Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos, 2nd Edition

Posted By: SweetStroke
Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos, 2nd Edition

Edward Harrison, «Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos, 2nd Edition»
Cambridge University Press | ISBN 0521773512 | 2003 Year | PDF | 3,69 Mb | 342 Pages

To the ancient Greeks the universe consisted of earth, air, fire and water. To Saint Augustine it was the Word of God. To many modern scientists it is the interaction of atoms and waves, and in years to come it may be different again. What then is the real universe? History shows that in every age society constructs its own universe, believing it to be the real and final one. Yet these are only models, or masks covering what is not understood and not known. This book brings together fundamental scientific, philosophical, and religious issues in cosmology, raising thought provoking questions. In every age people have pitied the universes of their ancestors, convinced that they have at last discovered the full truth. Do we now stand at the threshold of knowing everything, or will our latest model also be rejected by our descendants?

In Masks of the Universe, Edward Harrison brings together fundamental scientific, philosophical and religious issues in cosmology and raises thought provoking questions. Philosophical issues dominated cosmology in the ancient world. Theological issues ranked foremost in the Middle Ages; astronomy and the physical sciences have taken over in more recent times. Yet every attempt to grasp the true nature of the universe creates a new "mask," People have always pitied the universes of their ancestors, believing that their generation has at last discovered the "real" universe. Do we now stand at the threshold of knowing everything, or have we created yet another "mask," doomed to fade like those preceding ours?

Review:
I feel contempt for the hubris that often accompanies a comparison of scientific and pre-scientific (i.e. religious) world views. There is no reason for contempt with Edward Harrison's awesome humility. The distinction Harrison makes between a conceptual model of the Universe (which is designated by the initial lower case `u') and the actual Universe itself (capital `U'), proves to be very practical. By explicitly preserving the mystery of the Universe, a new perspective on the old conundrums of free-will and determinism as well as consciousness and brains is gained. Because he looks at our underlying assumptions, the book has a philosophical character to it.

The majority of the book is divided into three sections, each with six chapters. The first section deals with the various world-views in chronological order, not a history of the Universe, but a history of universes. The second section deals with the contemporary scientific view. I don't have much alacrity for science writing - popular or otherwise - but this was an exceptional case. He covered many things I have only a vague idea about such as quantum theory, special and general theories of relativity, the anthropic principle etc. It was the final section that I was most excited about. Harrison deals with some problems that have vexed me for quite some time. I especially like his commentary on the brain and Ultima Sentiens. I would recommend this book over the Huston Smith's Why Religion Matters on matters of religion and science. He deals with agnosticism wonderfully, and he makes it explicit that his thinking about God is not pantheism. He doesn't use the word himself, but I think the word "panentheism" is a closer match to what Harrison suggests.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in world-views and issues between science and religion.


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