What is the universe? How did it begin, and where does it end? Is it aware of us? Philosophers and scientists have always asked these questions; so, too, have dreamers, artists, and every single human who looks up at the endless night sky.
Astronomer Stephan Martin lets some of these seekers share their ideas about the universe in Cosmic Conversations, a thought-provoking collection of interviews. It’s a topic wide open to debate, given that the sharpest scientific minds haven’t yet figured out what the universe is (96% of it is made of an unidentified something) or where it’s going (everything is moving away from everything else at increasing speed). It’s both confusing and exciting to learn that one theory is as likely as another to be right.
Martin has chosen interview subjects from a vast range of disciplines, and he tackles them with the questions any of us might ask. Of astrophysicist Bernard Haisch, Martin asks “[Is the] zero-point field… an actual phenomenon that exists everywhere?” (It is, according to Haisch.) Complexity theorist James Gardner discusses his belief that “life and intelligence… are deeply woven into” the foundation of the cosmos. The always exuberant Fred Alan Wolf expounds upon the effect of Mind on the functioning of the universe.
After the scientists have their say, Martin brings in the spiritual and cultural leaders. When Dean Radin from the Institute of Noetic Sciences says that space and time “don’t fundamentally exist and yet they’re not an illusion either,” he could as well be delivering a Zen koan. Meanwhile, the Buddhists, represented by Lama Palden Drolma, describe the same concept as “appearance-emptiness.”
Sometimes the experts cross fields, with scientists discussing the spiritual aspects of our universe and its effects on cultural and personal perception. Edgar Mitchell, American astronaut and scientist, shares the moment of clarity that he experienced while he was disconnected from Earth: “It was as though my awareness reached out to touch the furthest star and I was aware of being an integral part of the entire universe…”
While several of the interviewees come from the world of hard science, Cosmic Conversations is geared toward the generalist; liberal arts types will have no trouble following along. Martin’s familiarity with all his subjects and their work allows him to guide the interviews in a steady but never disjointed rhythm. His questions, often open-ended, sometimes evoke surprising responses that open new and intriguing pathways for exploration. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, the subjects of Cosmic Conversations all struggle with the vastness of their topic. While theories grow out of varied perspectives and disciplines, the enormity of the issue at hand leaves experts and reader alike properly awed.