Tuesday, March 09, 2010

New Heresies That Preacher-Types Can Learn from Brian Greene's "kids book"

I recently said of Liz Babbs' book on Celtic spirituality that "it may well rank among the top five books that should be included in seminary curriculums, but likely aren't..."

I was serious, but it was kind of an off-handed remark, and I hadn't really thought up a list of such contraband and banned books, but..

Maybe I'll go ahead and construct my complete list of those five (said list will have to include a book I was somehow graciously allowed to choose for a seminary preaching class).

Today's book,
I bought for a quarter at the library sale (the other book I bought, as you can see here, may also be a seminary fave(:....................)

It's by one of my favorite writers: physicist Brian Greene, PhD.

But this time, it's an oversized, coffee table...uh, story book/picture book.


And besides being a delightful story, it bears a timely message to us preacher types still stuck in the "propositional truth" sermon mode of modernity.

Greene's other books are award winning books on string theory are well-written, but deal with incredibly complex physics..

Uh, so does this one.
It's just cleverly disguised as a kids bedtime story book.
A retelling of the myth of Icarus.

Amazingly (and this may be wrong on so many levels, or is it quite right as a sign of the times?),
the books, designed to be held and experienced in three-dimensional reality, is largely and virtually viewable online at Google Books!!)

Here's a quote by Green about the book, "Icarus at the Edge of Time," which he makes in the accompanying video.. Note I have taken the liberty to (muck like a preacher steeped in modernity) to place in bold type those words that we preachers desperately need to hear...and no surprise these are terms we were warned against:

"but this time...this reworking of the story.. takes a small nugget of science...general relativity, and allows it to be experienced by the reader through power of a story, the power of narrative. You don't have to study; you don't have to take exams, you just have to allow the story to wash over you, and the weird wonderful feayures of science...revealed by Albert Einstein ... can just be taken in viscerally..

When we designed the book we didn't want the imagery to be literal, but we wanted to create an atmosphere..of a journey...
[The book] is not long.. but [readers] can puzzle through the strange twist of the story..

Below are excerpts from an Amazon.com interview with Greene. Again I have taken liberty to place in bold type key words for recovering preachers...and once again, no surprise,
note how these are all the "heresies" we have been told to stay away from!!:
Unlike anything Brian Greene has previously written, Icarus at the Edge of Time uses the power of story, not pedagogy, to communicate viscerally one small part of the strange reality that has emerged from modern physics. Designed by Chip Kidd, with spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope, it's a short story that speaks to curiosity and wisdom in a universe we've only begun to fathom.

Q: After writing two big four-hundred-plus page bestselling books, what made you decide to write an illustrated book for all ages?
A: There's an emotional side to science which the general public rarely experiences. When Einstein's calculations in 1916 showed that his new general theory of relativity could explain strange aspects of the planet Mercury's motion, he experienced--by his own description--heart palpitations. He'd revealed a fundamental cosmic truth and it filled him with awe and reverie. Yet, by contrast, in the public sphere science is still largely viewed as merely a cold body of knowledge. To many people, science is aloof, distant, abstract. I remember, some years back, reading a poem of Whitman’s about an astronomy student who grows tired and frustrated by his professor's teachings, and blissfully leaves the class to go outside, look skyward, and simply experience the wonderment of the star filled heavens. There are many for whom this poem would resonate. This highlights for me the need for people to connect with science in a new way--outside of the classroom and beyond the textbooks. My two previous books tried to make some heady ideas of modern physics widely available, and they did this through straightforward exposition. In Icarus At The Edge Of Time, my intention is to open a different kind of avenue onto science--a more visceral, more emotional side that a fictional narrative more readily accesses.
Q: Where did the idea to re-imagine the Icarus legend (set in outer space and involving black holes!) come from?
A: I recently told my two and a half year old son a bedtime story that involved space travelers moving near the speed of light. Within days he was telling his own animated stories of dinosaurs and monsters outrunning a new and wonderful concept--"the speed of dark." Which got me thinking. Storytelling is our most basic and powerful means of communication. We listen with a different kind of intensity--and open ourselves most fully--to a gripping tale. So why not allow some of science’s greatest wonders to be experienced not through pedagogy but through the force of narrative? Science in fiction, as opposed to science fiction. Scientific insights that are absorbed rather than studied. Icarus At The Edge Of Time is my first attempt to explore this terrain. Instead of a journey near the sun--a "light" star--Icarus heads to a black hole--a "dark" star. And then the wonders of Einstein's relativity kick in, warping the more familiar ending into a painful conclusion, to be sure, but perhaps one that's more hopeful than the original.
... Q: Who do you see as the audience for this book?
A: The intended audience is broad. While I've found that science-enthusiasts get a big kick out of the story (it's not often that general relativity is the lynch pin in a narrative!), I wrote the story with two kinds of imaginary readers looking over my shoulder--adults who don't generally have much contact with science, and kids who love a short adventure story.
Q: Since the writing of your last book you have become a father. How has fatherhood impacted you as a writer?
A: I feel a stronger urge to go beyond a connection with readers that's purely intellectual. The intellectual side is critical of course. But I think you communicate far more effectively if you can engage the reader on multiple levels. I've always felt this way. But I now experience it everyday--all the time--with my son, and also my one-year-old daughter. Fatherhood has heightened my recognition that to communicate you need an emotional link.

Q: Your passion for science and making it come alive for people of all ages is well known--as evidenced through your founding of The World Science Festival and also in a recent New York Times op-ed in which you wrote about "the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning," and stated, "It's the birthright of every child, it's a necessity for every adult, to look out on the world . . . and see that the wonder of the cosmos transcends everything that divides us." How do you feel about the way Science is taught in most schools today and what would be the biggest changes you would recommend?
A: We need to get beyond the urge--however important--of merely teaching kids the results of science, the methods of science. We need to communicate the stories of science. If a kid thinks of science as a subject taught in a classroom, we've failed. Kids need to think of science as the greatest of adventure stories as we've sought to understand ourselves and the universe around us. Kids need to recognize that science is a perspective, a way of life--it's something you hold with you long, long after you leave the classroom.

Q: What were some of the books that most inspired your passion for Science?
A: When I was really young, it wasn't actually books that inspired me. It was great teachers. From my dad (a self-educated high-school drop-out) to a couple of public school teachers where I grew up in New York City, I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who knew how to nurture and excite a young mind.

Q: So do you think anyone will ever actually find out what happens at the center of a black hole?
A: Absolutely. But not by jumping in.

Q: Is it a challenge, as a physicist and mathematician to write in a way that everyone understands?
A: It is a challenge, but for me its both a useful and exciting one. I find that translating cutting-edge research into more familiar language forces me to strip away extraneous details and zero in on the core ideas. Often, this helps me to organize my own thoughts and has even suggested research directions. And it's exciting to see ideas that are close to my heart and those of other researchers in the field reach a wider audience. The questions we are tackling are universal, and everyone deserves the right to enjoy the progress we're making.
Q: Where did you get the idea to illustrate this book with photos from the Hubble Space Telescope?
A: That was Chip Kidd's idea. On reading the story he immediately felt that an abstract, as opposed to literal, visual treatment would be most effective. I agreed completely. And was kind of blown away when he came up with this design. It is so simple, but so powerful.

1 comment:

  1. PS. Join us on facebook, where i have challenged folk to

    submit your "top five books that should be included in seminary curriculums, but likely aren't."
    Click here..and post your list


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!