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The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew (English Edition) [Kindle Edition]

Alan Lightman

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“Lightman is one of the few physicists who can name-check the Dalai Lama, astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, Dostoevsky, and dark energy in the same work, while deftly guiding readers through discussions of modern physics and philosophy. Here he has composed a thoughtful, straightforward collection of essays that invite readers to think deeply about the world around them.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Theoretical physicist and novelist Lightman presents seven elegantly provocative ‘universe’ essays that elucidate complex scientific thought in the context of everyday experiences and concerns. . . . Ranging from ancient intuitions and calculations to today’s high-tech inquiries, Lightman celebrates our grand quest for knowledge and takes measures of the challenges our discoveries deliver.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Regardless of outstanding interests in science or religion, any reader will enjoy pondering, through well-organized and graceful prose, what can be objectively proven about the world in which we live and what remains a mystery.” —Emily Rapp, Boston Globe

“Alan Lightman might be the only writer who can dance through not just one but seven universes in a book not much larger than a human hand. . . . Above all, Lightman has an appealing humility and affection for the mysterious, and an even more attractive compassion for humans, with their short lives and big questions.” —Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

“All of the essays in this collection are rewarding, but the most intriguing for popular science lovers will be the first, which gives the book its title.” —Laura Miller, Salon

“Humanity’s resistance to change is a recurrent theme in The Accidental Universe. We accept that the universe is in a state of decay but yet, we deny our mortality. As an atheist, Lightman denies the consolation of religion yet bravely confesses that he too cannot accept his death, inevitable though it may be. Life, Lightman offers, may be more precious and beautiful because of its fleeting nature—not in spite of it. Science and religion both share a sense of wonder, Lightman observes, and it is this sense of wonder that can sustain us in a universe both beautiful and strange.” —Matt Staggs, Everyday eBook
“As he’s demonstrated in highly original novels like Einstein’s Dreams and Mr. g, Alan Lightman possesses the mind of a theoretical physicist and the soul of an artist. . . . While Lightman hopes ‘there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown,’ he offers intriguing glimpses of how the gulf we too often perceive between science and the rest of life might be bridged.” —Shelf Awareness

“Physicist and novelist Alan Lightman—who also in this book shows himself to be a gifted essayist—has written not so much about cosmology as his title might imply but about our direct, subjective experience with it. . . . We are not observers on the outside looking in. We are on the inside too.” —New York Journal of Books

“In The Accidental Universe, Alan Lightman tackles big questions of life and death, morality and human consciousness—in a universe that may be far bigger and much stranger than we thought.  It’s a universe that also may be fundamentally unknowable, as if God is making other universes where we can't see them and will never know them. There is no writer quite like Alan Lightman, and his calm, humane, and always intelligent voice guides us along strange paths into nature and our human selves.” —Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone
“Science is changing the way we think, especially about ourselves. As a guide to the multiple identities that science now offers, you'll want this beautiful book—poetic, humanistic, personal, inspiring. As a physicist, novelist, observer of coastal birds and the stars, Alan Lightman covers a lot of ground. Among so many other things, Lightman asks his reader to consider immortality, multiple universes, the possibility of a cyborg world and those who might resist its seductions. I couldn't put it down; a thrilling read.” —Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT, and author of Alone Together
“A Walden for our digital, cosmological, and quantum age from a modern-day Thoreau. Not since Fred Hoyle in another era (and universe) has anyone dared to cover such a sweeping domain, and no one so elegantly, so parsimoniously, and so personally.” —Jon Kabat Zinn, professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts, author of Full Catastrophe Living 
“Alan Lightman is one of the all-too-few scientists whose writings achieve genuine literary quality. Anyone, with or without a scientific background, will be stimulated and inspired by these essays.” —Martin Rees, Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, Cambridge University, and Astronomer Royal of England, author of Our Final Hour
“Alan Lightman brings a light touch to heavy questions. Here is a book about nesting ospreys, multiple universes, atheism, spiritualism, and the arrow of time. Throughout, Lightman takes us back and forth between ordinary occurrences—old shoes and entropy, sailing far out at sea and the infinite expanse of space. In this slight volume, Lightman looks toward the universe, and captures aspects of it in a series of beautifully written essays, each offering a glimpse at the whole from a different perspective: here time, there symmetry, not least God. It is a meditation by a remarkable humanist-physicist, a book worth reading by anyone entranced by big ideas grounded in the physical world.” —Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

“Lightman is that rare and wonderful creature: a theoretical physicist who has taught at Harvard and MIT and also written six novels . . . so demand among smart readers should be high.” —Library Journal

“All of the essays in The Accidental Universe are carefully argued, and there is not a shrill or dogmatic line in any of them. They’re enlivened by Lightman’s precise, graceful prose and a novelist’s skill for conjuring scenes and characters. . . . Readers will almost certainly come away with more questions than conclusions, as well as with a fresh curiosity about theoretical physics. No doubt that’s just what Lightman would hope for.” —Maria Browning, Chapter 16

“Is our universe merely a statistical fluke, a rare accident that we happen to be able to observe? In The Accidental Universe, Alan Lightman introduces readers to physicists' latest grapplings with the vastness of space, the ineluctable march of time, and the origin of mass. Vivid, personal, and often moving, Lightman's reflections illuminate scientists' zeal for lawfulness, symmetry, and order, as well as their arresting sense of wonder.” —David Kaiser, author of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

“Alan Lightman is not only a graceful writer, he is a juggler of scales and perspectives, an informed questioner who works his way in deeper with each exertion. The Accidental Universe disassembles our theoretical surround, cleans and tests all arguments and assumptions, and then, dexterously, puts it all back together. Voila! A book born of stimulating discussions, it will now provoke them.” —Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

“This essay collection could have only been penned by Lightman, that rare hybrid of physicist and storyteller. By shining the beam of his intellect on the cosmos, he illuminates our personal lives in the reflections.” —David Eagleman, Neuroscientist, author of Sum and Incognito

“A sublime reminder of the mysteries behind and beyond the familiar—a call to wonder.” —Brian Christian, author of The Most Human Human

“Alan Lightman deftly weaves the contradictions and mystery of our experience with the awe of exploring the vast physical universe. His graceful book inspires conversation about the wonder of our existence. It invites us to look up at the sky and see a grander, more comprehensible universe.” —Margaret Geller, Professor of Astronomy, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship


In The Accidental Universe, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind.

Here, in a collection of exhilarating essays, Lightman shows us our own universe from a series of fascinating and diverse perspectives. He takes on the difficult dialogue between science and religion; the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature; the possibility that our universe is simply an accident; the manner in which modern technology has divorced us from enjoying a direct experience of the world; and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws alone.

With his customary passion, precision, lyricism and imagination, in The Accidental Universe Alan Lightman leaves us with the suggestion - heady and humbling - that what we see and understand of the world and ourselves is only a tiny piece of the extraordinary, perhaps unfathomable whole.

Praise for Alan Lightman:

'...a gem of a novel that is strange witty erudite and alive with Lightman's playful genius.' Junot Diaz.

'It would not seem possible for Alan Lightman to match his earlier tour de force, Einstein's Dreams, but in Mr g he has done so - with wit, imagination, and transcendent beauty.' Anita Desai.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 376 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 177 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 147210918X
  • Verlag: Corsair (14. Januar 2014)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Nicht aktiviert
  • Verbesserter Schriftsatz: Aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #130.657 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.4 von 5 Sternen  115 Rezensionen
90 von 93 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Our small stature in a very big place 14. Januar 2014
Von John L Murphy - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
What this MIT physicist and humanist (he holds a joint professorship, and this leads as he notes crossing his campus to some mental adjustment as he bridges the gaps) brings to familiar Big Questions is a gentle sense of wonder tempered with a scientific rigor. Both qualities are enhanced by his humility, and he accepts that we may not be able to answer what some of his colleagues anticipate as the Unified Theory that explains (after the Higgs Boson) everything. Instead, he cautions us to keep balancing in a humane (if still rational and certainly secular) approach our dual capacity of exacting and verifiable measurement and very cautious speculation.

As these linked essays show, the universe can be conceived as alternately or respectively accidental, temporary, spiritual, symmetrical, gargantuan, lawful, or disembodied. He applies his life's moments gently to enrich his lessons. I like reading books for popular audiences about cosmology, so I found Alan Lightman's style (in an advanced copy for review) engaging and accessible. He brings in his daughter's wedding on the Maine coast, his beloved pair of wingtip shoes, the amazing hexagonal symmetry of a honeycomb, or the disturbing harbinger of a world where our young appear to be wired, shut off from conversation, and online all the time. However, as his last chapter predicts, even those who try to flee the virtual realm as it takes over our physical and spiritual worlds may find themselves shut off from yet another universe now evolving.

Provocatively, Lightman compares how insignificant we are, stuck in a minor galaxy on a middling planet in a marginal status, yet we have figured out so much about the universe that surrounds us, if not the next stage, which we may never be able to discern to our satisfaction, that of multiverses. He tells us that our little worlds on a similarly infinitesimal level may elude our grasp. He imagines us as captains of a ship, up on a bridge, unable to discern fully from our perch what tumult lies below deck.

This sort of deft analogy, modest and never drawing too much attention to itself, characterizes Lightman's approach. Unlike some of his colleagues who write such essays, he keeps the math to a minimum while accentuating the verbal and visual images that he hones to remind us of the sheer amount we know now about our origins, back to the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. But, as we cannot penetrate that first moment of the Big Bang, that too stands to teach us of our own small stature, and how much the universe, big or small in these essays, continues to keep from our eager investigation. All the same, people such as Lightman inspire us to keep asking why.
43 von 47 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen His Thinking Mirrors My Own 31. Januar 2014
Von Timothy Haugh - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Over the years, I have read many of Professor Lightman’s books. For me, his work is a mixed bag—sometimes great, sometimes no more than adequate. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I can report The Accidental Universe to belong in the former category. This is a wonderful book.

Most readers are likely familiar with Lightman because of his fiction: Einstein’s Dreams, Good Benito, Reunion (a personal favorite), and others. This book, however, is a work of nonfiction. It is essentially a series of short meditations on the universe by this author who is, after all, both a professor of physics and the humanities.

Meditations is the right word, I think. These brief essays each have the universe as their topic but approach it from a different aspect. Most of the titles give you a clue. “The Temporary Universe” discusses entropy and change, “The Gargantuan Universe” discusses its size with we as a speck in the vastness, and “The Symmetrical Universe” talks about—what else?—symmetry and its intellectual attractiveness (as well as the importance of the Higgs particle).

The two best sections, though, are “The Lawful Universe” and “The Spiritual Universe”. In a sense, they give the underlying themes of the book as a whole. First, there are things about the universe that are intellectually understandable. Over the centuries, the scope of the things that we understand—that we have laws about—has widened considerably, as our conception of the universe itself has grown. (How many of us realize that it was only a hundred years ago that the brightest minds on earth considered the “universe” to consist of a static Milky Way galaxy?) Lightman’s scientific bent enables him to grasp our need for scientific laws quite clearly. On the other hand, Lightman’s also has another side, a contrarian side that looks at the universe differently, and this also comes through.

For lack of a better term, this is his “spiritual” side which is the second strong undercurrent in these pages. Though he remains basically atheist himself, he realizes the importance and the power of faith. I try to strike this balance myself and I find his thinking runs very close to mine. He certainly has the best words to say to the militant atheists I’ve read so far: “As a scientist, I find Dawkins’s efforts to rebut these two arguments for the existence of God—Intelligent Design and morality—completely convincing. However, as I think he would acknowledge, falsifying the arguments put forward to support a proposition does not falsify the proposition. Science can never know what created our universe…The belief or disbelief in such a Being is a matter of faith.” He goes on to say (after more kind words about Dawkins and his accomplishments): “What troubles me about Dawkins’s pronouncements is his wholesale dismissal of religion and religious sensibility…In my opinion, Dawkins has a narrow view of faith and of people. I would be the first to challenge any belief that contradicts the findings of science. But, as I have said earlier, there are things we believe in that do not submit to the methods of science” (p. 49 – 51). I have quoted this rather extensively but, as one who follows these arguments rather closely, I think Lightman has hit it on the head here. (Others, I know, will disagree.)

In the end, I was impressed by Lightman’s thinking here. He expounds easily on matters of science both historical and current. He also obviously considers the meanings of things deeply and speaks well on the subject. I recommend this highly to anyone interested in science and faith.
11 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The Poetic Universe 3. Dezember 2014
Von Apocryphile - Veröffentlicht auf
Alan Lightman has a gift for lyrical, even poetic prose, as he ponders some of the biggest questions of existence in these collected essays. One is immediately struck by the fact that although a physicist and securely grounded in the real world, the author is able to temporarily transcend these boundaries and speculate on metaphysical, even spiritual, matters within the pages of this book.

As a scientist first and foremost, however, he finds it difficult to scale too high a philosophical ladder. Although he is willing to speculate on the larger questions such as consciousness, the meaning of existence, and the origins of our universe, he is still securely tethered to the "real" world of what our senses and their instrumental extensions can tell us. Though he states that he has no patience for people like Richard Dawkins who try to "prove" that God does not exist, he himself identifies as an atheist who has no patience for people who disregard the importance of the scientific method in seeking the truth. As a scientist, necessarily operating within the scientific paradigm and worldview, he is perhaps unable to lift these spectacles, if only to temporarily look at the world differently.

As the title of the book indicates, Lightman subscribes to the anthropic argument as the best explanation for why our universe is so amenable to life. This hypothesis is a valid and logically consistent one, but I think it is precisely here where the author makes his own unstated leap of faith. One of the hallmarks of a good scientific theory is not only how well it fits the facts, but if it accomplishes this in a parsimonious manner with the fewest assumptions possible. As he himself says, the only other logical possibility is that a creator of some sort is responsible, but the multiverse idea itself is obviously very far from a parsimonious explanation.

That this anthropic scenario must be invoked to avoid a creator is perhaps the best indication that cosmology has hit a brick wall. The best support so far for the multiverse comes from the close agreement of the observed microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang with the theory of inflation. Since one necessary byproduct of inflation is the multiverse – it naturally “falls out” of the theory – many cosmologists are now beginning to seriously consider it. The multiverse is also consistent with quantum mechanics from a theoretical angle (the “many worlds” conjecture), and so also has this pillar of modern science backing it up - but this, needless to say, makes it no less strange.

What we are left with are two equally radical options – God or the Multiverse – and neither is more elegant than the other from a standpoint of economy. This is where I think the author’s professed atheism makes no sense. To state simply that one believes God does not exist isn’t any more useful than saying he does exist - from a scientific standpoint there isn’t enough evidence yet to make either claim. There is also the question of how far mathematics, and logic itself, can be applied here. In an infinite multiverse where every possibility is realized somewhere infinitely many times, one must still assume that the quantum laws, or at least the laws of probability, are valid across the multiverse and underlie everything. At the end of the universe, as I think the author himself would acknowledge, we are still left with awe and mystery.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen From eternity to here 3. Januar 2015
Von Hande Z - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
This 145 page book is about a complex subject -- the universe and our place in it. It is lucid, rational, and persuasively written; a small book on a vast subject which is best enjoyed by the reader personally. In brief, Alan Lightman tells us that the current scientific view which he, as a scientist, is inclined to agree, is that our universe is the result of a random coincidence of forces and events (his first chapter explains this). He also says that current scientific opinion inclines towards the existence of not just our universe but many others. Some may similarly have randomly created conditions that lead to life. However, he accepts that these are based on scientific theories and calculations that are rational, and irrefutable for the time being, there is no way we can prove that there is life anywhere else.

Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a Buddhist. He certainly does not believe in the existence of any gods, and he does not believe in any life after death. He believes that we, like every living thing, grows in the time available to us in the space we are in, and gradually, we wither and are gone - like everything else that once lived but are now dead - the one billion people who were alive in the year 1800, for example.

Lightman agrees with the views of Richard Dawkins so far as biology, evolution and atheism are concerned. But he dislikes Dawkins' attitude. Lightman is amenable to people who wish to believe in a personal god or gods. He believes that the scientific people (not science) can live with religious people (not religion). He clearly does not think that science and religion are compatible, but scientists and religious people can be.

It seems, therefore, such a brilliant piece of work will probably attract criticism from Dawkins and extremist religious people.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A Heartfelt Search for Meaning 10. Januar 2015
Von David B. Edmonston - Veröffentlicht auf
This is a short series of personal essays concerning what we know about nature and what we do not know--more or less what philosophers call epistemology. Lightman revels in asking the Big Questions. He gives only enough effort to answering them to make it clear just how Big they are. He quotes Rilke: "We should try to love the questions themselves." I felt very comfortable with this man. In my classes, I, too, sometimes try to show people that the questions they think they can answer are seldom as simple as they think, and that nature is fundamentally far more vast, complex, and mysterious than our safe, insular lives sometimes would like it to be.

Lightman is a physics professor as well as a teacher of creative writing, both at MIT. In his physics classes he discusses the the physical laws of nature and revels in the orderliness and predictability of things, and in his writing classes he criticizes students who create characters who are too predictable, who are insufficiently "human." He loves order and he loves disorder. As a scientist he is an unapologetic atheist, but as a human he has had experiences of the mysterious, the numinous. He tells the stories of these personal experiences and embraces them. He seems to revel in his own incongruities.

Lightman writes very well. His explanations are crystal clear, of the orderly and the understood, of the complex and mysterious, and of the human drive to understand it all. He assumes little background in either science or philosophy on the part of the reader. But I think that even those with background in both will enjoy this simple, heartfelt exposition of one very human search for meaning.
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