November 27, 2015

"...the book’s greatest reward — the gift of perspective."

NY Times The existence of parallel truths is what gives our world its tremendous richness, and the grand scheme of things is far grander than our minds habitually imagine. By MARIA POPOVA

'“The future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens,” Rilke wrote. Although it took the deadly comet an immeasurably long time to reach its earthly victims, the dinosaurs’ destiny — and, in consequence, our own — was sealed in the cosmic blink when dark matter jolted that icy body out of orbit. It’s a sobering revelation of the gestational period of consequences. As Randall peers into the universe’s 13.8-­billion-year history, she notes that in her lifetime alone, human population has more than doubled, straining Earth’s resources and undermining cosmic work billions of years in the making. Although her periodicity model projects that a major meteoroid isn’t expected to hit us for another 32 million years or so, our civilization’s impact on the planet is like that of a slow-moving comet headed for doom — but unlike the one that killed the dinosaurs, Randall reminds us, we still have a chance to avert its course.

'Almost more interesting than the theory itself is Randall’s tour of the process of scientific endeavor, in which scientists traverse the abyss between the known and the unknown, suspended by intuition, adventurousness, a large dose of stubbornness and a measure of luck. Her account of how scientists proved that a meteoroid killed the dinosaurs — a hypothesis that was first considered preposterous but that later precipitated a worldwide detective story 30 years in the making — is one of the most thrilling tales in the history of science. Only time will tell whether Randall’s own model ends up as the kind of work that merits a Nobel Prize or as one of those trailblazing wrongs that steer future scientists toward the truth.

'Randall’s work, which she approaches with equal parts passion and precision, is perhaps best described as creative computational cosmology. Although she is one of the world’s most prominent working scientists, her theory is essentially a thought experiment in the tradition of philosophy, bridging metaphysics with the most strenuous experiment and observation of science. What emerges is an imaginative and ambitious model of how we ended up where we are now. Science, after all, isn’t merely about advancing information — it’s about advancing understanding. Its task is to disentangle the opinions and the claims from the facts in the service of truth. But beyond the “what” of truth, successful science writing tells a complete story of the “how” — the methodical marvel building up to the “why” — and Randall does just that.'

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