In this collection of essays, the bestselling author of Einstein's Dreams tries to square science with spirituality, drawing on experiences from his own life as well as the lives of history's great secular and religious thinkers.
Science needs its poets, and Alan Lightman is the perfect amalgam of scientist (an astrophysicist) and humanist (a novelist who’s also a professor of the practice of humanities at M.I.T.), and his latest book, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, is an elegant and moving paean to our spiritual quest for meaning in an age of science ... Ultimately, scientists must convince other scientists that their theory of the absolute is true (or at least not false), and to do so they must leave the mystical realm of personal experience and return to the lab. But Lightman’s aim in this insightful and provocative musing is to remind us of the centrality of subjectivity in all human endeavors, including those of science.
Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine is what we can call a grand unified intellectual narrative ... The book comprises 20 short vignettes, each dedicated to a big idea — stars, truth, centeredness, death — weaving together expected and unexpected sources. The sections are short but thoughtful, allowing the reader to savor a piece at a time or to make a meal of the whole ... the book does, at points, feel like Chicken Soup for the Materialist’s Non-Existent Soul, but those moments are few, in a work of great range, sensitivity and thoughtfulness ... Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine demonstrates Lightman’s ability to make the most abstract notions accessible to all. No background is needed in physics, philosophy, religion or any other field to fully understand every step of the wide-ranging intellectual trek. No matter who you are, you will emerge ready to be more impressive at your next dinner party.
Each twig, ant hill or rounded stone—as well as the starry backdrop of the book’s title—serves as muse for Mr. Lightman’s speculations about the physical and metaphysical realms. The elegant and evocative prose draws in the reader, and I felt as if I were strolling alongside the author while he thought aloud. Indeed, it was a challenge to keep pace, as I repeatedly wandered off into reveries triggered by the narrative. Here is a book in which even a colonoscopy becomes grist for the philosophical mill ... Mr. Lightman’s cognitive turmoil is summed up in a reflection on the death of his parents, in which he reluctantly accepts the 'impossible truth' that they no longer exist. 'I wish I believed,' he adds poignantly.