On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

Overview


Peter Atkins is the shining exception to the rule that scientists make poor writers. A Fellow at Oxford and a leading chemist, he has won admiration for his precise, lucid, and yet rigorous explanations of science. Now he turns to the greatest--and most controversial--questions of human existence. Can the scientific method tell us anything of value about birth, death, the origin of reality--and its end? Are these questions best left to faith?
In On Being, Atkins makes a ...
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On Being: A scientist's exploration of the great questions of existence

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Overview


Peter Atkins is the shining exception to the rule that scientists make poor writers. A Fellow at Oxford and a leading chemist, he has won admiration for his precise, lucid, and yet rigorous explanations of science. Now he turns to the greatest--and most controversial--questions of human existence. Can the scientific method tell us anything of value about birth, death, the origin of reality--and its end? Are these questions best left to faith?
In On Being, Atkins makes a provocative contribution to the great debate between religion and science. Atkins makes his position clear from the very first sentence: "The scientific method can shed light on every and any concept, even those that have troubled humans since the earliest stirrings of consciousness," he writes. He takes a materialist approach to the great questions of being that have inspired myth and religion, seeking to "dispel their mystery without diminishing their grandeur." In placing scientific knowledge in such cosmic perspective, he takes us on an often dizzying tour of existence. For example, he argues that "the substrate of existence is nothing at all." The total electrical charge of the universe, among other things, must be nothing--zero--he writes, or else the universe would have blasted itself apart. "Charge was not created at the creation: electrical Nothing separated into equal and opposite charges." He explores breathtaking questions--asking the purpose of the universe--with wit and learning, touching on Sanskrit scriptures and John Updike along the way.
"If absolutely and unreservedly everything is an aspect of the physical, material world, then I do not see how it can be closed to scientific investigation," Atkins writes. "The scientific method is the only means of discovering the nature of reality."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A paean to science."
--Times Literary Supplement

"An effortless read--a real page turner."
--BBC Focus

"Few can match the chiseled beauty of Peter Atkins's prose as he reflects on the nature of life and death, of beginnings and endings."
--Richard Dawkins

"A delight to read. Who else can cover the grand sweep of existence with such clarity and wit as Peter Atkins? The text sparkles with lively metaphors and arresting insights."
--Paul Davies

"Crisp with good sense, clear with scientific knowledge effortlessly imparted, and delicious with the sort of wit that makes you stop and put the book down just to enjoy it the more fully. It presents a vision of life and death, of matter and space and time that is honest and consistent and miracle-free."
--Philip Pullman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199603367
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Atkins is Fellow of Lincoln College, University of Oxford. A leading chemist and writer of widely adopted textbooks, he is the author of Galileo's Finger and Four Laws, among other works.

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Table of Contents

Prologue
1. Creation
2. Evolution
3. Birth
4. Death
5. Ending Epilogue

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