How many of us have felt like Calvin, staring out at the vast universe on a clear night? Or worse still, how many of us have avoided the question of our significance by refusing even to look? Fearing what we might see? Fearing its implications? In their book, "View from the Center of the Universe" authors Primack and Abrams tackle this modern angst head-on.
"In their hearts, most people are still living in an imagined universe, where space is simply emptiness, stars are scattered randomly, and common sense is a reliable guide. In this imagined universe, we humans have no special place and often feel insignificant." (3)
But Primack and Abrams refuse to accept this point of view. In ways that are bound to surprise many readers, Primack and Abrams show that human beings are, in fact, extremely 'significant' in the universe.
"Most of us have grown up thinking that there is no basis for our feeling central or even important to the cosmos. But with the new evidence it turns out that this perspective is nothing but a prejudice. There is on geographic center to an expanding universe, but we are central in several unexpected ways that derive directly from physics and cosmology--for example, we are in the center of all possible sizes in the universe, we are made of the rarest material, and we are living at the midpoint of time for both the universe and the earth. These and other forms of centrality have each been a scientific discovery, not an anthropocentric way of reading the data." (7)
But what is the prevailing view in our 21st century culture? I'm afraid it hasn't changed much. It was expressed vividly in thoughts of a 17th century French philosopher and, I would wager, even in the works of William Shakespeare, especially in his King Lear.
"I feel engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing and which know nothing of me. I am terrified..." Blaise Pascal 1623
“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”