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Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists (1990)

av Alan Lightman, Roberta Brawer

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
542361,177 (4.67)1
Origins reveals the human being within the scientist in a study of the philosophical, personal, and social factors that enter into the scientific process. 27 active cosmologists - including Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Steven Weinberg, Vera Rubin, Allan Sandage, Margaret Geller, and Alan Guth - talk candidly about their childhoods and early influences, their motivations, prejudices and worldviews. The book's introduction traces the explosion of new ideas that has recently shaken cosmological thinking. Origins explores not just the origin of the universe but also the origins of scientific thought.… (mer)

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Afterthought. I forgot to mention this. The book starts with Hoyle and it is soon evident why. Although the man himself is a grouch, very chip-on-shoulder about the way in which his theories are viewed; although it turns out that he writes some pretty crazy stuff towards the end of his life; although the steady state theory to which he devoted much of his life - and convinced others to as well – transpired to be wrong; despite all of this, he was the most influential man of the period. When each of the scientists in this book are asked what inspired them as school kids, which was the point at which many of them knew that their futures lay in the stars, time after time again, the answer is Hoyle, his books, his radio talks. That is, for the kids who grew up around and after WWII. It was so as much for the Americans as for the English.

I wonder how important it may be to science to have a major alternate theory knocking around. One gets the sense of its significance, not only as a punching bag, but also as the source of alternative ways to interpret data etc. The book, looking at the discipline through the eyes of the protagonists, also shows the way in which alternate theories die. The ways in which it clung on for some. And then, Sciama’s moving description of his rejection of it, in the light of new data which put the kibosh on it for good…if not for Hoyle and his closest cohorts, then for most.

Having said that, another interesting result of the book, is that having been asked, as they all were, how they would design the universe if they could, some certainly opined for the steady state idea, even though their view in practise was that it had been disproved.

------------------

I pretty much put this in the unputdownable department. Over the last week or so, it has been everywhere with me, from breakfast to bed.

The details of what is and is not a problem in cosmology may have changed over the last 20 years since this book was published, but how people think hasn’t. This is quite a philosophical book, concerned with the way in which cosmologists think and see the – their – world. Which is not to say it lacks in science, of course. Reporting here as somebody who is a total ignoramus in any field of science, I was truly impressed with the understanding I have gained from this book.

I imagine this to be for two reasons. Firstly because the author, Alan Lightman, is a fine writer and communicator, he puts things in intelligible ways, one hopes without compromising the science. Both the glossary and the introduction – which gives a brief history of cosmology – are excellent. Secondly because of the layout. Every scientist in the book, starting with Hoyle and ending with Linde are given the same questions in the same order. It has a repetition about it which is both conducive to learning and very exciting. Honestly, I was just dying to find out what each person was going to say.

If I may mention a few things I gained in particular from it:

(1) That cosmology is a subject which is so new even now that we can safely say that probably nothing very useful is known yet. It could still be that every single thing we think about it is false. For all we know, everything that is being measured at the moment may be some tiny, tiny bit of something huge. And that will increase the chance, of course, that what we believe about cosmology now is utterly wrong.

(2) I will never generalise about scientists again. For every opinion expressed in this book, there is also an opposite: for the facts, for the interpretation, for the theory, for the observations, for the philosophy, the methodology, for politics, for belief. Everything.

(3)New heroes. James Gunn who explains how dodgy the data is, and how the reliance of the feeding frenzied theorists on it is equally suspect. Edwin Turner who discusses ‘how far one could go wrong with a few simple, pretty ideas and some data.’ He gives the example of the rings of Saturn and continues ‘Something like that makes me think there’s a reasonable chance we’re all wrong.’ Jeremiah Ostriker who thinks looking outside science altogether for the ideas to bring understanding may be right. If we did that, then ‘we may be able to address problems that we’ve just ignored. I’m continually struck in the history of science by things that are perfectly obvious, but that couldn’t be seen. You know the famous example of the Crab Nebula’. Well, I didn’t, so in case you don’t either, Europeans couldn’t see it, whilst many other cultures could. ‘My guess is that if you have an idea of fixed stars and you see something that isn’t, you just assume, ‘Well, that’s some atmospheric phenomenon.’ You ignore it….And you can’t study things because in some way you reject the reality.’ He thinks that is happening all the time and, put like that, one can only agree that it most likely is. What a frightening thought! Right now cosmology is a field dominated by very narrow cultural experience and maybe even it it were not, the things that are drummed into those in the field from the beginning, in particular the cult of the aesthetically pleasing/simple might override cultural richness of thought.

I only wish there could be a sequel, something like it that ‘did’ the last twenty years, which in the short creative life of a cosmologist is at least two generations. I feel like I’m missing the next part of the story.
( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Afterthought. I forgot to mention this. The book starts with Hoyle and it is soon evident why. Although the man himself is a grouch, very chip-on-shoulder about the way in which his theories are viewed; although it turns out that he writes some pretty crazy stuff towards the end of his life; although the steady state theory to which he devoted much of his life - and convinced others to as well – transpired to be wrong; despite all of this, he was the most influential man of the period. When each of the scientists in this book are asked what inspired them as school kids, which was the point at which many of them knew that their futures lay in the stars, time after time again, the answer is Hoyle, his books, his radio talks. That is, for the kids who grew up around and after WWII. It was so as much for the Americans as for the English.

I wonder how important it may be to science to have a major alternate theory knocking around. One gets the sense of its significance, not only as a punching bag, but also as the source of alternative ways to interpret data etc. The book, looking at the discipline through the eyes of the protagonists, also shows the way in which alternate theories die. The ways in which it clung on for some. And then, Sciama’s moving description of his rejection of it, in the light of new data which put the kibosh on it for good…if not for Hoyle and his closest cohorts, then for most.

Having said that, another interesting result of the book, is that having been asked, as they all were, how they would design the universe if they could, some certainly opined for the steady state idea, even though their view in practise was that it had been disproved.

------------------

I pretty much put this in the unputdownable department. Over the last week or so, it has been everywhere with me, from breakfast to bed.

The details of what is and is not a problem in cosmology may have changed over the last 20 years since this book was published, but how people think hasn’t. This is quite a philosophical book, concerned with the way in which cosmologists think and see the – their – world. Which is not to say it lacks in science, of course. Reporting here as somebody who is a total ignoramus in any field of science, I was truly impressed with the understanding I have gained from this book.

I imagine this to be for two reasons. Firstly because the author, Alan Lightman, is a fine writer and communicator, he puts things in intelligible ways, one hopes without compromising the science. Both the glossary and the introduction – which gives a brief history of cosmology – are excellent. Secondly because of the layout. Every scientist in the book, starting with Hoyle and ending with Linde are given the same questions in the same order. It has a repetition about it which is both conducive to learning and very exciting. Honestly, I was just dying to find out what each person was going to say.

If I may mention a few things I gained in particular from it:

(1) That cosmology is a subject which is so new even now that we can safely say that probably nothing very useful is known yet. It could still be that every single thing we think about it is false. For all we know, everything that is being measured at the moment may be some tiny, tiny bit of something huge. And that will increase the chance, of course, that what we believe about cosmology now is utterly wrong.

(2) I will never generalise about scientists again. For every opinion expressed in this book, there is also an opposite: for the facts, for the interpretation, for the theory, for the observations, for the philosophy, the methodology, for politics, for belief. Everything.

(3)New heroes. James Gunn who explains how dodgy the data is, and how the reliance of the feeding frenzied theorists on it is equally suspect. Edwin Turner who discusses ‘how far one could go wrong with a few simple, pretty ideas and some data.’ He gives the example of the rings of Saturn and continues ‘Something like that makes me think there’s a reasonable chance we’re all wrong.’ Jeremiah Ostriker who thinks looking outside science altogether for the ideas to bring understanding may be right. If we did that, then ‘we may be able to address problems that we’ve just ignored. I’m continually struck in the history of science by things that are perfectly obvious, but that couldn’t be seen. You know the famous example of the Crab Nebula’. Well, I didn’t, so in case you don’t either, Europeans couldn’t see it, whilst many other cultures could. ‘My guess is that if you have an idea of fixed stars and you see something that isn’t, you just assume, ‘Well, that’s some atmospheric phenomenon.’ You ignore it….And you can’t study things because in some way you reject the reality.’ He thinks that is happening all the time and, put like that, one can only agree that it most likely is. What a frightening thought! Right now cosmology is a field dominated by very narrow cultural experience and maybe even it it were not, the things that are drummed into those in the field from the beginning, in particular the cult of the aesthetically pleasing/simple might override cultural richness of thought.

I only wish there could be a sequel, something like it that ‘did’ the last twenty years, which in the short creative life of a cosmologist is at least two generations. I feel like I’m missing the next part of the story.
( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
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Brawer, Robertahuvudförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
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Preface -- Origins explores the ways in which personal, philosophical, and social factors enter the scientific process. The role of such factors has been increasingly illuminated by recent scholarship in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. While previous studies have often been retrospective or historical, our project uses direct interviews with active scientists, all cosmologists.
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Origins reveals the human being within the scientist in a study of the philosophical, personal, and social factors that enter into the scientific process. 27 active cosmologists - including Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Steven Weinberg, Vera Rubin, Allan Sandage, Margaret Geller, and Alan Guth - talk candidly about their childhoods and early influences, their motivations, prejudices and worldviews. The book's introduction traces the explosion of new ideas that has recently shaken cosmological thinking. Origins explores not just the origin of the universe but also the origins of scientific thought.

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