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by Eric J. Lerner

Pub Date: April 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8129-1853-3
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

 It takes chutzpah to come up with a title like that and Lerner, a plasma physicist, has it aplenty. He is prepared to take on establishment science, the culture at large, and past and present currents in philosophy and religion to champion a new cosmological paradigm. Before we get to the paradigm, however, Lerner cites the problems with the Big Bang theory: the apparent large-scale structure of the universe, when the theory assumed homogeneity; the missing mass; the estimated 20-billion-year age, etc. Then he introduces Hannes AlfvÇn, the Swedish Nobel laureate whose studies of plasma physics are at the heart of the new paradigm. Before developing the science in detail, however, Lerner is eager to make the connection between cosmology and culture. He does this with a rapid survey of history, emphasizing materials, revolutions, and class warfare. Thus Plato and priests of whatever persuasion down to contemporary Wall Street speculators are seen as antiscience, maintaining their status and the status quo against the movers and shakers that advance technology for the masses. Then it's on to plasma physics, in which the universe is composed of filaments-tiny electromagnetic vortices that snake through plasma (highly ionized gas of ions, electrons, and neutral particles). This structure guarantees inhomogeneity, and it is the electromagnetic forces, not gravity, that have governed the evolution of the universe. This new universe has no beginning and no end. Indeed, in a marriage of plasma cosmology to the order-out-of-chaos concepts of yet another maverick Nobelist, Igor Prigogine, Lerner rhapsodizes that a new world order is possible. It is one dominated by progress, the growth of complexity, and a denial of entropy-with all the time and space in the world needed for the kind of cosmic evolution dear to the heart of Teilhard de Chardin. Any and all of the above is subject to debate-from the facile histories to the summary condemnations of abstract reasoning and the vaunting of progress, biological and otherwise. Alternative cosmologies deserve their place in the sun-but watch out for sunburn from this one.