Uncommon Sense: Understanding Nature's Truths across Time and Culture

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The divide between teaching “intelligent design” and evolution in U.S. schools has brought to the public eye a struggle that archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni argues is as old as culture itself. All societies seek to understand the natural world, but their search is shaped by culturally distinct views and experiences. In Uncommon Sense, Aveni explores the common and conflicting ways that ancient and contemporary societies have searched for the literal truth about the natural world’s mysteries, from dinosaur bones to the Star of Bethlehem. Aveni demonstrates that a society’s approach to making sense of the natural world can serve as a working definition of its culture, so strongly does it resonate with fundamental values and assumptions.

In ten fascinating essays, Aveni examines topics that have absorbed scientists, religious figures, and ordinary citizens over the centuries. He traces the tug of war between astronomy and astrology, reveals the underpinnings of our notions of cartography and the representation of space and time, and much more.

Readers interested in science, history, and world cultures will revel in this celebration of different cultures’ common and uncommon questions and conclusions about the natural world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Aveni] writes with a mastery and polish that is wonderfully accessible.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Aveni writes accessible prose, and even somewhat technical explanations of systems or events are made easily comprehensible to the non-scientist. All explanations of what we observe, even scientific ones, may be seen as metaphors, or stories that we tell in order to make sense of what we observe. But, Rashomon-like, this book reminds us that stories can be told in a number of different ways, and that determining ‘the truth’ depends on where you are, and when.”
—Tonia L. Payne, Isle

“Anthony Aveni is a passionate scholar and a vivid, engaging writer. Uncommon Sense shows that he is a polymath, too, with an astounding range of interests and knowledge. Like Jared Diamond, Aveni is a brilliant synthesizer, and a delightful one. From cosmology to evolution to mythology to historical and personal anecdotes, Uncommon Sense explores the very essence of religion, science and truth across many cultures, from the vantage point of an uncommonly spacious mind."
—Oliver Sacks

"[Uncommon Sense] explores the patterns created by humans of many cultures and time periods-the maps we make, the star charts we follow, the ordering of the universe and our place in it. . . . Aveni discusses the endless fascination people have with decoding old mysteries; looking for scientific proof of events in religious texts; finding hidden, secret patterns that were unknown before or unexplained or lost in antiquity. . . . Humans are pattern creators, or maybe we’re just seekers, with an unquenchable thirst for finding patterns in nature’s chaos. That is the essence of this fascinating book I’ll be thinking about for years to come."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870818288
  • Publisher: University Press of Colorado
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Aveni is the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropolgy, and Native Amerifan Studies at Colgate University. He has researched and written about Maya Astronomy for more than four decades. He was named a U.S. National Professor of the year and has been awarded the H.B. Nicholson Medal for Excellence in Research in Mesoamerican Studies by Harvard's Peabody Museum.

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Table of Contents

1 What was that star? 3
2 Where orbits came from and how the Greeks unstacked the deck 25
3 Why you can't have a big bang without Darwin - and vice versa 43
4 When disciplines collide : from dinosaurs to the Dogon 67
5 What's in a number? 97
6 Time, the city, and a king's dilemma 119
7 Space : are maps really territory? 145
8 Lists : does everybody do science? 179
9 Symbols : the natural history of a [actual symbol not reproducible] 201
10 Last words 229
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