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The Artful Universe Expanded [Hardcover]

John D. Barrow

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Book Description

April 29 2005 019280569X 978-0192805690 Second Edition
In iThe Artful Universe Expanded/i, John D. Barrow draws out the deep links between our aesthetic inclinations - our art, our music, our appreciation of form, pattern, and landscape - and the mathematical and physical structure of the Universe of which we form a part. Barrow challenges the commonly held view that our sense of beauty is entirely free and unfettered. He argues that as beings that have evolved in this Universe, we are products of its natural laws and its underlying mathematical forms. Our minds show the imprints of this structure, which constrains and moulds our perceptions and our aesthetic preferences. In this rich and wide-ranging exploration, Barrow looks at the evolution of complexity, form in painting, computer art and music, and how landscapes and the wheeling patterns of stars in the night sky have impinged upon the human psyche. Originally published in 1995, this revised and expanded edition includes new essays on topics including the beauty of vases, the fractal nature of Jackson Pollock's art, life on extrasolar planets, multiverses, and the question of whether we might be living in a simulated universe (and if so, how would we know?). This is a deeply inspiring and erudite work from an author described by Sir Martin Rees as 'emerging as the Stephen Jay Gould of the mathematical sciences'.

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Review from previous edition: "an engaging book ... practically a universal education in both the history of modern science and the history of the Universe ... will be much quoted, much debated and much praised" --Nature

"a feast: the kind of book which tells you everything you want to know about everything" --The Economist

"I was infuriated by it, disagreed with it and loved reading it." --Timothy Ferris, New York Times Book Review

"in the speculative and intellectual richness of its pages, this book is probably unsurpassed" --Peter Atkins

"a masterly exposition of what seems bound to become one of the most important developments to have taken place in physical science" --TLS

"Intriguing analysis of new scientific thinking." --Sydney Times

"unique and wide-ranging book ... The reader is taken on an eclectic study of many scientific disciplines and is presented with a revealing picture of the structure of the physical world solely in terms of its invariant constants. There are also fascinating chapters on the definition and nature of life, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence and the interpretation of quantum theory in relation to the existence of observers." --Europe and Astronomy 1992 25/02/1993

" is consistently diverting and illuminating and indeed, at its best, hard to put down in its communication of the excitement of seeing the world as an exercise in the mathematics of energy. --Hugh Lawson-Tancred, The Spectator, on Between Inner Space and Outer Space

"Barrow is emerging as the Stephen Jay Gould of the mathematical sciences. These fluent and erudite essays should further enhance his reputation." --Professor Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, on Between Inner Space and Outer Space --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

16pp full colour plates; numerous halftones and figures

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Regurgitation without attribution Jan. 6 2014
By Owen Brown - Published on
Reader, my comments refer to the 1995 edition, of which I understand this to be an "expansion." Barrow, and you, would have benefited from a contraction. This earlier work (which I must assume provides you with the basis for that of which you read this review) is a poorly-organized, and poorly-edited mish-mash of hypotheses that point at Barrow's conclusion without lending any particular force to his argument.

Which is? The world is so because it is. Extraterrestrials, if they exist, must exist as they do. The four forces of the universe cannot be any different than they are, if the moon was not where it lives in the sky, mathematics would be far different now than what it is. And by the way, we have the Minoans to blame for constellations (bright bit of conjecture there!) Why this teleological fever? I suppose because our author, a new Candide, wants to point out that our aesthetic preferences are based upon our physical/evolutionary constructs, themselves based upon what we currently conceive to be givens of physics and chemistry (and this is not a bad idea), but they couldn't be otherwise.

All presented in a prose style that is occasionally amusing (the best part of the book are the quotes) but far too often has one struggle with paragraphs that straggle over far too many pages. Did Barrow's agent just throw up her hands? To say nothing of the editor - after all, as ideas and connections pour forth in a feverish fashion from Barrow's pen, one would like to read of his sources. Some are listed in the bibliography, none are footnoted in the text.

One would also have liked a few other critical readers before the text made it to print. Barrow provides conclusions that benefits his anthropocentric principles as if they generally were fait accompli, but they are only one of many that might be considered. For example: " could be that our liking for music is merely a by-product of an advantageous adaptation for coordinated actions." Yes, I suppose it could be. Or maybe not. At other times we read sentences appalling in their banality. Here's one:

"In the absence of catastrophes, our own existence is made possible by the presence of our friendly neighbourhood star: the Sun."

Do you know something now that you didn't before? Here's another:

"The strength of rocks and metals is fixed by the strength of the electromagnetic forces of Nature, and by the masses of protons and electrons."

And here's another:

"Mankind's awareness of the stars, and of the periodic changes in the appearances of the Sun and the Moon, was already well developed at the dawn of recorded history."

These were all taken at random. There are plenty more. Barrow would reply that they are taken out of context, to which it would be fair to ask him exactly what context he has in mind. It seems that there is nothing that will not support his thesis. And then there's an over-long excursion in chapter 5 where music is compared to mathematics - for what end? You'll never really know.

I am sorry for Barrow that I give this a single star, but not for you, as his potential customer. Although there are a few interesting ideas here, as well as some workable summaries of celestial events (precession, etc.) there are far too many windy connections for the work to stand. Barrow may believe that the past shapes the present, and thus the future, but for the most part yours will be better if you avoid this book.

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