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Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order

by George Johnson

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299586,564 (4)4
Are there really laws governing the universe? Or is the order we see a mere artifact of the way evolution wired the brain? And is what we call science only a set of myths in which quarks, DNA, and information fill the role once occupied by gods? These questions lie at the heart of George Johnson's audacious exploration of the border between science and religion, cosmic accident and timeless law. Northern New Mexico is home both to the most provocative new enterprises in quantum physics, information science, and the evolution of complexity and to the cosmologies of the Tewa Indians and the Catholic Penitentes. As it draws the reader into this landscape, juxtaposing the systems of belief that have taken root there, Fire in the Mind into a gripping intellectual adventure story that compels us to ask where science ends and religion begins. "A must for all those seriously interested in the key ideas at the frontier of scientific discourse."--Paul Davies… (more)
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» See also 4 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
compares/contrasts modern scientific thought to religious beliefs--not very convincing
  FKarr | Apr 21, 2013 |
One of my favorite books on science and spirituality, with a geographical focus on New Mexico. ( )
  KennethWDavis | Sep 6, 2008 |
George Johnson was my group leader in a recent Santa Fe Science-Writing workshop. In several of our discussions, this book came up, so I decided to read it when I came home. Drawing inspiration from the Pueblo Indians who live near him, and from the scientists at Los Alamos and the Santa Fe Institute, Johnson weaves together a powerful story of how humans carve up the world to make sense of it. If you ever wondered if there were laws guiding the universe, or whether the order we find in it is a mere artifact of the way we have evolved, this is an immensely provocative book that considers all sides of the question. Well-written and well-reasoned, this is one of my favorite books this year. ( )
  co_coyote | Mar 23, 2008 |
Yes he is a very good writer and very knowledgeable about science ( )
  robertg69 | Apr 20, 2007 |
10
  agdturner | Aug 5, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5
Mr. Johnson shows admirable openness and agnosticism as he examines, chapter by chapter, a range of scientific frontiers furthest from the simple and deterministic physics and chemistry of objects operating at our scales and times. But he occasionally shows the hand of conventional bias, thus affirming by example (and perhaps unintentionally) the mental obstacles that stand against our restructuring of nature.

He is particularly reluctant to view the history of life as undetermined in broad outline and not predictably driven to greater complexity (although he gives my own contrary views both a lucid explanation and a fair summary). And he honestly locates this reluctance in our social traditions and psychological preferences. He writes, "Most of us feel certain that the biological world inexorably increases in complexity." But why do you feel this way, Mr. Johnson, in a world that has been truly dominated by bacteria since life began?
 
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Epigraph
When all the stars were ready to placed in the sky First Woman said, "I will use these to write the laws that are to govern mankind for all time. These laws cannot be written on the water as that is always changing its form, nor can they be written in the sand as the wind would soon erase them, but if they are written in the stars they can be read and remembered forever."
- FROM A NAVAJO CREATION STORY
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For Nancy Maret
First words
Several years ago, on a visit home to New Mexico from my self-imposed exile in New York City, I was driving through the predominantly Catholic village of Truchas, on the high road from Santa Fe to Taos, when I rounded a corner and was startled to see a tiny adobe church with a makeshift steeple of corrugated green and yellow plastic (the kind used to cover carports and swimming pools) and a sign that read "Templo Sion, Asambleados de Dios" - Zion Temple, Assembly of God. (Introduction)
In the evening, just as their planet is about to complete another revolution, small bands of earthlings gather in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and engage in a ritual that is probably as old as humankind.
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Are there really laws governing the universe? Or is the order we see a mere artifact of the way evolution wired the brain? And is what we call science only a set of myths in which quarks, DNA, and information fill the role once occupied by gods? These questions lie at the heart of George Johnson's audacious exploration of the border between science and religion, cosmic accident and timeless law. Northern New Mexico is home both to the most provocative new enterprises in quantum physics, information science, and the evolution of complexity and to the cosmologies of the Tewa Indians and the Catholic Penitentes. As it draws the reader into this landscape, juxtaposing the systems of belief that have taken root there, Fire in the Mind into a gripping intellectual adventure story that compels us to ask where science ends and religion begins. "A must for all those seriously interested in the key ideas at the frontier of scientific discourse."--Paul Davies

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