The Bowl of Night
The Physical Universe and Scientific Thought
The growth of cosmological thought from its pre-Socratic roots through 20th-century developments.
Cosmology is one of the grandest creations of the human mind. On the basis of the evidence provided by the astronomers as they scan the "bowl of night" with negative searchlights—their telescopes—the cosmologists have been able to bring into vast complexes of closely meshed mathematical theory and to substantiate a number of positive results—such as the discovery that some force or geometric necessity in fact "puts the stars to flight" from one another (or so it appears.
Cosmology also lends itself, more than any other field of science, to the understanding of the nature of scientific thought and the philosophy which is involved. The author of this eminently enjoyable book has approached the subject on a historical and conceptual basis with emphasis on the kinds of ideas involved, the development of theories and concepts, and the interplay of theory and observation. Where, as in dealing with creation and concept of infinity, cosmology impinges upon theology. The contacts are recognized and it is suggested that there need be no fundamental conflict between science and religion.
Although tracing the growth of cosmological thought from its pre-Socratic roots, more than half of the book is devoted to 20th century developments. The author contrives to impart in two chapters a working acquaintance with special and general relativity that proves adequate for understanding its fundamental cosmological applications. From this basis, the universes created by Einstein, de Sitter, Eddington, Lemaitre, Milne, Gamow, Bondi and Hoyle are explored in some detail. The book thus encompasses universes in which space, time, or matter is the key concept, and universes that are static or expanding or in continual creation. Moving on with the crest of expanding discovery, the last chapters discuss the mysteries of quasars and the promises of radio and space-platform astronomy.
The book demands only a very modest mathematical skill. The notes and references which have been given are readily available. Two important papers, one from J.P. Loys de Cheseaux and one from H.W.M. Olbers, not easily accessible, have been reproduced in facsimile. These concern the famous paradox that asks: How can the sky be dark at night if there is an infinity of evenly distributed stars? The book is illustrated with a number of full-page photographs.