The Grand Contraption: The World as Myth, Number, and Chance

David Allen Park, Author Princeton University Press $45 (331p) ISBN 978-0-691-12133-8
This elegant work is, first and foremost, a fine introduction to the history of cosmology in the West. Park (The Fire within the Eye) covers a staggering range of beliefs in this slim volume, examining the heroic battle myths of ancient Israel, Egypt and Mesopotamia; writings on the squabbling Greek gods; the astrology of the Babylonians and Akkadians; the cosmology of the Ionians and pre-Socratics; Plato's world myth and Aristotle's ""Prime Mover""; Ptolemy's spheres and the atoms of Epicurus; the Copernican revolution and Descartes's vortices; and modern chemistry, field theory and the big bang. While many earlier theories of the universe may strike modern readers as absurd, Park approaches each with empathy and intelligence, uncovering the profoundly human struggle to make sense of the world that lies at the heart of premodern science. In so doing, he renders these ideas less fantastical-almost reasonable-for his readers. And, perhaps more importantly, by the time he reaches the 20th century, the fantastical aspects of our own cosmology are more than apparent. In the end, Park's engrossing work suggests that the difference between modern and ancient cosmologies has little to do with progress in the technical foundations of science; even the most ancient cultures he discusses had advanced methods of calculation and a commitment to observation and experiment. But, he explains, the key cosmological questions-Why are we here? How did the cosmos begin? What is the meaning of life?-cannot be answered using calculation and experiment. As Park writes, ""statements of fact end and fall silent, but myth echoes in the memory of generations.""
Reviewed on: 03/01/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 331 pages - 978-0-691-13053-8
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