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The seeds that gave meaning to my life were planted at an early age. I was born in Stuttgart, Germany to German parents who moved to the United States when I was three years old. They came to Indiana because my mother's sister and her husband had moved there after the war. Postwar Germany, even in the 1950s, was a pretty bleak place and America was the golden land of opportunity. My aunt sent glowing and exaggerated letters back to my mother about a bakery that was available on the south side of Indianapolis; it was cheap and they could all go into business together. When my parents arrived with a few trunks, a few dollars, and one kid—me—the bakery opportunity proved to be only half-baked. I'm glad. Otherwise, I might have been a baker and this might have been a cookbook.
My early childhood was shaped by a scrupulously religious Catholic mother and by the good Sisters of Providence at St. Catherine of Sienna parochial school in Indianapolis who started each school day by herding us all to mass, on the assumption that this was the best prelude to reading, writing, arithmetic, and, of course, catechism. In fact, my mother wanted me to become a priest, and I'm sure she sent a lot of prayers heavenward to that effect.
Now, being a priest would have been more exciting than being a baker, but as a child, I always loved science. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be a scientist, and specifically an astronomer. There are some things that you just know, especially as a child, when your world is not yet filled with the ambiguities and doubts that grow and haunt you later in life. As a child of the Sputnik generation, I loved to watch the space-cadet programs on television. Years later, at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City, I tracked down an episode of Buzz Corbin and Cadet Happy that I think may have helped launch my space career. It was unbelievably silly: one back-and-forth joystick seemed to be all the control Buzz needed to fly around the galaxy in his interplanetary rocket. Life was remarkably simpler for them than it was to be for Captain Kirk, Commander Scotty, and their warp engines only a decade later.
By the time I entered the first grade, I already had a curious certainty that I would grow up to be an astronomer. I vividly imagined exploring the surfaces of other worlds through a huge telescope, like the 200-inch reflector on Mt. Palomar. Although what I imagined far exceeded what even such a telescope could actually deliver, the dream was real. I was comforted by knowing that a grand destiny awaited me in astronomy—that there were discoveries just waiting for me to make.
Because of my mother's devout religion and my own fascination with space, I developed a strong conviction at a very early age that I would become a priest-astronomer like Father Giuseppe Piazzi, who discovered the first asteroid, or Father Angelo Secchi, who, in the 1800s, was the first to classify stars according to their spectra. I learned, as I grew older, that these two vocations are not, in fact, incompatible. There are Jesuits who are professional astronomers in good standing. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Catholic Church operated several observatories in Rome, and the official Vatican Observatory, founded in 1891, maintains a modern facility atop Mt. Graham in Arizona—adjacent to the prominent Kitt Peak National Observatory—in partnership with the University of Arizona. I relished the idea of being involved in something really grandiose, something having to do with God and space. How much bigger can a dream be, after all? Not even the sky was my limit.
I pursued the dream of the astronomer-priest for a few years beyond grade school. In high school, I attended the Latin School of Indianapolis, dedicated to preparing young boys for the seminary. I received a first-rate classical education courtesy of the Archdiocese that would have cost a fortune at a private East Coast prep school. Along with the usual English, History, Algebra, Biology, and Physics, I got a hefty dose of Latin, Rhetoric, and Gregorian chant. After high school, I moved on to a college seminary run by Benedictine monks of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. There, the darkrobed monks lent an almost medieval atmosphere to my world, especially on brooding, gray winter days when we all assembled for mass in our cassocks and Roman collars and sang the ancient chants with our Kyriales. Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine. It felt like the middle ages.
I attended the seminary for just one year, however. From the moment I arrived, the possibilities of a different kind of future (especially one involving girls) drew me away from the enclosed worldview of the monastery. Surely, I thought, computation had an edge over prayer in the technological world of the late twentieth century. I abandoned the priestly half of my dream when I was eighteen.
However the other half of my dream I followed all the way, becoming a professional astronomer. I have had a successful career working in the United States and in Europe doing research, frequently competing for and being awarded observing time on orbiting NASA telescopes, writing scores of scientific papers, chairing international conferences, serving as a scientific editor for a prestigious journal in astrophysics, refereeing proposals for the National Science Foundation, giving lectures, and the like.
From Archabbey to Astrophysics
My transition from archabbey to astrophysics took place the following summer. It was, by any measure, a memorable time. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. Vietnam and a tragic, divisive incoming president were polarizing the nation. Yet amid all this, we were going to the moon. The Apollo program had achieved lunar orbit and, on July 20, 1969, the moon landing took place. Human beings had reached another world. A turning point in civilization had been reached, or so it seemed. Provided you could look away from the raging chaos on the surface of our planet, the outbound direction into space and other worlds seemed full of promise. It had taken less than twelve years to go from primitive Sputnik (and Buzz Corbin's one-joystick-does-it-all rocket) to landing astronauts on the moon. Surely another twelve years would be sufficient to take astronauts onward to Mars. That is how things looked to me as I went from the spiritual world of the St. Meinrad seminary and archabbey to the scientific world of an astrophysics major at Indiana University. On the Indiana highway map St. Meinrad lies a mere hundred miles from Indiana University, but if felt more like one hundred light-years.
In my sophomore year at Indiana, I learned how to use a telescope and take photographic plates at the campus's Kirkwood Observatory. I became deeply involved with physics and its applications to astronomy in general. I began to study in depth the nature of stars, galaxies, planetary nebulae, the interstellar medium and the like. Before long, monasteries and the calling to a priesthood were remote and irrelevant memories.
When I graduated from Indiana University, I went straight into a graduate program in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Wisconsin was one of the top ten schools in astronomy and astrophysics in the country, and had just launched a major NASA mission, the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory. They also had excellent beer up there.
Wisconsin had a fast-track astronomy program that enabled me to obtain my Ph.D. by the time I was twenty-five. My doctoral thesis dealt with radiative transfer, a mathematically oriented description of how light and other electromagnetic radiation passes from inside a star and out into space. This kind of inquiry requires huge supercomputers like those at Los Alamos or Livermore, where much of the work is very closely related to nuclear weapons. Since that didn't interest me, I grew away from the subject, which I had begun to see as just too technical and too complex, involving too much of what scientists call "number crunching."
Launching a Career
By the time I graduated, the job market was nearly saturated and unemployment a looming threat. I was lucky enough, however, to be offered a postdoctoral fellowship doing research for Jeff Linsky at the prominent Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a world center for research in astrophysics.
Once again I found myself immersed in a belief system of sorts, but this time the decidedly secular one of academia. Here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, with the soaring Flatirons looking like a Hollywood backdrop, was one of the top research institutes. Scientists from all over the planet came here to spend a summer, or a year, and I had been welcomed into this secular sanctum sanctorum and given a chance to start proving my worth as a modern researcher. Was this not heaven on earth?
Linsky's work involved obtaining data from NASA satellites, especially those dealing with the ultraviolet and x-ray parts of the spectrum. I, along with his other postdoctoral fellows, analyzed and tried to interpret that data. Our job was to generate a flurry of research papers that coaxed every possible bit of astrophysical insight from the precious satellite observations. This established reputations, advanced careers, and kept the grant money flowing. It was Linsky who stirred my passion for a class of stars known as cool stars (by stellar standards, our sun is a cool star).
At about this time, I began reading about Buddhism. I remember thinking to myself, perhaps because I was an astrophysicist with some bona fides as a seminarian, that there was some connection to be made, some insight on the deepest nature of things to be discovered, that only someone with my background could uncover. But that interest was soon tabled as my personal and professional lives became more complex.
I was offered a research position at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which I accepted. The Dutch were very active in astronomy, doing ultraviolet spectroscopy from a balloon- borne spectrograph launched, oddly enough, from Palestine, Texas. Of course anyone who knows the dreary Dutch climate will understand why Dutch astronomers would spend their time under Texas skies. The Dutch get around. After a year in the Netherlands, I returned to the United States and rejoined Linsky in Colorado. Not long after, I was offered a job with the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory.
My work at Lockheed allowed me to do a remarkable amount of astrophysics, thanks in part to a highly classified program that is now well known: the spy satellite program. They wanted me to provide them with astrophysical information in order to very accurately calibrate their telescope using star positions. I had nothing against surveillance: spying on each other is a reasonable way to keep peace. Essentially they wanted me to develop a very precise catalog of star brightnesses, so I created an elaborate computer program for them that was probably ten times more accurate than anything ever done for a classified program, though I can't be totally sure of that since all such stuff was, after all, secret.
Lockheed seemed to have lots of money back then—this program in particular—and didn't really care what I did so long as the star catalog was a success ... and it was. So I spent a lot of my time doing astrophysics beyond what they really needed and no one seemed to mind. I even managed to initiate new stellar research by winning some NASA grants.
Perhaps as a result, within a couple of years I was invited to join a research group at Lockheed that actually made its living from NASA projects instead of classified programs. It was called the Space Sciences Laboratory at the time and later split and morphed into the Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory. They were, and still are, the world's leading group in solar physics.
I studied flares on stars, which had become a hot topic in stellar astronomy because you could see them with the new ultraviolet and x-ray telescopes launched by NASA. But I also became involved in the analysis of data from the Solar Maximum Mission, one of the first satellites to measure x-ray emissions from the sun in great detail. I enjoyed this work, because the sun is the prototypical cool star and close enough to analyze accurately—a mere 93 million miles away, or right in our own backyard by astronomical standards. Studying solar phenomena while publishing on stellar observations gave me a considerable advantage, because most stellar astronomers know very little about the sun itself. The proximity of the sun affords a very high level of detail that can, in turn, prompt ideas about what you can observe on other stars. And that is how I fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming an astronomer.
Age of Discovery
Joining a community of scientists is not the same, however, as making scientific discoveries.
It is said in science that, if you haven't made a major breakthrough by the time you are thirty-five, you are probably too old and set in your ways to have the insight necessary to do so. By the time I reached that landmark age, I had only one minor discovery under my belt—the stellar "coronal dividing line." In the grand scheme of scientific discovery, this was not an earthshattering record. It's a bit like writing a song that tops the chart at number ninety-seven—more gratifying than just performing it at the pizza place, but don't expect a Grammy. Moreover, I felt hampered by the paradoxical fact that young scientists are not encouraged to stray far from the prevailing orthodoxy in their given fields, even though free inquiry is the stuff of which innovation is made.
But about that time I was actually foraging across a pretty wide intellectual terrain. This was in no small measure due to the intellectually liberating influence of my wife, Marsha, who is metaphysically inclined. She had just finished a Master's degree in music and saw the world through very different eyes than the average atoms-and-molecules-explains-it-all scientist. With encouragement and prodding from her ("How do you know that for certain? Have you ever really looked at this from a new perspective?") I developed a healthy curiosity for things outside the narrow confines of my astrophysical expertise.
At about this time, I became active in the Society for Scientific Exploration, an organization founded by a dozen university professors led by Peter Sturrock, a renowned plasma physicist at Stanford University. This society was founded to provide a forum to "foster the study of all questions that are amenable to scientific investigation without restriction." I soon found myself editing the Society's peer-reviewed Journal of Scientific Exploration. It was through the work of physicist Hal Puthoff, a Society member, that I became interested in a branch of physics that emerged at the start of the twentieth century, but never entered the scientific mainstream. It had the most impeccable credentials, however, having been explored by Albert Einstein, Max Planck, and Walther Nernst. This field of inquiry is essentially the story of light—a very special light known as the electromagnetic zero-point field, or the electromagnetic quantum vacuum. The zero-point field is an important part of the God Theory. I will return to it in chapter 6.
Return of the Astronomer-Priest
Throughout this long journey, and despite a successful career in mainstream science that spans three decades, I never stopped asking fundamental questions. Moreover, my science has led me full-circle to a search for answers to some most unscientific questions:
Is there really a God?
What am I?
What is my destiny?
In essence, I have become—perhaps despite myself—the astronomer-priest of my early dreams.
I now know that the answers to these questions cannot be found in astronomy—or indeed anywhere in modern science. Moreover, I believe these questions are not being answered correctly by the religions of the world either. Indeed, I think that some of the answers given by religion today are exactly the opposite of the truth and are responsible for the violence and hatred that engulfs the planet. Some of the purported answers are monstrously inhumane and unworthy of a real God.
I believe it is time to put medieval notions of divine fiefdoms— and all their attendant notions of allegiance, punishment, vengeance, and servitude—behind us and move to a more rational and inclusive view of spirituality, one based on compassion and unity.
I, therefore, propose the God Theory—a theory that is intellectually satisfying as well as spiritually enriching. The rest of this book will explore that theory: What is the evidence for it? What are its implications for us as human beings? What is our relationship to the God of the theory and God's to us? How can we reconcile spirituality and science? How can we transform the world from one of suspicion, intolerance, and hatred to one of trust, tolerance, and love?
Excerpted from The God Theory by BERNARD HAISCH. Copyright © 2006 Bernard Haisch. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Chapter 1: Personal Journey
Chapter 2: Asking Fundamental Questions
Chapter 3: Explaining Creation
Chapter 4: Reductionism and a Spiritual Worldview
Chapter 5: Explaining Consciousness
Chapter 6: The Zero-Point Field
Chapter 7: Into the Void
Chapter 8: Following the Light
Chapter 9: God and the Theory of Everything
Chapter 10: An Infinite Number of Universes
Chapter 11: A Purposeful Universe
A life-time of study and twenty-one years of in-depth practice in Native American thought, Japanese Zen, Taoist Qigong (Ch'i Kung) Neikung and practices in the arts of Kundalini and Shushumna energy, have brought me to finally reading this book.<BR/> <BR/>I am, obviously, a mystic to a high degree. Having spent many years sitting most literally in the moment before the Big Bang, my nature and understanding of Nothing or Emptiness is all but definable.<BR/> <BR/>Mr. Haisch allowed me to have faith in one thing after having read his book: That there are scientists who actually think both with their mind and with wisdom. Bernard Haisch has wisdom¿A rare trait within much of the scientific community. I can say this as I have been surrounded by scientists most of my life.<BR/> <BR/>Mr. Haisch¿s description of Zero Point Energy and its affiliation with the "Is Potential" is identical with that experienced to me in meditations and journeys with energy work.<BR/> <BR/>The humor he uses in his writing defines Mr. Haisch as malleable and willing to think outside of the orthodoxies of science. Most refreshing. Bernard Haisch allows himself to see the possibilities of the human experience instead of locking himself in a pre-defined box of lifeless gadgets.
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Posted December 12, 2009
I find this book to be well written and understandable (inasmuchas astrophysics in understandable). However, this author sometimes goes on and on discussing a point only to refute it outright with one or two unsubstantiated statements. There are pertinent assumptions and questions that this author fails to explore. Nevertheless, this book and it's revelations have both validated my own thoughts and taught me revealing and interesting things that I plan to interrogate further.
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Posted May 30, 2009
I found this book to be more of an autobiography than anything else. It is interesting but don't buy it for education or research. The actual theory could have been written in about 10 pages.
I like his theory. I wish he would have expanded it somewhat.
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Would that Dr. Haisch had stayed in his field of expertise, astronomy, and used the powers of scientific enquiry and logic at his disposal, perhaps he would not have come to the erroneous conclusions that he did. First and foremost, he errs in state that "While scientific orthodoxy boasts no churches, it is nonetheless a faith - a faith whose ritual is skepticism." He seems to forget that the objective of science is to question all hypotheses until satisfactory and repeatable proof has been provided. Skepticism is what allowed him to become the acclaimed astronomer he is! Take skepticism away from science and you are left with ... Faith! Unquestionable, improvable, unreliable and totally unscientific.
Take, for example, his 'if-then' proposition on pages 66-67: "If consciousness underlies the universe, and your own consciousness is capable of seeing into or communicating with other levels of consciousness, then what people, especially mystics, have seen and experienced does constitute real data. In this view, we are all little pieces of the same consciousness that has deliberately fragmented itself so that you can be you and I can be me. This is the essence of the God Theory." By ASSUMING that his two "if" statements are true and unassailable, he proceeds to his "then" statement as a logical conclusion and the basis for his whole theory. But it is, in fact, not a scientific theory, since to become a theory, in science, the theory must begin as a "model" and cannot proceed to a "theory" until it has been thoroughly empirically and riskily tested, and show itself to be useful. Hence, he elevates his untested "model" of God to the status of "theory", belying his use of faith as the support of his argument rather than logic and the scientific principle.
Interestingly, Dr. Haisch cites only 24 books from a mere 20 authors in his failed God Theory. This is a good read for those who want to see the use of pseudo-scientific principles, pseudo-logic and scientific wording to obfuscate the real issue: the lack of support for his failed hypothesis.
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Posted February 28, 2010
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