May 4, 2006
Spectator - What It Looks Like From Here
Biting off more than most of us can chew, husband and wife authors Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams have taken on the enormously ambitious task of tackling that age-old question: How did the world get here, and does our existence really matter? Primack is a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, and Abrams a lawyer and writer with a life-long term interest in science; their new book, "The View From the Center of the Universe, Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos" (Riverhead Books, 2006), uses cosmology -- the astrophysical study of the history and structure of the universe - to meld "Meaning" and science to reach a greater understanding of the origins of life. In the process they also show how humans have long sought connections between their actions on earth and the cosmos.
The book is dense and deals with many complex theories, histories and sciences in layman's language. After examining the makeup and history of the universe using current scientific data, Primack and Abrams argue that humans hold an essential place in the universe and are not merely inconsequential beings in the great unknown. They argue that our current knowledge of the verifiable scientific theories, such as quantum mechanics and relativity gives us a unique understanding of the universe and the opportunity to shape the future destiny of the planet we live on.
The book discusses origin stories and myths from many religions, but it is the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah that best resonates with the authors' view of our role in the universe.
"The interesting thing about the Kabalistic creation story -- particularly the version of it that was developed by [16th century Kabbalist] Isaac Luria -- is that it has certain similarities to the modern scientific story," Primack said in a joint Journal interview with Abrams. "In the Kabalistic story the creation of the universe is connected to the human role in it, and that is what we are trying to do -- connect people with the cosmos."
Nevertheless, their own Jewish backgrounds did not limit their exploration, they say.
"Meaning is not owned by one religion," Abrams said. "We are Jews, we think like Jews, but we don't restrict ourselves to the imagery and the concepts that come from Judaism. We try to find the most apt mythological description [from any religion] for these concepts."
Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams will lecture on "The View from the Center of the Universe" on May 11 at UC Irvine, Room 100 Engineering Lecture Hall at 8 p.m. For more information visit www.viewfromthecenter.com