages: The Story of the Human Attempt to Understand the Universe

Astronomy through the Ages: The Story of the Human Attempt to Understand the Universe

Astronomy through the Ages: The Story of the Human Attempt to Understand the Universe

Astronomy through the Ages: The Story of the Human Attempt to Understand the Universe

Synopsis

Free of mathematics and complex graphs, Wilson nevertheless explains with care and clarity deep concepts of space and time, of relativity and quantum mechanics, and of the origin and nature of the Universe.

Excerpt

This book grew out of an undergraduate course that the writer gave at University College London on the foundations of modern astronomy, but with a difference. It was aimed at the non-scientific faculties and therefore had to be non-mathematical; as such it was unique in the UK. The reason behind the course was to broaden the education of students in the humanities, but the book has a much wider purpose and has been written with that in mind.

In 1959, C.P. Snow, an accomplished scientist and distinguished novelist, wrote about what he called the “two cultures”, by which he meant those individuals whose training and activities were scientifically and technologically based on the one hand, and those whose training was in the area of the humanities-classics, history, literature, and so on-on the other. His point was that each culture knew little about the other, that communication between the two was difficult (and sometimes impossible) and that this situation was bad for society as a whole. The writer agrees with this view by Snow, which was based on his experience in the 1950s, and believes that the separation is even more marked in the 1990s and even more damaging. There is a very clear absence of scientifically trained personnel in the influential areas of society-in politics, in the civil service, in the media, in business and industry. This observation is not made as a prelude to an argument in favour of more scientists in influential positions (I have met many who would not be up to running a coffee stall), but it is an argument in favour of those in such influential positions knowing something about science, because it touches on so many important issues of the day. However, in the writer's experience (confined mainly to the UK), many influential people not only know nothing about science or technology, they are almost proud of it and can hardly wait to proclaim the fact. Such individuals far outnumber those scientists who disdainfully reject an interest or knowledge in the fine arts, who would regard the Davids of Michelangelo and Donatello as chunks of white and black marble, Rembrandt's Night Watch as a splash of paint, and Goya's Maja as a tawdry attempt at pornography. It is to their counterparts in the humanities that this book is addressed in an attempt to communicate a knowledge of science, in the form of astronomy, and to illustrate the fascination and beauty of the subject.

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