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The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates (edition 2012)

by Howard Bloom

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342329,500 (3.2)1
Member:Poquette
Title:The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates
Authors:Howard Bloom
Info:Prometheus Books (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 575 pages, Kindle Edition
Collections:Your library, Kindle
Rating:***1/2
Tags:History of Ideas, Intellectual History, Read/2013, Religion, Reviewed

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The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates by Howard Bloom

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In Brief: I enjoyed Bloom's premise and the ideas he set forth, although I can't share his enthusiasm.

What I Didn't Care For: The style in which this book was written became tedious after a few hundred pages. I don't fault Bloom for his enthusiasm but the constant repetition (doubtless done for effect and, if I were being charitable, for thematic resonance) grates on the writer in me.

There were some issues with the argument presented here. While I am personally enchanted by the same thoughts of unity and emergence that drive Bloom, I am less convinced by the specifics of his argument. The philosophical idealism I am attracted to (which started with Plato, ran through Spinoza's panpsychism and Leibniz's rationalism before reaching a zenith in Hegel) is, to be frank, kooky by my own admission. I like the idea for what it implies, but I am the first to admit that I cannot support it on strong grounds, certainly not compared to the naturalism which my pragmatic side cannot ignore.

I see threads of this trajectory in Bloom's argument, though where Hegelian thought eventually lead to Marx (and the Left's eventual realization that the dialectic was a dead end), Bloom seems to arrive at a parallel justification for modern-day ideals of liberalism and capitalism. Applying teleological arguments to history is always a dangerous proposition, more likely the benefit of hindsight and confirmation bias than a true "story of history". To be fair, Bloom does acknowledge this in the final chapter (although, perhaps predictably, ideals win out over criticism).

For an Idea Book, I don't see this as terribly problematic, but it is worth mentioning that, scientific arguments aside, this is a book on metaphysics and the true nature of reality. As a consequence, it is subject to all the same criticisms that have faced Hegel and other forms of idealism: namely, how do we prove it? Can we prove it? Are these even questions for science to answer?

Regarding the how, I am reminded of Karl Popper's reservations with Freud and Marx, which eventually led to his famous definition of science as falsifiable conjectures. It was not the power of psychoanalysis and Marxism to explain that was in question; it was the fact that they could explain everything, without exception. While Popper was careful to note that non-scientific ideas were not invalid, it was hard to see how they could qualify as scientific. So it was with Marx, so it remains.

As for the latter question, I think that emphasizing science as the only appropriate tool to understand reality is misguided (especially if we restrict this to current science), and here I have a much deeper objection to Bloom's specific claims of anthropomorphism. Viewing the universe through a human lens is expected and, in some sense, unavoidable; I can forgive that, but I do have real concerns about the proposed *nature* of the humanity that Bloom proposes to map to universal laws (or vice versa). To treat the fundamental categories of nature as operating on notions of attraction and seduction and competition is hasty, at best, and even if we grant this argument, it is by no means clear that this is a total account of terrestrial life, let alone human action and behavior. Indeed one could easily construct a counterargument based on alternative interpretations of evolutionary theory alone, to say nothing of philosophical traditions that do not emphasize the limited set of subject-object relations taken for granted in Western (particularly American) thought.

While I am sympathetic to Bloom's desire for unity, we're treading on perilously non-scientific ground here, and we should accordingly be cautious in making claims to truth, enthusiasm notwithstanding. On that same note I would have preferred a deeper and more nuanced look at the philosophical assumptions underlying the interpretation of the scientific account of nature.

The Good: This is a big book, in ambition as well as page count, and that will always capture my sense of wonder. Bloom clearly did his research here, as attested by his formidable collection of notes spanning a range of disciplines across the history of humankind and the universe.

Even though my pragmatic side encourages restraint and my ideals conflict with Bloom's particular interpretation of the natural world, there is much to think about here and I do appreciate the larger attempt to explain how we get "something from nothing".

Overall: Whether or not Bloom succeeds in making his case is up to the reader. I didn't find myself entirely persuaded by the specifics, although I can't help but appreciate the larger argument. ( )
  chaosmogony | Apr 27, 2013 |
On the one hand, this may be a book of staggering genius. On the other, it is tediously wordy and a major condensation would make it easier for the nonscientist, nonmathematician to understand. Ostensibly, Howard Bloom makes an argument from an atheist viewpoint for the cosmic equivalent of a spontaneously combusted universe without the helping hand of a prime mover, god or superscientist in the sky. The argument is quite persuasive although the most convincing bits are buried more than halfway through the book.

If the book is seen as a romp through the history of scientific inquiry and the development of mathematics, that's where it is most fascinating, to this reader at least. And for the literarily inclined, who knew that Herbert Spencer, George Eliot and her paramour Henry Lewes, Thomas Carlyle, William Makepeace Thackeray, Horace Greeley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Huxley and John Stuart Mill all frequented or actually lived at the house of one John Chapman, publisher of the newly launched Economist, and they all knew each other and contributed to one of the many slices of the history of science which make this book so interesting aside from and in addition to the central thesis. ( )
2 vote Poquette | Jan 6, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 161614551X, Hardcover)

God's war crimes, Aristotle's sneaky tricks, Galileos creationism, Newton's intelligent design, entropys errors, Einstein's pajamas, John Conway's game of loneliness, Information Theory's blind spot, Stephen Wolfram's New Kind Of Science, and six monkeys at six typewriters getting it wrong. What do these have to do with the birth of a universe and with your need for meaning? Everything, as you're about to see.

"Enthralling. Astonishing. Written with the panache of the Great Blondin turning somersaults on the rope above Niagara. Profound, extraordinarily eclectic, and crazy. The most exciting cliffhanger of a book I can remember reading." James Burke, creator and host of seven BBC TV series, including Connections

"I have just come out from the giddy ride through things of the mind and mathematics that is The God Problem. Bloom takes us on a magic carpet ride of ideas about: well, about everything. And it turns out that everything we knew about everything is probably wrong. The God Problem is an intellectual cave of wonders made more wonderful by the tales of the lives of the people behind the ideas. Don't start this book late at night, for it will banish sleep." Robin Fox, Rutgers University, author of The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind, former director of research for the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation

"Bloom, with his 'heresies,' penetrates the very foundations of rationality and deconstructs Western consensus reality. The God Problem is the next paradigm. It doesn't take you down the proverbial "rabbit hole"—it will take you to a place from which you will never re-emerge, a brand new universe in the same skin as the one you now unknowingly inhabit." Heinz Insu Fenkl, director of ISIS: The Interstitial Studies Institute at SUNY, New Paltz; a Barnes and Noble "Great New Writer" and Pen/Hemingway finalist.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:32 -0400)

God's war crimes, Aristotle's sneaky tricks, Galileos creationism, Newton's intelligent design, entropys errors, Einstein's pajamas, John Conway's game of loneliness, Information Theory's blind spot, Stephen Wolfram's New Kind Of Science, and six monkeys at six typewriters getting it wrong. What do these have to do with the birth of a universe and with your need for meaning? Everything, as you're about to see.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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