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The New Universe and the Human Future

The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The New Universe and the Human Future
    Book Description:

    After a four-century rupture between science and the questions of value and meaning, this groundbreaking book presents an explosive and potentially life-altering idea: if the world could agree on a shared creation story based on modern cosmology and biology-a story that has just become available-it would redefine our relationship with Planet Earth and benefit all of humanity, now and into the distant future.

    Written in eloquent, accessible prose and illustrated in magnificent color throughout, including images from innovative simulations of the evolving universe, this book brings the new scientific picture of the universe to life. It interprets what our human place in the cosmos may mean for us and our descendants. It offers unique insights into the potential use of this newfound knowledge to find solutions to seemingly intractable global problems such as climate change and unsustainable growth. And it explains why we need to "think cosmically, act globally" if we're going to have a long-term, prosperous future on Earth.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16732-0
    Subjects: Astronomy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    There is a gaping hole in modern thinking that may never have existed in human society before. It’s so common that scarcely anyone notices it, while global catastrophes of natural and human origin plague our planet and personal crises of existential confusion plague our private lives. The hole is this: we have no meaningful sense of how we and our fellow humans fit into the big picture. Are we the handiwork of a loving God who planned the universe? Are we insignificant motes marooned on a lonely rock in endless space? In every culture known to anthropology, people could have...

  5. Chapter 1 The New Universe
    (pp. 1-26)

    Scientists used to joke that cosmology was the field where the ratio of theory to data was nearly infinite. Lots of theories, almost no data. But over the past two decades that ratio has flipped: it’s now nearly zero. A huge and ever-increasing amount of data has ruled out all theories but one, and that one theory not only fits all available data, it’s been predicting the data. This theory is the foundation of a new picture of the cosmos, our new universe. Its technical name is Lambda CDM, but it’s more simply called the Double Dark theory.

    In the...

  6. Chapter 2 Size Is Destiny
    (pp. 27-38)

    Picture a young girl sitting under a tree on a planet (fig. 21). The girl (as well as the tree) is a community of hundreds of billions of living cells, dividing and keeping life running. And every cell is an entire world within itself, yet even its tiniest parts are made of millions of atoms. Meanwhile there are hundreds of billions of planets in our own Galaxy, and hundreds of billions of other galaxies. Sizes are like these doorways within doorways: when you pass through one, everything changes. But there’s a limit.

    Pure numbers go on infinitely, but sizes of...

  7. Chapter 3 We Are Stardust
    (pp. 39-66)

    What are we human beings made of—literally? Flesh and blood? Mind and body? To become a cosmic society, we need to appreciate at a much deeper level what “we” are and how this larger we fits into the universe. Our bodies are made of many kinds of complex atoms, most of which were created inside ancient stars or during supernovas and then flung out during the violent deaths of those stars to travel for eons through space. We are 90 percent stardust by weight and 10 percent hydrogen (mostly in our H₂O). We and the ground we walk on...

  8. Chapter 4 Our Place in Time
    (pp. 67-78)

    Time is as much a part of us as the matter we’re made of. People tend to think of physical objects, including our bodies, as things that fully exist here and now, although they have a history. But this is an old-fashioned view of time. Time exists on many different scales, and by understanding this we begin to see that we self-reflective beings also exist in different ways on different timescales.

    To create the famous photograph called the “Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” Hubble Space Telescope stared for more than two weeks in one direction into what looked from the ground...

  9. Chapter 5 This Cosmically Pivotal Moment
    (pp. 79-98)

    To see adequately into the future, we have to expand our view of the past. There is a kind of symmetry between past and future in everyone’s consciousness: how far we can imagine the future is limited by how well we can conceive the past. Anyone can name a date ten thousand years in the future, but it’s a meaningless number unless they have some sense of how much has changed on Earth over the past ten thousand years. By becoming aware of the multibillion year evolution of our universe, we begin to comprehend that the human future could be...

  10. Chapter 6 Bringing the Universe Down to Earth
    (pp. 99-118)

    There is a Native American concept that a person’s responsibility extends “to the seventh generation.” This is a wonderful impulse, but the phrase is wrong for today, not because seven is too many or too few but because it implies that every generation has the same level of responsibility. We who are alive today have a far greater responsibility than earlier, less knowledgeable generations or later, less pivotal generations. We happen to be the ones living at the end of human inflation. We need to choose a way to think about our responsibility that’s appropriate for our time.

    There are...

  11. Chapter 7 A New Origin Story
    (pp. 119-142)

    The lack of a meaningful universe in our modern culture impoverishes every one of us, but the complications of daily life distract us, so few people ever stand back and notice that something essential to all human life is missing from ours: we have no believable, shared context for the problems we face together. We simply keep thinking locally, through the tired metaphors of our old political and economic systems and even older religions—while the effects of our collective actions radiate around the planet and out into the distant future beyond our current ability to conceptualize, comprehend, or care....

  12. Chapter 8 Cosmic Society Now
    (pp. 143-166)

    Building a cosmic society is not a dream for the distant future, like galactic travel. It’s about today. In fact, the future world is farlesslikely to achieve a cosmic society if we don’t begin moving in that direction now. Because of the speeding-up nature of current exponential growth, the longer we procrastinate in dealing with the tangle of global problems, the wider the tragedy will be. Right now humanity’s overriding need is for a transculturally shared vision for how to solve global problems, and a cosmic society is the only serious candidate we know for an organizing principle...

  13. Frequently Asked Questions
    (pp. 167-206)

    Modern cosmology is a historical science, like geology and evolutionary biology. The historical sciences attempt to understand not only the way the universe, the earth, and living systems work but also the historical path that led to the present. Some postmodern thinkers and many people who prefer traditional accounts of our origins claim that because the actual past was unique, the historical sciences provide a lower grade of knowledge than such laboratory sciences as physics and chemistry, which provide timeless principles and in which the effects of changing conditions can be explored in experiments. But this is a serious misunderstanding....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 207-212)
  15. Recommendations for Further Reading
    (pp. 213-222)
  16. About the Illustrations
    (pp. 223-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-238)