• The Accidental Universe

  • The World You Thought You Knew
  • By: Alan Lightman
  • Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot
  • Length: 3 hrs and 51 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (551 ratings)

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The Accidental Universe

By: Alan Lightman
Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot
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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed author of Einstein's Dreams and Mr. g comes a meditation on the unexpected ways in which recent scientific findings have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

With all the passion, curiosity, and precise yet lyrical prose that have marked his previous books, Alan Lightman here explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. He looks at the difficult dialogue between science and religion, the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature, the possibility that our universe is simply an accident, the manner in which modern technology has separated us from direct experience of the world, and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws. And behind all of these considerations is the suggestion - at once haunting and exhilarating - that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the extraordinary, perhaps unfathomable whole.

©2014 Alan Lightman (P)2014 Blackstone Audio

What listeners say about The Accidental Universe

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Spiritual Atheist Laments

This is a set of related essays ruminating on humanities relation to modern science and is more rambling lyrical personal reflections than explanatory science. The essays are: The Accidental Universe; The Temporary Universe; The Spiritual Universe; The Symmetrical Universe; The Gargantuan Universe; The Lawful Universe; The Disembodied Universe.

The narration is excellent, slow paced, emotional, and poetic.

The author declares he is an atheist, but seems to believe that God, transcendent personal experience, and what created our universe are all beyond the realm of scientific analysis. I agree that such things may currently beyond complete scientific analysis, but they are not beyond scientific analysis in principle. If God, or transcendental personal experiences have any practical effects, these effects can, eventually, be tested. History is full of the phenomena that were once fervently believed beyond the realm of thoughtful enquiry (the motion of planets, weather, disease, heredity, plant growth, hallucinogenic substances, and many others). These have all, one by one, succumbed to various levels of scientific analysis. There are only a very few phenomena left that some believe are still beyond the realm of science. Many, including Lightman, have a deeply emotional desire (without fully understanding why) that some part of human experience will remain forever beyond the realm of science. Lightman seems excited that the rest of the universe follows scientific laws, yet revolts against the idea these same laws control his own essence. He is saddened by the temporality of life and seems to view the connectivity allowed by cell phone technology as disembodiment. At some level I fully understand such attitudes, but nevertheless I find them mildly quaint. Reading Lightman’s last chapter lamenting the disembodiment caused by texting I pondered if some old foggy at the dawn of humanity lamented how spoken language disembodied people from real pre-linguistic communication.

I did not dislike this book, but did not get a lot out of it. I love art and literature and music and myth and my life, but I don’t feel any need to separate these things into a spiritual realm beyond scientific analysis. There is some discussion of science in the book, but it is just a bit sloppy (like convolving quantum superposition with multi-position). When I finished this book I recalled how the end of A Brief History of Time resonated more with me than anything in The Accidental Universe; “if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."

17 people found this helpful

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Hard Science meets Philosophical Questions

If you enjoy hard science as well as deeper philosophical questions that science cannot answer (yet), you will love this book...

The narration is a bit slow, so I listened on 1.35x which was perfect.

Will definitely listen again soon.

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This Book Owns

Wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, but was surprised to find something so lovely and concise. This will reset your feeling of awe and wonder, and you can bang it out in a single afternoon.

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Good Science, Weak Philosophy

Good on the states of science, but weak when straying off topic and into philosophy. The author shows his age in his trying to score points with religion.

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Anti-tech author

Too preachy. Could have been interesting but it ended up being a book about, "Kids these days". They use too much tech. Tech is sometimes good but bad overall, blah, blah, blah. How can any scientist hate tech this much? It made him seem 200 years old.

1 person found this helpful

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Disappointing as a science or philosophy book

I bought this book expecting something more along the lines of Laurence Krauss' "A Universe From Nothing" with a little extra comparison to mythologies. That's not what this book is. Perhaps I should have recognized that fact from the short runtime.

This is a short collection of expositional essays about the author's views on the relation science has to the humanities and the silly beliefs we often hold in our heads. It makes almost no attempt to be a science book; Lightman makes mention of some of the amazing discoveries of physics, but does not try to explain them, which is what I was after. I think the intent was for this to be a philosophy book, but it falls short there too. I expect a philosopher to describe the logical reasoning that led him to his conclusion. This author, however, does not do so. And the final chapter/essay makes no attempt to be anything but a rant, lamenting the way life has changed with the adoption of new technologies. I may agree with a number of Lightman's thoughts, but I can get rants from friends and family for free. I expect more thoughtful reasoning from a philosophy book, and a more objective analysis from a respected scientist.

Forgive the condescension, but I think I'd describe this as a collection of polite rants, masquerading as philosophy, couched between spats of scientific wonderment. It's not the worst book ever, but it has very little actual content.

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Excellent!

A thought-provoking book highlighting facts and the history of scientific discoveries regarding ourselves, the natural world, and the universe as we know it. The author frequently gives weight to the vast number of unknowns plus theories that are likely to be unprovable.

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Wow, not bad

This about the third time I’m not brutally let down by the Plus Catalog, this is not bad at all.

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Religious nonsense

This book is a pseudoscientific religious pamflet. What a waste of time. Would not recommend it.

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Intriguing meditation

Lightman jumps between meditation and science but could better connect them, ignores emergent properties/complexity theory.

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  • Z.
  • 10-19-22

Narrator spoilt it for me.

I liked the topic, although there is too much mentioning of God for my taste.
I did not like the narrator. He's got a nice voice but speaks like half asleep. His style if narrating more suitable to read bedtime stories than science books.

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  • Lee
  • 07-06-22

Think again...

Much of what we take for granted is thrown into question by this book. While the opening itself is certainly irregular, the main body is extraordinary in its narrative. A definite must have for any budding evolutionary psychologist.

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  • simon
  • 03-05-22

Hmm. A jumble.

There are some interesting thoughts on a wide variety of Science, Philosophy, Psychology and Religion, but thats it. its meandering and doesn't seem to make any consistent points. its like listening to an intelligent person just randomly saying what pops into his head whilst he thinks aloud.

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  • Koroush Valiseh
  • 12-04-21

good touch up

not saying much about opinion mostly facts!
past current and future elaborated in the right way.

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  • Reluctant Sceptic
  • 11-06-21

The ramblings of a physacist

Intriguing listen and interesting in parts. Somewhat confusing to hear the author say is a devout atheist in places then declare he found a God and faith in another. Left me very sceptical listening to what else was said. Good job it was short.

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  • Scott Seivwright
  • 05-04-15

Science in Context

I enjoyed the wisdom and insites of the book... which lays out the nature of things and the direction of things..

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  • Frank
  • 12-02-21

Excellent summary of the Universe.

For Anyone wanting more in depth reading on the Universe - the recommended reading is Sean Carroll, Brian Green and David Deutsch.
This is an easy to understand book and easy to listen to the audiobook.
Always fascinating and sometimes whimsical.
The “world” from sub atomic particles to the edge of our vast Universe is covered with enough depth and width without too much complexity.
Subjects like religion and consciousness are also covered.
Highly recommended.

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  • Mildly.Curious
  • 05-06-22

worth the time to listen

really nice essay,thought provoking and beautifully narated, well worth the time taken to listen too

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-30-22

Perfect blend of so-called 'hard & soft' sciences

as the title suggests, a beautiful demonstration of how social sciences and classical science can both be utilised to tell the story of our universe more effectively.
A brilliant, even necessary read.