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Marcelo Gleiser refutes the notion that science and spirituality are irreconcilable. In The Dancing Universe, he traces mystical, philosophical, and scientific ideas about the cosmos through the past twenty-five centuries, from the ancient creation myths of numerous cultures to contemporary theories about an ever-expanding universe. He also explores the lives and ideas of history’s greatest scientists, including Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein. By exploring how scientists have unlocked the secrets of gravity, matter, time, and space, Gleiser offers fresh perspective on the debate between science and faith.
Actually, Gleiser believes that the studies of cosmologists such as himself are spiritual; it's just that scientists seek to prove their intuitions, rather than to rely on faith. He finds the notion that scientists are cold and objective, rather than passionate, to be ludicrous and even offensive, and his accounts of the work of Einstein, Copernicus, and Newton wonderfully personalize the essentially spiritual quests these men made on their paths to discoveries with reproducible results. Einstein spoke of a "cosmic religious feeling," for instance. To go back a long way indeed, the Pythagoreans were a monastic order of sorts, their mathematical discoveries a way of proving order in the universe and, to their minds, a divine intelligence. Sometimes, Gleiser is hard pressed to find much spirituality at work—in the endeavors of Niels Bohr, for instance. Nonetheless, the spirituality that is evident in the groundbreaking work of many great scientists is convincingly illuminated by Gleiser in this rather unique overview. He begins with a survey of various creation myths, from Hopi to Zoroastrian to Christian, and shows their links to the early astronomy of the Babylonians and Greeks. He devotes a great deal of attention to the Greeks, then moves on to the ideas of the "pious heretic," Galileo; the origins and intent of Newton's laws of motion; the discovery of the laws of thermodynamics; and the turbulent discoveries of the modern age, beginning with Einstein and progressing through quantum physics and on to the ramifications of the uncertainty principle.
Even if one cares little for Gleiser's spiritual asides, this is an exceptionally clear summary of 2,500 years of science and a fascinating account of the ways in which it often does intersect with spiritual beliefs.
Preface to the 2005 Edition
Beginnings - Creation Myths - The Greeks
The Awakening - The Sun, the Church, and the New Astronomy - The Pious Heretic - The Triumph of Reason
The Classical Era - The World Is an Intricate Machine
Modern Times - Of Things Fast - Of Things Small
Modeling the Universe - Inventing Universes - Beginnings
Epilogue: Dancing with the Universe