THE ACCIDENTAL UNIVERSE by Alan Lightman

THE ACCIDENTAL UNIVERSE

The World You Thought You Knew

KIRKUS REVIEW

Lightman (Science and the Humanities/MIT; Mr. g, 2012, etc.) explores how our perception of the visible world is shaped by the invisible world, which we do not directly perceive.

As both a novelist and an astrophysicist, the author bridges the cultural divide made famous by C.P. Snow in his iconic 1959 Cambridge lecture, “The Two Cultures.” Lightman contrasts lectures he gave when he first joined the MIT faculty: In the morning, he taught physics classes about a world "described to high accuracy by equations.” In his afternoon classes for would-be writers, he emphasized that good fiction deals with the unpredictability of human behavior. The author dismisses arguments for intelligent design that seek justification in the apparent fine-tuning of certain fundamental parameters in physics necessary for the existence of life (e.g., the speed of light). Citing the multi-universe hypothesis, he suggests that our universe was not specially designed for us. "From the cosmic lottery hat containing zillions of universes, we happened to draw a universe that allowed life,” he writes. If this weren't the case, "we wouldn’t be here to ponder the question.” Lightman tells us that he is an atheist. He endorses "the central doctrine of science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws,” and he rejects the notion of "a Being who lives beyond matter and energy." Nonetheless, he stakes out a middle ground between evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and devoutly religious geneticist Francis Collins, and he explains his belief "that science is not the only avenue for arriving at knowledge, that there are vital questions beyond the reach of test tubes and equations." He suggests that the mysteries of quantum physics (e.g., the particle/wave duality) become more explainable when we consider the increasing disembodiment of our social world, where virtual reality has become commonplace.

A scientific and philosophical gem.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-90858-2
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2013




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