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25 Aug 2018

Approaching the Sublime

Alan G. Gross. The Scientific Sublime: Popular Science Unravels the Mysteries of the Universe. OUP USA (1 Aug. 2018)
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The sublime evokes our awe, our terror, and our wonder. Applied first in ancient Greece to the heights of literary expression, in the 18th-century the sublime was extended to nature and to the sciences, enterprises that viewed the natural world as a manifestation of God's goodness, power, and wisdom. In The Scientific Sublime, Alan Gross reveals the modern-day sublime in popular science. He shows how the great popular scientists of our time - Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Rachel Carson, Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and E. O. Wilson - evoke the sublime in response to fundamental questions: How did the universe begin? How did life? How did language?

These authors maintain a tradition initiated by Joseph Addison, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and Adam Smith, towering 18th-century figures who adapted the literary sublime first to nature, then to science though with one crucial difference: religion has been replaced wholly by science. In a final chapter, Gross explores science's attack on religion, an assault that attempts to sweep permanently under the rug two questions science cannot answer: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of the good life