In this critically acclaimed book, first published in 1988 and now reprinted in paperback, scientist and author Paul Davies explains how recent scientific advances are transforming our understanding of the emergence of complexity and organization in the universe.
Melding a variety of ideas and disciplines from biology, fundamental physics, computer science, mathematics, genetics, and neurology, Davies presents his provocative theory on the source of the universe's creative potency. He explores the new paradigm (replacing the centuries-old Newtonian view of the universe) that recognizes the collective and holistic properties of physical systems and the power of self-organization. He casts the laws in physics in the role of a "blueprint," embodying a grand cosmic scheme that progressively unfolds as the universe develops.
Challenging the viewpoint that the physical universe is a meaningless collection particles, he finds overwhelming evidence for an underlying purpose: "Science may explain all the processes whereby the universe evolves its own destiny, but that still leaves room for there to be a meaning behind existence."
Cosmology, Calendars, and Horizon-Based Astronomy in Ancient Mesoamerica is an interdisciplinary tour de force that establishes the critical role astronomy played in the religious and civic lives of the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica. Providing extraordinary examples of how Precolumbian peoples merged ideas about the cosmos with those concerning calendar and astronomy, the volume showcases the value of detailed examinations of astronomical data for understanding ancient cultures.
The volume is divided into three sections: investigations into Mesoamerican horizon-based astronomy, the cosmological principles expressed in Mesoamerican religious imagery and rituals related to astronomy, and the aspects of Mesoamerican calendars related to archaeoastronomy. It also provides cutting-edge research on diverse topics such as records of calendar and horizon-based astronomical observation (like the Dresden and Borgia codices), iconography of burial assemblages, architectural alignment studies, urban planning, and counting or measuring devices.
Contributors—who are among the most respected in their fields— explore new dimensions in Mesoamerican timekeeping and skywatching in the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacano, Zapotec, and Aztec cultures. It will be of great interest to students and scholars of anthropology, archaeology, art history, and astronomy.
For millennia humans have studied the skies to help them grow crops, navigate the seas, and earn favor from their gods. We still look to the stars today for answers to fundamental questions: How did the universe begin? Will it end, and if so, how? What is our place within it? John North has been examining such questions for decades. In Cosmos, he offers a sweeping historical survey of the two sciences that help define our place in the universe: astronomy and cosmology.
Organizing his history chronologically, North begins by examining Paleolithic cave drawings that clearly chart the phases of the moon. He then investigates scientific practices in the early civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China, and the Americas (among others), whose inhabitants developed sophisticated methods to record the movements of the planets and stars. Trade routes and religious movements, North notes, brought these ancient styles of scientific thinking to the attention of later astronomers, whose own theories—such as Copernicus’ planetary theory—led to the Scientific Revolution.
The work of master astronomers, including Ptolemy, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, is described in detail, as are modern-day developments in astrophysics, such as the advent of radio astronomy, the brilliant innovations of Einstein, and the many recent discoveries brought about with the help of the Hubble telescope. This new edition brings North’s seminal book right up to the present day, as North takes a closer look at last year’s reclassification of Pluto as a “dwarf” planet and gives a thorough overview of current research.
With more than two hundred illustrations and a comprehensive bibliography, Cosmos is the definitive history of astronomy and cosmology. It is sure to find an eager audience among historians of science and astronomers alike.
Darkness at Night
Edward Robert Harrison Harvard University Press, 1987 Library of Congress QB28.H37 1987 | Dewey Decimal 520.9
The Discovery of Time
Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield University of Chicago Press, 1982 Library of Congress BD638.T67 1982 | Dewey Decimal 115
"A discussion of the historical development of our ideas of time as they relate to nature, human nature and society. . . . The excellence of The Discovery of Time is unquestionable."—Martin Lebowitz, The Kenyon Review
December 21, 2012. The Internet, bookshelves, and movie theaters are full of prophecies, theories, and predictions that this date marks the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. Whether the end will result from the magnentic realignment of the north and south poles, bringing floods, earthquakes, death, and destruction; or from the return of alien caretakers to enlighten or enslave us; or from a global awakening, a sudden evolution of Homo sapiens into non-corporeal beings—theories of great, impending changes abound. In The End of Time, award-winning astronomer and Maya researcher Anthony Aveni explores these theories, explains their origins, and measures them objectively against evidence unearthed by Maya archaeologists, iconographers, and epigraphers. He probes the latest information astronomers and earth scientists have gathered on the likelihood of Armageddon and the oft-proposed link between the Maya Long Count cycle and the precession of the equinoxes. He then expands on these prophecies to include the broader context of how other cultures, ancient and modern, thought about the “end of things” and speculates on why cataclysmic events in human history have such a strong appeal within American pop culture.
Conceived as three companion volumes that form an introduction to the central ideas of the modern natural sciences, these books—intelligent, informative, and accessible—are an excellent source for those who have no technical knowledge of the subject.
Praise for The Fabric of the Heavens:
"I cannot remember when I last went through a book, any book, with such all-devouring zest. What is more, even the most complex technicalities are reduced to a positively crystalline clarity: If I can understand them, anyone can. The Fabric of the Heavens is, in every sense of the word, an eye-opener."—Peter Green, The Yorkshire Post
"Not until the last chapter of the book is [the reader] allowed to think again wholly as a modern man has become accustomed, by common sense, to think. The discipline is admirably suited to the authors' task, and cunningly devised for the reader's edification—and, indeed, for his delight."—Physics Today
Praise for The Architecture of Matter:
"The Architecture of Matter is to be warmly recommended. It is that rare achievement, a lively book which at the same time takes the fullest possible advantage of scholarly knowledge."—Charles C. Gillespie, New York Times Book Review
"One is impressed by the felicity of the examples and by the lively clarity with which significant experiments and ideas are explained. . . . No other history of science is so consistently challenging."—Scientific American
Praise for The Discovery of Time:
"A subject of absorbing interest . . . is presented not as a history of science, but as a chapter in the history of ideas from the ancient Greeks to our own time."—Times Literary Supplement
In today’s academe, the fields of science and literature are considered unconnected, one relying on raw data and fact, the other focusing on fiction. During the period between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, however, the two fields were not so distinct. Just as the natural philosophers of the era were discovering in and adopting from literature new strategies and techniques for their discourse, so too were poets and storytellers finding inspiration in natural philosophy, particularly in astronomy.
A work that speaks to the history of science and literary studies, Fictions of the Cosmos explores the evolving relationship that ensued between fiction and astronomical authority. By examining writings of Kepler, Godwin, Hooke, Cyrano, Cavendish, Fontenelle, and others, Frédérique Aït-Touati shows that it was through the telling of stories—such as through accounts of celestial journeys—that the Copernican hypothesis, for example, found an ontological weight that its geometric models did not provide. Aït-Touati draws from both cosmological treatises and fictions of travel and knowledge, as well as personal correspondences, drawings, and instruments, to emphasize the multiple borrowings between scientific and literary discourses. This volume sheds new light on the practices of scientific invention, experimentation, and hypothesis formation by situating them according to their fictional or factual tendencies.
Manitoba is more than one of Canada's three prairie provinces. Encompassing 649,950 square kilometres, its territory ranges from Canadian Shield to grassland, parkland, and subarctic tundra. Its physical geography has been shaped by ice-age glaciers, while its human geography reflects the influences of its various inhabitants, from the First Nations who began arriving over 9,000 years ago, to its most recent immigrants. This fascinating range of geographical elements has given Manitoba a distinct identity and makes it a unique area for study. Geography of Manitoba is the first comprehensive guide to all aspects of the human and physical geography of this unique province. Representing the work of 47 scholars, and illustrated with over 200 maps, diagrams, and photographs, it is divided into four main sections, covering the major areas of the province's geography: Physical Background; People and Settlements; Resources and Industry; and Recreation.As well as studying historical developments, the contributors to Geography of Manitoba analyse recent political and economic events in the province, including the effect of federal and provincial elections and international trade agreements. They also comment on future prospects for the province, considering areas as diverse as resource management and climatic trends.
Owen Gingerich Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress BL240.3.G558 2014 | Dewey Decimal 215
Many scientists look at the universe and conclude we are here by chance. The astronomer and historian Owen Gingerich looks at the same evidence—and the fact that the universe is comprehensible to our minds—and sees it as proof for the intentions of a Creator-God. The more rigorous science becomes, the more clearly God’s handiwork can be understood.
Horizons of Cosmology
Joseph Silk Templeton Press, 2009 Library of Congress QB791.3.S55 2009 | Dewey Decimal 523.1
Horizons of Cosmology: Exploring Worlds Seen and Unseen is the fourth title published in the Templeton Science and Religion Series, in which scientists from a wide range of fields distill their experience and knowledge into brief tours of their respective specialties. In this volume, highly esteemed astrophysicist Joseph Silk explores the vast mysteries and speculations of the field of cosmology in a way that balances an accessible style for the general reader and enough technical detail for advanced students and professionals.
Indeed, while the physical laws and origins of the universe can be endlessly complex, even Einstein once mused that they could be explained simply enough to be grasped by nonspecialists. To that end Silk begins by introducing the basic story of the major discoveries in cosmology over the past century—wherein we learned that we live in an expanding universe populated with galaxies and stars. The middle chapters examine a number of contemporary puzzles such as dark matter and dark energy. The last third of the book looks at the human side of cosmology and moves to the more philosophical frontiers of the field, such as concepts of multiverses and time travel—areas of exploration where some crossover into speculative territory becomes unavoidable.
In the past century alone, our understanding of the universe has expanded exponentially, and it will be fascinating to see what discoveries the next hundred years hold. Few books will provide such a thorough understanding of where we have been and what might lie ahead as Horizons of Cosmology.
“This book will provide readers with a greater awareness of the spirit of curiosity and inquiry that lies at the heart of the Buddhist tradition, as well as the fruitfulness of maintaining active communication between the Buddhist and scientific communities.” —from the Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
In Humble before the Void, Impey, a noted astronomer, educator, and author gives us a thoroughly absorbing and engaging account of his journey to Northern India to teach in the first-ever “Science for Monks” leadership program. The program was initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to introduce science into the Tibetan Buddhist monastic tradition.
In a vivid and compelling narrative, Impey introduces us to a group of exiled Tibetan monks whose charm, tenacity and unbridled enthusiasm for learning is infectious. Impey marvels not only at their enthusiasm, but at their tireless diligence that allows the monks to painstakingly build intricate sand mandalas—that can be swept away in an instant. He observes them as they meticulously count galaxies and notes how their enthusiasm and diligence stands in contrast to many American students who are frequently turned off by science’s inability to deliver easy, immediate payoffs. Because the Buddhist monks have had a limited science education, Impey must devise creative pedagogy. His new students immediately take to his inspired teaching methods, whether it’s the use of balloons to demonstrate the Hubble expansion or donning an Einstein mask to explain the theory of relativity.
Humble before the Void also recounts Impey’s experiences outside the classroom, from the monks’ eagerness to engage in pick-up basketball games and stream episodes of hip American sitcoms to the effects on his relationship with the teenage son who makes the trip with him. Moments of profound serenity and beauty in the Himalayas are contrasted with the sorrow of learning that other monks have set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese oppression in Tibet.
At the end of the three week program, both the monks and Impey have gained a valuable education. While the monks have a greater understanding and appreciation of science, Impey has acquired greater self- knowledge and a deeper understanding of the nature of learning and teaching in the East and West. This understanding leads to a renewed enthusiasm for making his topic come alive for others.
This provocative volume, one of the most important interpretive works on the philosophical thought of the Renaissance, has long been regarded as a classic in its field. Ernst Cassirer here examines the changes brewing in the early stages of the Renaissance, tracing the interdependence of philosophy, language, art, and science; the newfound recognition of individual consciousness; and the great thinkers of the period—from da Vinci and Galileo to Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno. The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy discusses the importance of fifteenth-century philosopher Nicholas Cusanus, the concepts of freedom and necessity, and the subject-object problem in Renaissance thought.
“This fluent translation of a scholarly and penetrating original leaves little impression of an attempt to show that a ‘spirit of the age’ or ‘spiritual essence of the time’ unifies and expresses itself in all aspects of society or culture.”—Philosophy
Inner Space/Outer Space
Edited by Edward Kolb, Michael Turner, Keith Olive, David Seckel, and David Lind University of Chicago Press, 1986 Library of Congress QB980.I56 1986 | Dewey Decimal 523.01
Inner Space/Outer Space brings together much of the exciting work contributing to a new synthesis of modern physics. Particle physicists, concerned with the "inner space" of the atom, are making discoveries that their colleagues in astrophysics, studying outer space, can use to develop and test hypotheses about the events that occurred in the microseconds after the Big Bang and that shaped the universe as we know it today.
The papers collected here, from scores of scientists, constitute the proceedings of the first major international conference on research at the interface of particle physics and astrophysics, held in May 1984. The editors have written introductions to each major section that draw out the central themes and elaborate on the primary implications of the papers that follow.
The work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), regarded by many as the founder of modern astronomy, is also historically important to the philosophy and methodology of science as a whole. While most studies of Kepler have concentrated on his astronomical work, particularly his laws describing the revolutions of the planets, the. V. Field focuses on one of Kepler's major preoccupations, his search for the geometrical plan according to which God created teh universe. She demonstrates how Kepler's cosmological theories, which embrace music and astrology as well as astronomy, relate to his other work. Drawing on the whole body of Kepler's writings, Field traces the impact of Plato, Euclid, and Proclus on his thinking, as well as the influence of his contemporaries Galileo and Robert Fludd.
Kepler has suffered from a dual image as both hero of science and eccentric mystagogue. Field's sound scholarship provides a more complete picture of the man and his work that will be of value to historians of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the late Renaissance.
Whitehead's magnum opus is as important as it is difficult. It is the only work in which his metaphysical ideas are stated systematically and completely, and his metaphysics are the heart of his philosophical system as a whole. Sherburne has rearranged the text in a way designed to lead the student logically and coherently through the intricacies of the system without losing the vigor of Whitehead's often brilliant prose.
"The Key renders Process and Reality pedagogically accessible for the first time."—Journal of Religion
The indigenous people of Southern Vietnam, known as the Khmer Krom, occupy territory over which Vietnam and Cambodia have competing claims. Regarded with ambivalence and suspicion by nationalists in both countries, these in-between people have their own claims on the place where they live and a unique perspective on history and sovereignty in their heavily contested homelands. To cope with wars, environmental re-engineering and nation-building, the Khmer Krom have selectively engaged with the outside world in addition to drawing upon local resources and self-help networks.
This groundbreaking book reveals the sophisticated ecological repertoire deployed by the Khmer Krom to deal with a complex river delta, and charts their diverse adaptations to a changing environment. In addition, it provides an ethnographically grounded exposition of Khmer mythic thought that shows how the Khmer Krom position themselves within a landscape imbued with life-sustaining potential, magical sovereign power and cosmological significance. Offering a new environmental history of the Mekong River delta, this book is the first to explore Southern Vietnam through the eyes of its indigenous Khmer residents.
A fascinating and sophisticated exploration of cosmology, Magical Arrows connects the Western philosophical tradition with the cosmological traditions of non-Western societies, particularly those of Polynesia. Using the mythology and philosophy of the Maori of New Zealand as a counterpoint to Western thought, Schrempp finds a philosophical common denominator in the thought of the pre-Socratic philosopher, Zeno of Elea. Schrempp suggests that the paradoxes of Zeno, together with the philosophical speculations that they have historically inspired, contain sophisticated insights which are nevertheless general enough to form the foundations of a comparative cosmology.
Schrempp suggests that perhaps the most noteworthy Zenoian insight is that paradox is intrinsic to cosmological speculation. But he points out that there are many other characteristics of Zeno’s approach, including the strategy of juxtaposing concrete images to mathematical forms of representation, that reappear persistently in Western intellectual history. Schrempp proceeds through a series of juxtapositions—between Zeno, Kant, Lovejoy, and Lévi-Strauss, and between Western cosmologists and those from other cultures—to highlight subtle similarities and differences among intellectual traditions and to examine the conceptual apparatus of Western social science.
Schrempp concludes that a meaningful comparative cosmology is possible and that the tradition of Zeno provides a propitious starting point for such a perspective.
In Many Worlds, renowned scientists in fields from physics to astronomy discuss the possibility of a cosmic evolutionary process that guides not only our universe, but other planets and universes as well. Physicist and author Paul Davies observes that “if it turns out to be the case that the universe is inherently bio-friendly, then the scientific, theological, and philosophical implications will be extremely significant.”
Many Worlds first focuses on what lessons might be learned from the latest knowledge of the origin and evolution of life. After establishing a well-grounded relationship between science and religion, authors such as Arthur Peacocke and John Leslie evaluate the intricate configuration of events that must occur to create a dynamic and chemically enriched environment capable of not only supporting life, but evolutionary processes as well. The final section addresses the provocative question of extraterrestrial life. What we may find could drastically change our relation to the universe and our creator.
As we reflect on the possibilities that the universe presents, author and contributor Christian de Duve aptly states, “Many myths have had to be abandoned. But mystery remains, more profound and beautiful than ever before, a reality almost inaccessible to our feeble human means.” Is our existence part of a divine scheme ingenuously designed to support life, or is it an extraordinary chain of accidents that culminate in a life-permitting environment? The scientific advancements of the past century cannot help but capture the imagination and inspire renewed hope for the future. This volume will add dimension and insight to these yet unanswered questions.
These selections from Le système du monde, the classic ten-volume history of the physical sciences written by the great French physicist Pierre Duhem (1861-1916), focus on cosmology, Duhem's greatest interest. By reconsidering the work of such Arab and Christian scholars as Averroes, Avicenna, Gregory of Rimini, Albert of Saxony, Nicole Oresme, Duns Scotus, and William of Occam, Duhem demonstrated the sophistication of medieval science and cosmology.
The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem
Jan Patocka, edited by Ivan Chvatík and Lubica Ucnik, translated by Erika Abrams, foreword by Ludwig Landgrebe Northwestern University Press, 2016 Library of Congress BD516.P3713 2016 | Dewey Decimal 113
The first text to critically discuss Edmund Husserl’s concept of the "life-world," The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem reflects Jan Patocka's youthful conversations with the founder of phenomenology and two of his closest disciples, Eugen Fink and Ludwig Landgrebe. Now available in English for the first time, this translation includes an introduction by Landgrebe and two self-critical afterwords added by Patocka in the 1970s. Unique in its extremely broad range of references, the work addresses the views of Russell, Wittgenstein, and Carnap alongside Husserl and Heidegger, in a spirit that considerably broadens the understanding of phenomenology in relation to other twentieth-century trends in philosophy. Even eighty years after first appearing, it is of great value as a general introduction to philosophy, and it is essential reading for students of the history of phenomenology as well as for those desiring a full understanding of Patocka’s contribution to contemporary thought.
On Plato’s Timaeus
Calcidius Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress B387.C3413 2016 | Dewey Decimal 113
In the 4th century CE, Calcidius translated into Latin an important section of Plato’s Timaeus, complemented by commentary and organized into coordinated parts. Its organization subsequently informed the sense of macrocosm and microcosm—of the world and our place in it—which is prevalent in western European thought in the Middle Ages.
The Perfect Wave
Heinrich Päs Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress QC793.16.P37 2014 | Dewey Decimal 539.7215
Almost weightless and able to pass through the densest materials with ease, neutrinos may offer answers to questions ranging from relativity and quantum mechanics to more radical theories about dark energy and supersymmetry. Heinrich Päs serves as our fluent guide to a particle world that tests the boundaries of space, time, and human knowledge.
Though the kinematics of the evolving universe became known decades ago, research into the physics of processes occurring in the expanding universe received a reliable observational and theoretical basis only in more recent years. These achievements have led in turn to the emergence of new problems, on which an unusually active assault has begun.
This second volume of Relativistic Astrophysics provides a remarkably complete picture of the present state of cosmology. It is a synthesis of the theoretical foundations of contemporary cosmology, which are derived from work in relativity, plasma theory, thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, and particle physics. It presents the theoretical work that explains, describes, and predicts the nature of the universe, the physical process that occur in it, the formation of galaxies, the synthesis of the light elements, and the cosmological singularity and the theory of gravitation.
This book, long and eagerly awaited, is essential for everyone whose work is related to cosmology and astrophysics.
Discoveries in astronomy challenge our fundamental ideas about the universe. Where the astronomers of antiquity once spoke of fixed stars, we now speak of whirling galaxies and giant supernovae. Where we once thought Earth was the center of the universe, we now see it as a small planet among millions of other planetary systems, any number of which could also hold life. These dramatic shifts in our perspective hinge on thousands of individual discoveries: moments when it became clear to someone that some part of the universe—whether a planet or a supermassive black hole—was not as it once seemed.
Secrets of the Universe invites us to participate in these moments of revelation and wonder as scientists first experienced them. Renowned astronomer Paul Murdin here provides an ambitious and exciting overview of astronomy, conveying for newcomers and aficionados alike the most important discoveries of this science and introducing the many people who made them. Lavishly illustrated with more than 400 color images, the book outlines in seventy episodes what humankind has learned about the cosmos—and what scientists around the world are poised to learn in the coming decades. Arranged by types of discovery, it also provides an overarching narrative throughout that explains how the earliest ideas of the cosmos evolved into the cutting-edge astronomy we know today. Along the way, Murdin never forgets that science is a human endeavor, and that every discovery was the result of inspiration, hard work, or luck—usually all three.
The first section of Secrets explores discoveries made before the advent of the telescope, from stars and constellations to the position of our own sun. The second considers discoveries made within our own solar system, from the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter to the comets and asteroids at its distant frontier. The next section delves into discoveries of the dynamic universe, like gravitation, relativity, pulsars, and black holes. A fourth examines discoveries made within our own galaxy, from interstellar nebulae and supernovae to Cepheid variable stars and extrasolar planets. Next Murdin turns to discoveries made within the deepest recesses of the universe, like quasars, supermassive black holes, and gamma ray bursters. In the end, Murdin unveils where astronomy still teeters on the edge of discovery, considering dark matter and alien life.
Writing for the general reader or student, Wald has completely revised and updated this highly regarded work to include recent developments in black hole physics and cosmology. Nature called the first edition "a very readable and accurate account of modern relativity physics for the layman within the unavoidable constraint of almost no mathematics. . . . A well written, entertaining and authoritative book."
The Star of Redemption
Franz Rosenzweig; Translated by Barbara E. Galli; Foreword by Michael Oppenheim, introduction by Elliot R. Wolfson University of Wisconsin Press, 2005 Library of Congress BM565.R613 2005 | Dewey Decimal 296.3
The Star of Redemption is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding religion and philosophy in the twentieth century. Fusing philosophy and theology, the book assigns both Judaism and Christianity distinct but equally important roles in the spiritual structure of the world. Franz Rosenzweig finds in both biblical religions approaches to a comprehension of reality.
The major themes and motifs of The Star—the birth, life, death, and the immortality of the soul; Eastern philosophies and Jewish mysticism; the relationship between God, world and humanity over time; and revelation as the real biblical miracle of faith and path to redemption—resonate meaningfully.
The landscapes of the American Southwest—the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Sedona red rocks—have long filled humans with wonder about nature. This is the home of Lowell Observatory, where astronomers first discovered evidence that the universe is expanding; Meteor Crater, where Apollo astronauts trained for the moon; and Native American tribes with their own ancient, rich ways of relating to the cosmos. With the personal, poetic style of the very best literary nature writing, Don Lago explores how these landscapes have offered humans a deeper sense of connection with the universe. While most nature writing never leaves the ground, Lago is one of the few writers who has applied it to the universe, seeking ties between humans and the astronomical forces that gave us birth.
Nowhere else in the world is the link between earth and sky so powerful. Lago witnesses a solar eclipse over the Grand Canyon, climbs primeval volcanos, and sees the universe in tree rings. Through ageless Native American ceremonies, modern telescopes, and even dreams of flying saucers, Lago, who is not only a poet but a true philosopher of science, strives to find order and meaning in the world and brings out the Southwest’s beauty and mystery.
When the ancient Greeks looked up into the heavens, they saw not just sun and moon, stars and planets, but a complete, coherent universe, a model of the Good that could serve as a guide to a better life. How this view of the world came to be, and how we lost it (or turned away from it) on the way to becoming modern, make for a fascinating story, told in a highly accessible manner by Rémi Brague in this wide-ranging cultural history.
Before the Greeks, people thought human action was required to maintain the order of the universe and so conducted rituals and sacrifices to renew and restore it. But beginning with the Hellenic Age, the universe came to be seen as existing quite apart from human action and possessing, therefore, a kind of wisdom that humanity did not. Wearing his remarkable erudition lightly, Brague traces the many ways this universal wisdom has been interpreted over the centuries, from the time of ancient Egypt to the modern era. Socratic and Muslim philosophers, Christian theologians and Jewish Kabbalists all believed that questions about the workings of the world and the meaning of life were closely intertwined and that an understanding of cosmology was crucial to making sense of human ethics. Exploring the fate of this concept in the modern day, Brague shows how modernity stripped the universe of its sacred and philosophical wisdom, transforming it into an ethically indifferent entity that no longer serves as a model for human morality.
Encyclopedic and yet intimate, The Wisdom of the World offers the best sort of history: broad, learned, and completely compelling. Brague opens a window onto systems of thought radically different from our own.