- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1st Edition edition (March 27, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1101871865
- ISBN-13: 978-1101871867
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine 1st Edition Edition
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“Science needs its poets, and Alan Lightman is the perfect amalgam of scientist and humanist and his latest book, “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine,” is an elegant and moving paean to our spiritual quest for meaning in an age of science.”—Michael Shermer, The New York Times Book Review
"Lightman is to be admired for his willingness to take off his scientist’s hat and plunge into preoccupations most of his peers would strenuously avoid, some for fear of ridicule. Once again, this deft wordsmith has effortlessly straddled the divide between the hardest of the hard sciences and the nebulous world of existential doubts and longings.” —Anil Ananthaswamy, Nature
“A delightful collection of essays [that] examines Lightman’s own conflicted views on life, death and the nature of reality and tries to reconcile the primacy of his inner evidence-driven scientist with his longing for spiritual transcendence. His elegant and evocative prose draws in the reader, and I felt as if I were strolling alongside the author. Indeed, it was a challenge to keep pace as I repeatedly wandered off into reveries trigged by the narrative.” –Alan Hirshfeld, The Wall Street Journal
“A lyrical and illuminating inquiry into our dual impulse for belief in the unprovable and for trust in truth affirmed by physical evidence. Lightman traces our longing for absolutes in a relative world, from Galileo to Van Gogh, from Descartes to Dickinson, emerging with that rare miracle of insight at the meeting point of the lucid and luminous.” -Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
“Deceptively brilliant, Lightman’s prose is so simple and graceful that it can be easy to miss the quiet, deep sophistication of his approach to the fraught topic of science and religion. Read this and expect to be invited to think through the nature and implications of our seemingly unavoidable desire for Absolutes.” –Professor Edward J. Hall, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Harvard University
“Thought-provoking….Lightman’s pursuit of certainty involves explorations of infinities, large and small; meditations on the problem of consciousness and humanity’s bio-tech future; field trips around Pole Island to look at hummingbirds and ants; and vivid glimpses of his heroes, among them Galileo, Einstein, St. Augustine, and his friend Yos Hut Khemacaro, a Cambodian Buddhist monk. As he has in previous books, Lightman gives us vast, complicated subjects in lucid, engaging prose.” —Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose
“This is a volume meant for savoring, for readerly ruminations, for thinking about and exploring one essay at a time. Lightman’s illuminating language and crisp imagery aim to ignite a sense of wonder in any reader who’s ever pondered the universe, our world, and the nature of human consciousness.” —Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
“One of our most reliable interpreters of science offers a slender book of ruminations that venture wide and deep. Theoretical physicist Lightman rarely ponders a scientific principle or development without considering its significance in human terms, an approach that is very much in the tradition of Lewis Thomas. Lightman focuses on the logical and mathematical underpinnings of the material world as it relates to concepts of "reality" and to spirituality broadly defined…. From Newton and Galileo to Einstein and Aristotle, from St. Augustine and the Buddha to contemporary theological thought, Lightman presents a distilled but comprehensive survey of the search for meaning, or the lack thereof, in our longing to be part of the infinite.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Physicist-novelist Lightman strives to, if not reconcile, at least put religion and science on good speaking terms. These personal and historical essays on religion, science, and religion-and-science are assembled to draw the reader ever deeper in…. An illuminating, deeply human book.” —Booklist
“Lightman’s logical mind is ever active and fluent, but so is his appreciation of the material world underfoot on his tiny snatch of island. Contemplative, elegant and open-minded, his latest book is an engaging companion to understanding our longing for connection with the infinite.” —Charleston Post and Courier
“[Lightman] weaves the writings of poets, scientists, and religious scholars as he explores the boundaries of the known (and unknown) world….Lightman’s artful and questioning narrative style easily conveys complex concepts from physics to philosophy. Recommended for serious but also curious nonfiction readers who enjoy the interplay of big ideas and theories. Both believers and nonbelievers will find much to ponder in this discussion of science and religion, which reads like a soothing meditation.” —Library Journal
About the Author
ALAN LIGHTMAN—who worked for many years as a theoretical physicist—is the author of six novels, including the international best seller Einstein's Dreams, as well as The Diagnosis, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is also the author of a memoir, three collections of essays, and several books on science. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Salon, and Nature, among other publications. He has taught at Harvard and at MIT, where he was the first person to receive a dual faculty appointment in science and the humanities. He is currently professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT. He lives in the Boston area.
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In this book, Dr. Lightman uses his house and grounds on a small island in Maine as inspiration for reveries on various “big ideas” about the universe. Though he is a physicist by training and an atheist by inclination, I admire the fact that he has respect for believers. He accurately describes it as a human need for Absolutes and all of us, scientists or not, searches for it in various ways. He also is very good at bridging the gap between science and faith in ways that are palatable to the reasonable on both sides.
On the other hand, he’s discussed these topics better elsewhere (The Accidental Universe). His encounters with flora and fauna on the island (no people) that start his reveries are rather twee and tenuous. This is apart from the fact that his descriptions of a rather nice, personally-owned retreat on a private island off the coast of Maine put unnecessary distance between Dr. Lightman and the average reader. In the end, it’s a nice book but not one of his best.
Lightman begins in a primordial cave in the south of France in 1979 looking at the drawings of a previous civilization. He shifts to his summer holidays on an island in Maine, America, where, while watching the stars on a small boat at sea, he is overwhelmed by ‘something larger than himself’ – something absolute and immaterial: ‘My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity.’ It was a feeling he had not experienced since viewing the prehistoric drawings in the cave in France.
This is Lightman’s account of his own search for meaning outside of his scientific mind of logic and reason. The physicist’s view is that nothing is fixed, all is in flux, nothing persists, nothing lasts. He finds a need to think about life beyond the material world. ‘The stars in the sky, the most striking icons of immortality and permanence, will one day expire and die … The material of the doomed stars and the material of my doomed body are actually the same material. Literally the same atoms.’
Lightman writes of scientists from 16th century astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei, atoms and ants, space and infinity, physics and cosmology, transition and transcendence, life and laws, dynamics and doctrines, motion and mortality, certainty and centeredness, origins and immortality. Of certainty, Lightman writes: ‘Certainty, like permanence and immortality, is one of those conditions we long for despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Certainty often confers control. And we badly want control in this strange cosmos we find ourselves in.’
Lightman ends by wondering whether the term Universe should be Multiverse. He also wonders what it means to be human in the year 2017 and where humans are headed in the future in a world of technological advances (‘from Homo sapiens to Homo techno’). And what do we call ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’?
This interesting personal mental exploration is about the duality of beliefs – realism and idealism, certainties and ambiguities, physical and spiritual – and the journey of contrasts and contradictions. This is about the moment and the meaning – and the meaning of the moment.