Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988)
From the second-century celestial models of Ptolemy to modern-day research institutes and quantum theory, this classic book offers a breathtaking tour of astronomy and the brilliant, eccentric personalities who have shaped it. From the first time mankind had an inkling of the vast space that surrounds us, those who study the universe have had to struggle against political and religious preconceptions. They have included some of the most charismatic, courageous, and idiosyncratic thinkers of all time. In Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris uses his unique blend of rigorous research and captivating narrative skill to draw us into the lives and minds of these extraordinary figures, creating a landmark work of scientific history.… (more)
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One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—yet it is the most precious thing we have.
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were having an argument about it. One said the flag was moving, the other said that the wind was moving; and they could come to no agreement on the matter. They argued back and forth. Eno the Patriarch said, "It is not that the wind is moving; it is not that the flag is moving; it is that your honourable minds are moving."
[Preface and Acknowledgments]
How oft we sigh
When histories charm to think that histories lie!
The self shines in space through knowing.
You may have heard the music of Man but not the music of Earth. You may have heard the music of Earth but not the music of Heaven.
Had we never seen the stars, and the sun, and the heaven, none of the words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered. But now the sight of day and night, and the months and the revolutions of the years, have created number, and have given us a conception of time, and the power of enquiring about the nature of the universe; and from this source we have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man.
Aristarchus of Samos supposed that the heavens remained immobile and that the earth moved through an oblique circle, at the same time turning about its own axis.
Now see that mind that searched and made
All Nature's hidden secrets clear
Lie prostrate prisoner of night.
There will come a time in the later years when Ocean shall loosen the bonds by which we have been confined, when an immense land shall be revealed . . . and Thule will no longer be the most remote of countries.
The sea was like a river.
There is no new thing under the sun.
Amazed, and as if astonished and stupefied, I stood still, gazing for a certain length of time with my eyes fixed intently upon it . . . When I had satisfied myself that no star of that kind had ever shone forth before, I was led into such perplexity by the unbelievability of the thing that I began to doubt the faith of my own eyes.
--Tycho, on the supernova of 1572
Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. . . . Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics -- indeed, of modern science altogether.
What if the sun
Be Center to the World, and . . .
The Planet Earth, so stedfast [sic] though she seem,
Insensibly three different Motions move?
--Milton, Paradise Lost
Watch the stars, and from them learn.
To the Master's honor all must turn,
each in its track, without a sound,
forever tracing Newton's ground.
Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.
--Edmond Halley, on Newton's Principia
In Tahiti . . . the women are possessed of a delicate organization, a sprightly turn of mind, a lively, fanciful imagination, a wonderful quickness of parts and sensibility, a sweetness of temper, and a desire to please.
--Johann Georg Forster, 1778
The infinitude of the creation is great enough to make a world, or a Milky Way of worlds, look in comparison with it what a flower or an insect does in comparison with the earth.
I have looked farther into space than ever [a] human being did before me.
The light of the fixed stars is of the same nature [as] the light of the sun.
Observations always involve theory.
I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.
Once the validity of this mode of thought has been recognized, the final results appear almost simple; any intelligent undergraduate can understand them without much trouble. But the years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels, but cannot express; the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them.
Nature lives in motion.
Eyesight should learn from reason.
The leading idea which is present in all our researches, and which accompanies every fresh observation, the sound which to the ear of the student of Nature seems continually echoed in every part of her works, is -- Time! -- Time! -- Time!
Change is my theme. You gods, whose power has wrought
All transformations, aid the poet's thought,
And make my song's unbroken sequence flow
From earth's beginnings to the days we know.
We aspire in vain to assign limits to the works of creation in space, whether we examine the starry heavens, or that world of minute animalcules which is revealed to us by the microscope. We are prepared, therefore, to find that in time also the confines of the universe lie beyond the reach of mortal ken.
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
The antiquity of time is the youth of the world.
What we take for the history of nature is only the very incomplete history of an instant.
At quite uncertain times and places,
The atoms left their heavenly path,
And by fortuitous embraces,
Engendered all that being hath.
--James Clerk Maxwell
For I have already at times been a boy and a girl, and a bush and a bird and a mute fish in the salty waves.
O landless void, O skyless void,
O nebulous, purposeless space,
Eternal and timeless,
Become the world, extend!
--Tahitian creation tale
What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.
What is the path? There is no path.
--Niels Bohr, quoting Goethe
Progress in physics has always moved from the intuitive toward the abstract.
Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine
Of human thought or form, where art
Why dost thou pass away, and leave our
Tis dim vast vale of tears, vacant and
--Shelley, "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"
The Universe is built on a plan the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect.
Every present state of a simple substance is naturally a consequence of its preceding state, in such a way that its present is big with its future.
He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end; for all things are of one kin and of one form.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou has understanding!
--Yahweh, to Job
Who really knows?
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity.
A sad spectacle. If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they not be inhabited, what a waste of space.
Drawn by my eager wish, desirous of seeing the great confusion of the various strange forms created by ingenious nature, I wandered for some time among the shadowed cliffs, and came to the entrance of a great cavern. I remained before it for a while, stupefied, and ignorant of the existence of such a thing, with my back bent and my left hand resting on my knee, and shading my eyes with my right, with lids lowered and closed, and often bending this way and that to see whether I could discern anything within; but this was denied me by the great darkness inside. And after I stayed a while, suddenly there arose in me two things, fear and desire -- fear because of the menacing dark cave, and desire to see whether there were any miraculous thing within.
--Leonardo da Vinci
A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth.
The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea.
A man will turn over half a library to make one book.
Three philosophers came together to taste vinegar, the Chinese symbol for the spirit of life. First Confucius drank of it. "It is sour," he said. Next, Buddha drank. He pronounced the vinegar bitter. Then Lao-tzu tasted it. He exclaimed, "It is fresh!"
--Traditional Chinese tale, repeated by Niels Bohr
For all my pains, I only beg this favor, that whenever you see the sun, the heavens, or the stars, you will think of me.
--Bernard de Fontenelle
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, "This poet lies—
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces."
The skies of our ancestors hung low overhead.
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From the second-century celestial models of Ptolemy to modern-day research institutes and quantum theory, this classic book offers a breathtaking tour of astronomy and the brilliant, eccentric personalities who have shaped it. From the first time mankind had an inkling of the vast space that surrounds us, those who study the universe have had to struggle against political and religious preconceptions. They have included some of the most charismatic, courageous, and idiosyncratic thinkers of all time. In Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris uses his unique blend of rigorous research and captivating narrative skill to draw us into the lives and minds of these extraordinary figures, creating a landmark work of scientific history.
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Cos'è il tempo? Cos'è lo spazio? Com'è fatto il mondo? Quali leggi lo regolano? Da dove è nato tutto? Per la fisica moderna, in base al principio quantistico dell'indeterminazione, ogni risposta dipende dalla domanda che è stata formulata. Fare la storia della scienza vuol dire quindi non soltanto fare la storia delle risposte che la specie umana ha saputo trovare nel corso della sua esistenza, ma soprattutto fare la storia delle domande che ha saputo porsi. Se fossero state altre, e se a porle fossero stati altri uomini, la nostra realtà sarebbe quella che conosciamo?
Ripercorrere il lungo, avventuroso cammino dei creatori della scienza, se a farci da guida è un magistrale esperto della divulgazione come Timothy Ferris, significa addentrarsi profondamente in un terreno affascinante e familiarizzarsi con i più grandi temi e i più inquietanti paradossi della ricerca scientifica, dal concerto di sfere cristalline del cosmo aristotelico alle moderne teorie del tempo immaginario e delle supersimmetrie.
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