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The Dancing Universe

From Creation Myths to the Big Bang

Marcelo Gleiser

Publication Year: 2005

Available again, with a new preface, a physicist's "exceptionally clear summary of 2,500 years of science and a fascinating account of the ways in which it often does intersect with spiritual beliefs" --Kirkus Reviews Marcelo Gleiser refutes the notion that science and spirituality are irreconcilable. In The Dancing Universe, he traces mystical, philosophical, and scientific ideas about the cosmos through the past twenty-five centuries, from the ancient creation myths of numerous cultures to contemporary theories about an ever-expanding universe. He also explores the lives and ideas of history’s greatest scientists, including Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein. By exploring how scientists have unlocked the secrets of gravity, matter, time, and space, Gleiser offers fresh perspective on the debate between science and faith.

Published by: Dartmouth College Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. vii-viii

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the friends and colleagues who took their time to read the manuscript, helping me make it into a better text. Freeman Dyson’s initial encouragement was really crucial to set me in the right direction. Rocky Kolb’s influence as a friend, mentor...

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Preface to the 2005 Edition

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pp. ix-x

To write a book and see it printed is a privilege. To see it go through a new edition is an honor. I owe the final impetus to write The Dancing Universe to Freeman Dyson. When he was visiting Dartmouth in the fall of 1995, I asked...

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pp. xi-xiii

This book surveys the quest for understanding our origins and our place in this vast, mysterious Universe. For as long as history has been recorded humankind has asked the most fundamental question that can be asked, that of the origin...

Part I | Beginnings

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1 | Creation Myths

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pp. 3-22

At first sight, it may seem puzzling that a book written by a scientist about the evolution of cosmological thought should start with a chapter on the creation myths of ancient religions, but I have my reasons. First, in their variety these myths encompass all the...

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2 | The Greeks

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pp. 23-60

In his dedication of Advancement of Learning (1605) to James I, Sir Francis Bacon declared that “of all the persons living that I have known, your Majesty were the best instance to make a man of Plato’s opinion, that all knowledge is but remembrance.” Although...

Part II | The Awakening

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3 | The Sun, the Church, and the New Astronomy

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pp. 63-96

The awakening was slow, a lazy spring fighting the cold embrace of winter. For centuries the medieval mind was immersed in dogmatic theology. The wisdom of the past was forgotten, the splendor of...

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4 | The Pious Heretic

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pp. 97-119

Of the many conflicts between religion and science throughout history, none has received more attention than the clash between Galileo and the Catholic Church during the first half of the seventeenth century. The events that led to the famous trial of...

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5 | The Triumph of Reason

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pp. 120-146

How far can we go in exalting Newton’s scientific achievements? Not far enough. Few minds in the intellectual history of humankind have left such an imprint as Newton’s. His work represents the culmination of the Scientific Revolution, a grandiose solution...

Part III | The Classical Era

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6 | The World Is an Intricate Machine

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pp. 149-188

The ground-breaking scientific achievements of Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and many others during the seventeenth century triggered a deep revision of the Western conception of the cosmos. Gone was the walled-in Universe of the Dark Ages...

Part IV | Modern Times

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7 | Of Things Fast

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pp. 191-211

Learning modern physics can be an emotional experience. As students are first introduced to the ideas of relativity and quantum mechanics, initial perplexity is almost invariably followed by peevish disbelief. There is something outrageous...

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8 | Of Things Small

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pp. 212-240

Light, or more generally, electromagnetic waves, posed other challenges for classical physics. We have seen that light emitted and absorbed by chemical elements and analyzed by a spectroscope allowed physicists to study...

Part V | Modeling the Universe

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9 | Inventing Universes

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pp. 243-279

Side by side with the revolution in our understanding of the physics of the very small and of the very fast, the first three decades of the twentieth century witnessed yet another revolution: a new physics of gravity and of the Universe...

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10 | Beginnings

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pp. 280-309

Leave it to children to remind us of the many ways to perceive reality! There is little doubt that when we attempt to order the world around us, thinking in terms of opposites is very useful. Daynight, female-male...

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Epilogue: Dancing with the Universe

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pp. 310-312

From the ancient chants of creation rituals to complex mathematical equations describing primordial energy fluctuations, humankind has always looked for ways of expressing its fascination...

Glossary of Selected Terms

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pp. 313-319

Bibliography and Further Reading

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pp. 320-326


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pp. 327-338

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683950
E-ISBN-10: 1611683955
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584654667
Print-ISBN-10: 158465466X

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 44 illus.
Publication Year: 2005