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Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe 
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 Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe

Please either use this thread to discuss the above referenced chapter of "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson.



Mon Nov 28, 2016 11:58 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
The chapter is suitably mind-blowing. How much of this awesomeness can human minds handle? Ever wonder whether all we'll ever be able to achieve is a glancing knowledge of the universe before we expire?

Usually when I try to fathom all of this I end up reflecting how extremely petty and insignificant our flash-in-the-pan lives seem. This time, though, I also considered the possibility that mere distance, time and even multitudes of universes might not stack up in importance to even the most mundane fact of our lives--having a stomach ache, for instance. Consciousness might trump all of it.

Pardon the cheap philosophizing. Bryson is a very able and eloquent writer, and this promises to be a really enjoyable tour of science history.



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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
DWill wrote:
The chapter is suitably mind-blowing. How much of this awesomeness can human minds handle? Ever wonder whether all we'll ever be able to achieve is a glancing knowledge of the universe before we expire?
The development of scientific knowledge over the last century, from discovery of other galaxies, relativity, black holes, accelerating expansion, cosmic microwave background radiation, the big bang, dark matter, dark energy, provides information about the universe which is coherent and consistent, albeit with many mysteries remaining. Much more than “a glancing knowledge” when considered in comparison to all previous times.
DWill wrote:
Usually when I try to fathom all of this I end up reflecting how extremely petty and insignificant our flash-in-the-pan lives seem. This time, though, I also considered the possibility that mere distance, time and even multitudes of universes might not stack up in importance to even the most mundane fact of our lives--having a stomach ache, for instance. Consciousness might trump all of it.
Scientific nihilism, the idea that we cannot base values on facts, produces the theory of human insignificance, encapsulated in the parable of the pale blue dot. But in fact significance is something that only exists for an entity able to consider things as meaningful, ie for a conscious being. I was chatting to a theologian about related topics the other day, about the idea that human evolution can be understood as the universe reflecting upon itself, that our mental capacity to represent things as symbols is itself a natural evolved fact of the universe. This reflective dimension of consciousness, especially in the deeply accurate observations of astrophysics, brings to mind the old myth from Genesis that man is made in the image of God. If God is the principle of order in the cosmos, then human science provides an image of this order in our coherent scientific knowledge.
DWill wrote:
Pardon the cheap philosophizing. Bryson is a very able and eloquent writer, and this promises to be a really enjoyable tour of science history.
I rather think that Bryson’s effort to explain our position in space time in a systematic orderly way makes these musings on meaning and mundanity quite important for setting the scene for any discussion on what could be intrinsically valuable.
In another chat the other day about the prophet Isaiah, we were reflecting on his verse 51:12-13 http://biblehub.com/niv/isaiah/51.htm
God wrote:
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the LORD your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth


This presents a very different view of reality from the scientific hypothesis of insignificance, positing instead a deeply anthropic universe, a physical order providing a comforting, grace-filled framework of support for human existence. I find it hard to imagine how we could possibly have evolved without this basic fact that intelligence is of ultimate meaning.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
I agree with DWill that this chapter is mind blowing. Some of the concepts Bryson mentions are, well, mind bending.

Example: "The singularity has no 'around' around it.There is no space for it to occupy, no space for it to be. ... Time doesni't exist."

Try wrapping your brain around those concepts.

And the part about Penzias brought to mind the quote from Isaac Asimov:

Quote:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka' (I have found it) but 'That's funny.'


Not sure about the poster or location of the question as to whether the chapters should be read in order, but I suggest definitely reading them in order. I have now read the first three chapters (will comment of Chapters 2 and 3 later), and I feel that (so far) they make more sense that way.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
After reading the first chapter, I am definitely hooked on this book! Bryson's writing is excellent, to be sure...but even more specifically, he speaks through his text in a very warm and engaging way. His anecdote about grade-school textbooks rings true to my own experiences growing up. When I first cracked open that new book (Ok...to be fair, all of the textbooks were used), I would always thumb through each chapter, so thrilled with the prospect of what the next months would bring. I found quite quickly, as he did, that the lessons were a little lacking and never quite satisfied my hunger for discovery. Not to mention the sadness I would later find at the end of the school year, when it became clear that we wouldn't even be touching upon a fraction of the material.
Bryson's book is already becoming everything I ever wanted in a textbook when I was a kid. I would have loved to receive this in a science class....And I would go even further to say that I would have done much better with my studies.

It's not just that, though. As a non-fiction book, it is clearly informative and interesting... But I am sitting here in such admiration for Bryson's prose....and though I've never heard his voice, I am already hearing a friendly and pleasant narration in my head while reading.


I'm very excited to continue.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
LynLlew wrote:
After reading the first chapter, I am definitely hooked on this book! Bryson's writing is excellent, to be sure...but even more specifically, he speaks through his text in a very warm and engaging way. His anecdote about grade-school textbooks rings true to my own experiences growing up.
Hello LynLlew, thank you for this excellent perceptive comment, and welcome to Booktalk. I completely agree with your comment here that Bryson’s book would make a superb introduction to science for school children.
LynLlew wrote:
When I first cracked open that new book (Ok...to be fair, all of the textbooks were used), I would always thumb through each chapter, so thrilled with the prospect of what the next months would bring. I found quite quickly, as he did, that the lessons were a little lacking and never quite satisfied my hunger for discovery. Not to mention the sadness I would later find at the end of the school year, when it became clear that we wouldn't even be touching upon a fraction of the material.
Bryson's book is already becoming everything I ever wanted in a textbook when I was a kid. I would have loved to receive this in a science class....And I would go even further to say that I would have done much better with my studies.
Yes, it is so important to see that we train children like we train a plant, growing it in the directions that the guide encourages. If Bryson’s book were used as a school text book, the excitement inherent in the scientific world view would become so much more apparent to more people and their enthusiasm for curiosity and discovery would be kindled. Reading this at age twelve would give bright children a vision of the importance of science.


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Post Re: Chapter 1: How to Build a Universe
LynLlew wrote:
It's not just that, though. As a non-fiction book, it is clearly informative and interesting... But I am sitting here in such admiration for Bryson's prose....and though I've never heard his voice, I am already hearing a friendly and pleasant narration in my head while reading.


If you haven't heard Bryson in an interview yet, you're in for a real treat if you check out the link below. I just love his beaming smile and his understated sense of humor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gb-hnbHbjw



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