Who Do We Think We Are – The Center of the Universe?

I have just started reading The View from the Center of the Universe, Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams. I’m only about 40 pages into it, but already the authors have me thinking.

You can read a review of the book, here . This link has a couple of other interesting links- to this blog and to this movie trailer. And of course, here is the Amazon link and a link to the book’s site. It looks like this book is going to explore cosmology from both a scientific and mythic perspective and propose a cosmological perspective for us who live in the 21st century.

So, what has me pondering a mere 40 pages into a much longer book? Well, it’s this.

What we believe about the universe and our place in it is crucial to our future on this planet. And we need a new cosmology that incorporates science and mythology to do this.

The first pages of the book raise some interesting ideas. The authors claim that we who live after the Renaissance are the first people in history who have no shared cosmology. In the ancient world, people had  view of the universe and a strong sense of their place in it. While their scientific understanding of the cosmos was limited, their worldview firmly placed humanity in a central and important position in the universe. Their place in the cosmos helped give them a sense of worth and importance.

The Middle Ages was the last time (for Westerners) we shared a cosmology. The Medieval worldview embraced an ordered universe. We knew where we belonged in the grand scheme. The early discoveries of modern science tore down this cosmology but had nothing to replace it with. Removed by science from the center of the universe, we were left “cosmically homeless”.

It took centuries for science to be able to replace the cosmology it torn down. But now modern science is able to give us a more accurate view of how the universe really is. The trouble is, most of us feel so disconnected from the universe that we aren’t interested in learning about it. And we haven’t discovered or developed a modern mythology that incorporates the discoveries of science.

Personally, I have spent some time trying to learn what modern science can tell us about the universe. I find it a fascinating subject. I also have spent time trying to integrate what I have learned with my Christian faith. And I think that’s a doable task. But I wonder if there is a cosmology, a way of understanding the universe and our place in it, that is universally acceptable.

While ancient peoples had cosmologies that helped them to be at home in the universe, different cultures had different cosmologies. With limited communication between cultures, it didn’t matter much if each culture had a different world view.  As an individual in a culture, you could be comfortable with your place in the cosmos surrounded by others who shared your view. For most of history, people had no idea that other people had other cosmologies.

But today, is it possible for all of us to agree on what our place in the universe is? Can we get post modern people to all agree? Can we get post modern people to agree that we should all agree? I don’t know. I’ll be interested to see how the authors handle this. Will they propose a cosmology that embraces diversity? Or will they propose a  unifying cosmology.

I’m also intrigued by the author’s claim that a new cosmology is crucial to our future.  What would the outcome be if we embrace a new cosmology? What might happen if we don’t?

Primack and Abrans have set out on a daunting task. “Discovering our extraordinary place in the cosmos” is a big task. I’m intriged by the ideas and the questions.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

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