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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Cosmology: The Origin and Evolution of Cosmic Structure, Second Edition by Peter Coles, Francesco Lucchin (Wiley) Cosmology is concerned with the history and evolution of the universe. The subject content concentrates primarily on theory, but relates theory to observation where appropriate. A modern introduction to this fascinating and fast developing subject. Provides a unique bridge between introductory and advanced material, starting with the elementary foundations of basic cosmological theory. Fully illustrated throughout with completely updated references. Excerpt from Second Edition: While we were putting together the material for the first edition of this book we had vague worries that some parts of it might date reasonably rapidly. We were not, however, prepared for the amazing developments over the last few years that have rocked the foundations of the subject.

For example, when we wrote the first edition we decided not to include detailed discussions of the cosmological constant, an addition to Einstein's theory of general relativity that, in common with many cosmologists, we considered to be a curiosity rather than a necessity. Over the last few years, however, studies of the behavior of high-redshift supernovae have provided compelling evidence that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. As far as we know this requires the existence of a cosmological constant, or something very like it.

As well as this unforeseen breakthrough, there has been a steadily accelerating accumulation of extragalactic observational data that have told us much more about the state of the Universe than was known in 1995 when the first edition was published. Redshift maps containing hundreds of thousands of galaxy positions are now available, with more in the pipeline. The first stunning high-resolution maps of the cosmic microwave background from the balloon‑borne experiments Boomerang and Maxima have trumped the much‑vaunted satellite experiments Planck and MAP. These maps provide near‑conclusive evidence that we live in a Universe in which space is flat. These are just a couple of examples we have included in this edition, and more can be anticipated in the future.

Theory too has moved forward in impressive fashion. Massive parallel supercomputers have been deployed to simulate the formation of structure ab initio and refine the details of a basic theoretical framework that has largely withstood the challenges placed on it by recent observational breakthroughs. Progress has also been made in modeling the complexities of galaxy formation, with all the messy business of star formation, feedback and merging that this entails. These ideas are used nowadays to help plan observational programs, so that over the last few years theory and observation have moved closer together. Cosmology is at last becoming an empirically based, testable science.

To reflect these changes and also to improve the presentation of the basic material we have made significant alterations to the book compared with the first edition. Obviously we have added new material on the supernovae, cosmic microwave background and galaxy surveys we mentioned above. We have also introduced a new chapter on gravitational lensing, another 'hot' topic for today's generation of cosmologists. We also changed the structure of the first part of the book to make a gentler introduction to the subject instead of diving straight into general relativity. We also added problems sections at the end of each chapter and reorganized the references.

We decided to keep our account of the basic physics of perturbation growth (Chapters 10-12) while other books concentrate more on model-building. Our reason for this is that we intended the book to be an introduction for physics students. Models come and models go, but physics remains the same. To make the book a bit more accessible we added a sort of 'digest' of the main ideas and summary of model‑building in Chapter 15 for readers wishing to bypass the details.

Other bits, such as those covering theories with variable constants and inhomogeneous cosmologies, were added for no better reason than that they are fun. On the other hand, we missed the boat in a significant way by minimizing the role of the cosmological constant in the first edition. Who knows, maybe we will strike it lucky with one of these additions!

Because of the dominance that observation has assumed over the last few years, we decided to add a chapter at the end of the book exploring some of the planned developments in observation technology (gravitational wave detectors, new satellites, ground-based facilities, and so on). Experience has shown us that it is hard to predict the future, but this final chapter will at least point out some of the possibilities.

Introduction to Cosmology by Barbara Sue Ryden (Addison-Wesley) is an excellent introduction to all facets of cosmology for anyone from advanced undergraduates on. It includes a slow immersion in the key physical concepts of current cosmology theory, and broadly covers all relevant topics, as listed in the chapter headings. However, the greatest strength of this book is in the decision to forgo detailed General Relativity derivations. Instead of pages of numbing treatment of tensor math and metrics, Ryden summarizes the results of GR that are relevant to current cosmology, presenting the Friedmann equation and the Robertson-Walker metric. While this approach might infuriate purists, it allows the student to understand cosmology from a conceptual standpoint, while providing the mathematical tools necessary for analysis, and is a sufficient general introduction for any physics or astronomy student. It also provides a strong base of knowledge for those who do wish to proceed further into the details of GR. Furthermore, the conversational style of the text makes it much easier to read than any other physics textbook I have encountered. I would recommend any student (or professional) who slogged through their cosmology studies with no sense of the overall state of the field to use this book for both brushing up on the basics and as a quick reference.

Cosmology is the study of the universe, or cosmos, regarded as a whole. Attempt­ing to cover the study of the entire universe in a single volume may seem like a megalomaniac's dream. The universe, after all, is richly textured, with struc­tures on a vast range of scales; planets orbit stars, stars are collected into galaxies, galaxies are gravitationally bound into clusters, and even clusters of galaxies are found within larger superclusters. Given the complexity of the universe, the only way to condense its history into a single book is by a process of ruthless simpli­fication. For much of this book, therefore, we will be considering the properties of an idealized, perfectly smooth, model universe. Only near the end of the book will we consider how relatively small objects, such as galaxies, clusters, and superclusters, are formed as the universe evolves. It is amusing to note in this context that the words cosmology and cosmetology come from the same Greek root: the word kosmos, meaning harmony or order. Just as cosmetologists try to make a hu­man face more harmonious by smoothing over small blemishes such as pimples and wrinkles, cosmologists sometimes must smooth over small "blemishes" such as galaxies.

A science that regards entire galaxies as being small objects might seem, at first glance, very remote from the concerns of humanity. Nevertheless, cosmology deals with questions that are fundamental to the human condition. The questions that vex humanity are given in the title of a painting by Paul Gauguin (Figure 1.1): "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" Cosmology grapples with these questions by describing the past, explaining the present, and predicting the future of the universe. Cosmologists ask questions such as "What is the universe made of? Is it finite or infinite in spatial extent? Did it have a beginning some time in the past? Will it come to an end some time in the future?"

Cosmology deals with distances that are very large, objects that are very big, and timescales that are very long. Cosmologists frequently find that the standard SI units are not convenient for their purposes: the meter (m) is awkwardly short, the kilogram (kg) is awkwardly tiny, and the second (s) is awkwardly brief. For­tunately, we can adopt the units that have been developed by astronomers for dealing with large distances, masses, and times.

God and the Universe by Arthur Gibson (Routledge) combines incisive interpretations of the latest scientific theories of the origins of the universe with an unparalleled understanding of their religious and philosophical implications. In tackling head-on the highly charged issue of God's relevance to contemporary cosmology, the breadth of Gibson's perspective on his subject matter is amazing: from virtual reality to the meaning of life and from Aristotle to Stephen Hawking. Books like this do not come along very often. I suggest one take a couple of mornings off and read through it. God and the Universe will provide some important novel perspectives about how things can mean from the smallest to the largest and how perhaps best to go about learning more.

`Evolution' and `devolution' can be treated as live metaphors, respectively for life and for death. The twentieth century AD was the first era with a technology sufficient to cause planetary oblivion. This itself is evidence that the human genome has qualitatively gone into reverse: the devolution of consciousness by world leaders and corporate facilities into carnivorous mentality, paraded as the quintessence of achievement, obscured by myths in media hype. It may be claimed that the forces of global society have coerced such leaders into this potential impasse. Such a view requires that there is a devolutionary contagion at work: a counterfeit consciousness that networks leaders into the economics of extinction. Let us hope that humanity is not Othello ‑ `the victim of long habit, and wanting', as Frank Kermode circumscribes him.

These destructive modalities in the human mind (which derive from a primordial past, be they manifested by nuclear war, economic terrorism or other symptoms) tend to mobilize against the possibility of a creative future for humanity whilst presuming to insure for the probity of life in the twenty-first century. If probability were applied to this scenario, chaos may ensure the termination of human civilization. Our uses of the past and present variously contribute to this global mutation.

But the most improbable future can come true. Deriving from the past and present are extraordinary resources that can sublime devolution and yield a creative future. In effect, this book claims that the game of `throwing the dice' may itself be evolved into a live metaphor by which we can decompose its random deconstructing effects. Surely a work of art such as Mozart's Requiem has escaped the dice, even though it engages with death and the dying composer? Malcolm Bowie points out that Mallarmė was a poet of terror: he disrupts the composed consciousness at the juncture one least expects it and one is ill‑equipped to false‑foot randomness. So with the future that he helped spawn. His vision is a mirror of the stage on which, and at which, human consciousness is ‑ consciousness for which evolution has no random explanation. Consequently, the consciousness which has so strongly interrogated the self‑consciousness of modernism and its aftermath, is paradoxical in its existence and in qualitative disposition about its existence, if I may thus personify our fragmenting lack of identity. On the one hand, we have no right to a universal explanation of the significance of consciousness and, on the other hand, we have no ground for discarding the possibility of such an explanation.

God and the Universe  is a preliminary exploration to suggest strategies to discover ways out of this impasse, conceived as the first of a series of books. It displays many limitations: does the book cover too much ground and too many subjects? I do not engage with Hegel, and am content only occasionally to treat Kant. The book addresses Aristotle's Poetics, rather than, as one might expect, his Metaphysics, and instead attempts to construct metaphysical problems out of our contemporary astrophysics, without introducing the significance of the reception of Aristotle's thinking into Christian theology. But, however one assesses, for example, Kant's contribution to `faith and reason' and `God's relation to the world' debates, the effect of systematically commenting upon Kant's great opus, or other seminal authors, is to be regulated by the controlling notions of relevance and commentary to which they subject us, and to which they have been subjected. This is not a whim by which one denounces or discards such authors, but to attempt, however imperfectly, to stand as far as is possible independently of these histories of influence and to think afresh. Yet to ignore them is both impossible and to delight in alienation. I have tried to produce a different sort of use and this avoidance of authorities.

The opinion that supports this suture of the disparate is that logic and mathematics are species of live metaphor that, though different from natural language, nevertheless embody criteria of identity that can facilitate the building of a bridge between them. There is, of course, equivocation and incoherence, and one would not wish to warrant those. But the form of logic we have is itself an interpretation, not the final set of laws of reason; the paradoxes of material implication suffice to show that, especially when garnished by Russell's paradox. Just as microphysics was unknown to generations of past physicists, so the future may hold for us worlds of logic that traditional logicians do not now recognize, important though the existing research on logic is. Reference, relation and generalization compose logic. The present book argues that these use live metaphor. An eventual consequence of such analysis is that some poetry is nearer logic in its use of metaphor than many have assumed. The foregoing chapters argue that these points have significance for the discussion of transcendence and cosmology: modernism has tended to foreclose debate on transcendence, and this all too easily attracts a reactionary alternative. I have inclined to avoid both, and sketched a different meeting of pathways.

A feature of this approach is a move towards a counter‑intuitive blending of dissimilar matters. This focus also attempts to reinterpret our positioning of subjects themselves, and to reconsider the ways custom and institutions divide them, and questioning which has been pursued elsewhere. The association of physical cosmology with aesthetics, for example, has a parallel with connections utilized between chemistry and aesthetics by Hoffmann (1990), as noted in the foregoing chapters. To some it may seem peculiar to align chromatic harmony in music with mathematical theory in cosmology, though the mathematics of vibration are central to both. Yet surprise is a constant in cosmology.

`Surprise' itself is obviously not worthy to be a legitimizing cover for physical law by which to stitch the unexpected and the seeming contrary together. Probability is the philosophy of expectation. Improbability is a function of unfamiliarity. Unfamiliarity is a difficult arena for those who are used to measure things by reference to familiar patterns. Consequently, what is unfamiliar may be misidentified as having no cogent pattern, not least since knowing a concept is not necessarily a recognitional capacity. My aim is not to unseat the notion of recognition, nor champion generalized novel chaos, though some cosmologists, such as Hawking (1993), seem to use this mixture to stir the universe into motion. One strand of this book suggests that counter‑intuition underlies the identity of some of transcendence and cosmology; so one would not expect normative criteria to be able to measure that which is contrary to them. This is not designed to secure irrationality as a condition for knowledge, but to question our assumption that uniformity of structure, reason and recognition in surface culture are properties symmetrical to all deeper levels of explanation.

At the deeper level, I have argued, the science and the arts, in certain respects, share a continuum and are only separated by degree. This degree, the foregoing maintains, is often smaller than empirically minded theorists might assume. Much of its mathematics is approximate. Formalization is not a procedure that ejects imprecision. It sometimes only symbolizes it, though to the unwary it removes vagueness. Of course, some of science's knowledge is invariant through generations. But the criterion of identity by which this knowledge is characterised has a coarse graining which fails to encapsulate some of the relevant physical world, or describe it correctly (i.e. for statements to be identical to their `facts'). I suggest that as current and future science goes deeper it becomes more qualitative and aesthetic, since these are also coextensive properties of the external world at which it connives.

It may be retorted that prediction and repetition in experimental science go far beyond such parallel with the arts. I grant a degree of difference; but science is too full of adjustments to allegedly `identical' experiments to support a claim that the criterion of identity implemented under the aegis of a scientific law shows we have a perfect match between what the law claims and the identity of the piece of the world it matches for purposes of manufacture, prediction, etc. Imagination is also a function of scientific discovery, as it is in art. Art indeed has its own various precisions. Also science and art are external and internally asymmetric to one another and themselves in many ways.

The live metaphor of portrait of a given person, however, will be just as adequate as a criterion of identity of that person as will be a photograph of him or her. The technology here is continuous with the art in relation to the resulting criterion of identity in producing an image, whilst admitting some bewitched family resemblances between these media, with many differences and similarities to show that this metaphor will not work equally over all art and science. Comparably, local physics has criteria of quantitative proof different from astrophysics. Some physicists are not quite joking when they say cosmology is not an empirically precise laboratory science; and astrophysicists are not joking when they say that their experiment requires a laboratory the size of the universe ‑ of which terrestrial physics is merely a local case. There is a discontinuity between the two, together with an overlap, with loss of precision in astrophysics compared to local physics. Clearly, the parallels between the arts and sciences should be positioned with their many contrasts. But, for example, the philosophy of art has an empirical and general sable component that is revisable, and so has science. The degree and qualitative forms of the revision in each case will differ, yet these have to be related to internal differences between the sciences, as well as take account of the rather low esteem and knowledge some scientists have of the actually high critical and technical standards in much cultural analysis.

I have proposed that live (not dead) metaphor pervades both science and artistic enterprises, and that visual properties as well as visualization link metaphor in these two domains. This assertion will need much more development to discover its bite and range. Again, I have not embraced Wittgenstein's (1963) picture theory of language, while modifying details for its technical content. It seems to me that one could produce a picture theory of language that would be both true to the spirit of Wittgenstein (especially if the connections with the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations were dug out more), while being radically dissimilar. Readers may claim that the tendency to compose live metaphor in this book, by pushing scientific and other languages into extended lexical domains, is vexing. But this queries exactly what needs questioning: the limits of language.

Central to this issue is the problem of detail. Infinitesimal differences of detail provoke a new cosmology. Detail is either fundamentally important, or it is a bore not worthy of note. We all can inadvertently privilege or neglect either sort of detail, and figures such as Einstein are no exception. The problem of fashion's influence gives this issue of detail further bite. Postmodernism or retro‑chic theology all too easily replace the intolerant institutionalism of the past with themselves. We are not in a position to absorb many of the prevailing era's world­view parameters as regulative presuppositions Foundation beliefs do correctly change status permanently. The two‑dimensional Earth has happily gone forever; but the possibility that, in some spheres of political and cultural influence, the evolution of consciousness may degrade into devolution, should leave us wary of adopting the position of unprecedented observer of a unique epoch, unparalleled though it be.

A new openness for one to be influenced by a future whose antecedents are not composed by such claims will leave a spacetime large enough for original ideas and life. Perhaps a counter‑intuitive Renaissance based on a fresh view of the future, rather than a dark age?

Preface; 1.The Freedom to Question; 2.The Expression of God in Language; 3.Extending Scientific Languages; 4.The Beginning of the Matter; 5.The Beginning of Life; 6.Prediction and the Cosmology of God; 7.God and Ethical Cosmology; 8.The Practice of Legal Cosmology; 9.Eschatological Cosmology; 10.Creating Conclusive Beginnings; Bibliographical References; Figures


Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos by Alan W. Hirshfeld (Freeman) charts the historical path of observational astronomy’s most daunting challenge: measuring the distance to a star. The greatest scientific minds applied themselves in vain to the problem across the millennia, beginning with the ancient Greeks. Not until the nineteenth century would three men, armed with the best telescopes of the age, race to conquer this astronomical Everest--their contest ending in a dead heat.
Against a sweeping backdrop filled with kidnappings, dramatic rescue, swordplay, madness, and bitter rivalry, Alan Hirshfeld brings to life the heroes—and heroines—of this remarkable story. Meet the destitute boy plucked from a collapsed building who becomes the greatest telescope maker the world has ever seen; the hot-tempered Dane whose nose is lopped off in a duel over mathematics; the merchant’s apprentice forced to choose between the lure of money and his passion for astronomy; and the musician who astounds the world by discovering a new planet from his own backyard.
Generously illustrated with diagrams, period engravings, and paintings, Parallax is an unforgettable tale that illuminates the distinctly human side of science.

The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos by Mario Livio (John Wiley) In one of the most startling discoveries in cosmology in the century, astronomers last year determined that the universe is flying apart at an ever faster rate. This "acceleration" has smashed the popular idea of a perfectly balanced "beautiful" universe and kicked off what Scientific American has proclaimed as a new revolution in cosmology. In elegant and wonderfully lucid prose, Hubble Space Telescope scientist Mario Livio introduces the new findings and explores their astonishing implications. Was Einstein's "greatest blunder"--his idea of a cosmological constant--a brilliant insight after all? Is there a mysterious kind of energy that fills "empty" space? Must we abandon the long-cherished view of a beautiful universe? If so, the accelerating universe may prove as traumatic a finding as was the heretical notion that the Earth was not the center of the universe to Galileo's inquisitors. .Mario Livio, PhD (Baltimore, MD), is a senior scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He lectures on astrophysics and cosmology regularly at the Smithsonian Institution, and appeared in the PBS series Mysteries of Deep Space.


What is beauty? What is it that makes certain works of art, pieces of music, landscapes, or the face of a person so appealing to us that they give us an enormous sense of excitement and pleasure? This question, with which many philosophers, writers, psychologists, artists, and biologists have struggled at least since the time of Plato, and which led (among other things) to the birth of the notion of aesthetics in the eighteenth century, is still largely unanswered. To some extent, all of the classical approaches to beauty can be summarized by the following (clearly oversimplified) statement: Beauty symbolizes a degree of perfection with respect to some ideal. It is strange, though, that something which has such an abstract definition can cause such intense reactions. For example, some accounts claim that the Russian writer Dostoyevsky sometimes fainted in the presence of a particularly beautiful woman.

    In spite of some changes in taste over the centuries (and some obvious differences among different cultures), the perception of what is beautiful is very deeply rooted in us. It suffices to look at a few paintings like Botticelli's Primavera or Leighton's Flaming June, or at a majestic mountain landscape, to realize this.

    The term beautiful has evolved from being identified with "good" and "real" or "truthful" in ancient Greece to a quality that is confined merely to its effects on our senses, in the second half of the eighteenth century. It is interesting to note, though, that the approach of the philosophical book of Proverbs in the Bible has been rather dismissive and closer to the more modern definition in its assertion: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain."

    But, even if only affecting our senses, the effects of beauty should not be underestimated. The ancient Greeks certainly did not underestimate them. Greek mythology contains the famous story of the goddess Eris, who, insulted because she was not invited to the wedding party of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, decided to take revenge by throwing into the banquet hall a golden apple that carried this inscription: "For the Fairest." After a long debate among the goddesses, the choice was narrowed down to three contestants for the title: the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. The matter was brought for a decision to Zeus who (very wisely) passed the task on to Paris, the son of the King of Troy. As it turned out, Paris's job was reduced to an evaluation of the bribes offered to him by each of the goddesses.

    Hera whispered to him that she would make him the Lord of Europe and Asia; Athena promised him victory over the Greeks; and Aphrodite made him an offer he could not refuse—she promised him that the most beautiful woman in the entire world would be his. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, an action that can only be described as a mistake of historic proportions. The most beautiful woman on earth was Menelaus's wife, Helen, whose face "could launch a thousand ships." The end of the story is tragic. After Paris kidnapped Helen and brought her to Troy, a fierce and bitter war broke out, which led eventually to the total destruction of Troy.

    Helen's beauty is described as being so intense, and its effects so devastating, that when Menelaus decides to execute Helen, a Trojan hero's mother forces him to swear that he will perform the execution without looking into Helen's eyes, because "through the eyes of men she controls them and destroys them in the same way that she destroys cities."

    Some speculate that Helen's beauty was of the cold, unapproachable type, and that its overwhelming effects stemmed from the fact that Helen appeared as unattainable as the understanding of the concept of beauty itself.

    Sometimes one can understand a certain concept or quality better by examining something that epitomizes the opposite. This notion is partly responsible for such pairings as heaven and hell, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and, indeed, as the title of this chapter implies, Beauty and the Beast. So far I have only discussed beauty, but where is the "beast"?

    The beast, in this case, is—physics! To many of my personal friends and to a large number of students of humanities whom I have met over the years, there is nothing more remote from the notion of beauty and more antithetical, from the point of view of the sensation that it induces in them, than physics. In fact, the disgust and fear that physics stimulates in some people is rivaled only by their feelings toward cockroaches. In an article in the Sunday Times (quoted in a BBC lecture by Richard Dawkins), columnist A. A. Gill compared observations in the sky to movie and theater stars by saying, "There are stars and there are stars, darling. Some are dull, repetitive squiggles on paper, and some are fabulous, witty, thought-provoking ..." Believe it or not, those "dull, repetitive squiggles" represented the discovery of pulsars, objects so dense that one cubic inch of their matter weighs a billion tons, and that take a fraction of a second to rotate, instead of the earth's twenty-four hours!

    I hope that this book will convince even skeptics that "beauty in physics and cosmology" is not an oxymoron. I remember a certain scene in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam in which a soldier is asked to which unit he belongs. His answer, "military intelligence," provokes an immediate reaction from the general: "There is no such thing!" In relation to science, the English poet Keats virtually accused Newton of ruining the beauty of the rainbow by his theoretical explanations of how it is formed, using the laws of optics. In Keats's words:

Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine— Uneave a rainbow ...

Incidentally, some readers may find the latter story surprising, given that Keats is often quoted as having said: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." In fact, Keats said no such thing. It is what he said the Grecian Urn depicts, in his criticism of works of art that deliberately eliminate existing difficulties of life.

    Keats's complaint merely reflects the general feeling that magicians' tricks often lose their charm once we know how they are performed. However, in physics, very often the explanation is even more beautiful than the question, and even more frequently, the solution to one puzzle helps uncover an even deeper and more intriguing mystery. I therefore hope to be able to demonstrate that reactions like Keats's merely represent a misunderstanding that is based on false myths.

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