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Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Marcelo Gleiser

WILL WE EVER KNOW?--Recently NPR’s science blog 13.7 cosmos & culture posed such questions in a remarkable essay by Marcelo Gleiser.   It can be read by linking to:

Obviously the universe has an origin: Gleiser’s blog mulls whether we’ll ever get to the bottom of it is the question.

An excerpt: “…The first point in common is that not so long ago these three questions were not considered scientific. On the contrary, the origin of the Universe, of life, and of mind were thought to be the result of divine work, products of supernatural intervention. Which god or gods were responsible depended (and still does to the vast majority of the world population) on your particular faith. Differences aside, in any religion only an entity that transcended space and time could create the cosmos, which exists within space and time; only an immortal entity had the power to create life; and only an omniscient power could endow His creatures with intelligence and a sense of being.

The confrontation with natural processes is immediate: Nature is within space and time, living entities are not immortal and no one is — or can be — omniscient. (Although the World Wide Web, allied with global human intelligence and powerful search engines, could, in some sense, be called a proto-omniscient entity. Stuff for another week.)

For this reason, it is not at all surprising that scientists encounter such resistance when they state that they are near — or at least making progress — in answering such questions without recourse to divine intervention. According to the scientific viewpoint, the origins of the cosmos, of life and of mind are natural processes that obey material laws and principles. Their complexity and our current lack of answers do not mean that such questions are completely beyond the reach of science, or that such questions can only be addressed through religious belief. In science, ignorance is the pre-condition to knowledge; to not-know is the pathway to knowing…”

Gleiser offers the following “Short Reading List On The Three Origins”:

1. Cosmos

The Origin of the Universe, by John Barrow

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, by Simon Singh

A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss

The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, by Steven Weinberg

The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang, by Marcelo Gleiser

2. Life

Origins of Life, by Freeman Dyson

Seven Clues to the Origin of Life: A Scientific Detective Story, by A. G. Cairns-Smith

The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life, by Paul Davies

Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview, by Iris Fry

Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution, J. William Schopf, ed.

3. Mind

Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence, by David C. Geary

Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, by Francis Crick

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, by Eric Kandel

How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, by Antonio Damasio

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

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