On a Book Review in a Hurry

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Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rock star to many people – definitely an odd descriptor for an astrophysicist who is Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Many consider him to be today’s Carl Sagan – and I find it interesting that (at least to me) he talks and sounds like Dr. Sagan.

No matter in his role as director, author, speaker, interviewee, or television show host, Dr. deGrasse Tyson exudes enthusiasm and commitment to his craft and passion – science – just as Carl Sagan did.

Images of deep space capture a sense of awesome for me – which is one of the reasons I use them as headers on this blog. (Click here to see past headers.) As a geek interested in the intersection of science and religion, those images give me a greater sense of creation. These points, along with interviews I saw with Dr. deGrasse Tyson, his 2017 book became a must-read for me.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a short read (about 200 pages) that made it to the top of the New York Times Best-Seller list. This book is about time, space, particles, forces, and how they fit together in the universe according to the laws of the universe. Yes, he takes readers into complex topics as the Big Bang, dark matter, and dark energy – but he does it with relative simplicity with wit, real-world application, and enthusiasm. Even with his wit and understandable writing style, the topic isn’t naturally easy for all – so I had head scratching.

Logically-sequenced chapters are short with each focusing on a single topic. His easy-to-read text aims at an audience that doesn’t know much astrophysics. The text doesn’t contain new, groundbreaking information, so I consider this book as a primer that can lead to deeper learning if one chooses. (Like a 101 college course that serves as an introduction and springboard.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an excellent communicator and I can hear his voice in his words. This booked helped me understand my awe with deep space and creation. He promotes the cosmic perspective from the frontiers; which he describes as humbling, spiritual, redemptive, mind opening, eye opening, transcending, wise, insightful, finding beauty, enabling one to see beyond in order to embrace chemical and genetic kinship, and more. Now that is for me!

I encourage readers to take the time to embrace Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Besides, it could be a stocking stuffer as a holiday gift. Here’s the link for the book on Amazon.

I end this review with a fantastic video on a similar topic from Symphony of Science featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson.

On a Tribute to the Cosmos Giant

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Friday afternoon I stumbled across an interesting tidbit – that is, this weekend is Carl Sagan Day – marked by the his birthday (November 9) – thus, this unplanned post.

We can put many tags on Dr. Sagan – take your pick – scientist, astronomer, author, philosopher, cosmologist, astrophysicist, professor, television personality, and others. To me, and no matter the role, there are two facts that stand above others: he was a tireless promoter of science, plus he stood in awe of universe.

The article that sparked this post was this small collection of his inspirational quotes. To celebrate this day, I’ve taken two of the quotes from the article, plus two others, and then supported them in my style of adding videos … or maybe I simply needed an excuse to display one of my all-time favorites.

Enjoy … which was your favorite? Do you know my favorite?

I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we.

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What distinguishes our species is thought. The cerebral cortex is in a way a liberation. We need no longer be trapped in the genetically inherited behavior patterns of lizards and baboons: territoriality and aggression and dominance hierarchies. We are each of us largely responsible for what gets put in to our brains. For what as adults we wind up caring for and knowing about. No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves. Think of the possibilities.

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A blade of grass is a commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars. Our descendants on Mars will know the value of a patch of green. And if a blade of grass is priceless, what is the value of a human being?

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Flashbacks: On Perspectives

To close this series, below are a few perspectives that you may enjoy. Visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On Our Place in the Cosmos

Human societies throughout the ages have wondered about questions such as the following: Why are we here? What’s our purpose in life? What is the meaning of life? What’s our place in the universe? Is there a God? What does God want us to do? In other words and in the words of Carl Sagan, “What is our place in the cosmos?”

Many look to science for answers about the unknown. Unfortunately, science cannot answer any of the questions above because of science’s self-imposed boundaries of the observable events in the natural world around us. Science cannot differentiate the natural and the supernatural because science cannot empirically observe God’s hand; but that does not discount God’s existence. Prominent scientific writer Stephen Jay Gould wrote the following (Scientific American, 267, “Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge”, 1992).

Science simply cannot by its legitimate methods adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We (scientists) neither affirm nor deny it; we simply cannot comment on it as scientists.

This does not mean those initial questions cannot be answered. Although science is a way of knowing, it is not the only way because science does not corner the way to truth. Philosophical, theological, historical, ethical, psychological/emotional, and political views provide additional perspectives. Therefore, it is up to each of us to put these things together.

Whereas science is the quest for understanding in nature, theology is concerned with the quest for understanding about the nature of God and his association with humans and the world that surrounds us; including all human affairs – including science. By aiming at questions of why, theology is an intellectual, reflective, moral, answer-seeking study about the meaning of the life and value that God intends for us. Therefore, through science and theology we learn our place and the natural mechanisms God uses to operate within His creation.

Strengthening our understanding of science, theology, and the interchange between them provides a greater understanding and appreciation for God’s creation – a greater sense of awe – a greater understanding to make connections of our place in the cosmos and a deeper understanding of His creation – our majestic, awesome, intricate, beautiful, continually growing universe.

Astronomer Robert Jastrow, who is in the video below, wrote these poignant words in God and the Astronomers:

At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Enjoy the video.