This is the book I’ve been raving about.
It’s all about our innate need for a cosmology and that having a functional picture of ourselves and the Earth in relation to the Great Order of Things of which it is a part is not something solely limited to the customs of prescientific cultures. Nor is it strictly within the domain of religion. Ever since Isaac Newton showed us how most of the physical world and the operations of the heavens can be explained by mathematical logic, Western Culture has been set adrift without a sense of importance and centrality in a huge and impersonal Universe. Surely, how often have we all mused at our species' insignificance while gazing up at a star-strewn sky?
The need for a functional, structured and sharable model of our world and universe has been a characteristic of human societies as far back in recorded history as we can reach. The authors stress that learning to see ourselves as a significant and central part of such a model is still a deeply relevant (and arguably correct) pursuit despite the fact we so easily view ourselves as ‘orphaned' and bereft of true importance amid the staggering scales of time, size, and distances discovered by modern science.
The big surprise here (and the authors repeatedly remind us of it) is the fact that Science actually has discovered and proven far more things about our world than polite society allows us to acknowledge. In our postmodern society we have been thoroughly cultured to always second-guess the scientific establishment with a series of cynical reflexes borne of the unholy wedding of the assumption that they're a bunch of deluded Dr. Frankensteins (blundering monomaniacs meddling with the Divine Order) and that anything the scientists dare to offer as "proven-fact" is to be rejected as just one of an endless parade of temporary models waiting to be collapsed by the next set of "discoveries"… (so, I assume no one can ever be right about anything?). And yes, the authors do take on the too-long revered "scientific revolutions" described by Kuhn. As a result these days, there ends up being as much anti-scientific prejudice on the left end of the political spectrum as there is on the right. I don’t hear the authors saying so but it becomes apparent that scientists just don’t get as much respect as they deserve and, worse yet, their hard-won discoveries are continually held in contempt and suspicion by the larger, unqualified, population.
Primack and Abrams take us through a series of easily managed metaphorical tools and diagrams for understanding the scale and history of the Universe and one by one show us how the latest discoveries in astronomy and theoretical physics fit into and validate this set of symbols. For comparison, along the way they take us through a history of ancient cosmological models and how they both were reflections of the thinking of their people and also responsible for the modes of thought representative of those cultures. What they are suggesting is that there a numerous reasons that we still have a need for a personal and cultural cosmology, and, for it to be an effective fit it hopefully would be one by necessity heavily couched in metaphor, it accurately would reflect our current knowledge of the universe, from its smallest to its largest systems.