Book Reviews

The View from the Center of the Universe: 
Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos

by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams

Review by Richard Sheppard


In addition to some excellent science about Humankind's understanding of, and place within, the Cosmos, the authors ambitiously propose that man has a special responsibility as possibly the only life-form in existence. The authors don't make a declarative assertion that humans are alone, but they infer this and come to the conclusion that our unique status calls for unique responsibilities. Primarily these include safeguarding our planet and ourselves, that we may fulfill the still-to-be-determined destiny of our existence.

The authors combine religion, myth, science, and symbolism to propose that humans must re-think our earlier historical notions of how our insignificant selves fit into the incomprehensibly gargantuan, probably infinite Universe. They describe the Ptolemaic, Newtonian, and Einsteinian theories/worldviews, and the quantum conundrums presently stumping our finest minds, and how these theories/worldviews represented the highest achievement of their times. But yet there's still so much unexplained, and perhaps unknowable. The authors use language and metaphor well in both explaining fact and proposing responses we might generate while interpreting this incredible new knowledge if and when it arrives. 

The authors do a particularly fine job in describing scale measurements, and how understanding scale affects our understanding size in turn. And how "size" is limited in what we see around us. There are size-limits to life-forms, stars, and planets; there can never be a planet as a large as a star, or a "giant" human on some other larger planet, for instance. These notions make for fascinating reading, well-related and explained.

The core of the author's point is that just as the Universe itself had a critical "moment" of inflation which set all things on an endless outwards and vanishing journey, we humans are at a critical "moment" in our existence that we must, as mentioned, come up with innovative thought-processes to ensure we will fulfill our ultimate destiny, which is perhaps to fill the endless Cosmos with myriad and endless life. This portion tends to be a little New Age preachy, but since the authors have done such a fine job summarizing how we got to our present modes of thinking, and how we might adapt our minds and spirits to and unknowable huge Universe and endless future, you can forgive them these idealistic viewpoints.