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Across the Universe and Down the Street, Admission Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 771

Admission Essay

More than a few films and books have caused me to stop and rethink certain ideas, as have more than a few social and political events in my time.  One book, however, did more than this, because it generated an entire series of questions that remain with me today: Bill Bryson’s  A Short History of Nearly Everything.  This vastly popular and highly enjoyable examination of life, the planet, the cosmos, and the “everything” ambitiously expressed in the title intrigues me as much today as when I first read it.  Ironically, a book seeking to provide answers has fueled in me more wondering than resolution.

On one level, Bryson’s book is virtually guaranteed to create fascination.  Beginning with a charming and accessible account of how the universe itself is perceived, it invites the mind to struggle with unimaginable concepts.  Bryson did his homework, and he cites the leading scientists of the day, most of whom have Nobel prizes to their credit.  This in itself, however, gives me pause.  For instance, we are now convinced that the universe began as a singularity, a point of matter too small to actually occupy space.  Then, it is believed that, when this singularity exploded into the “big bang”, it created most of the known universe in a matter of seconds.  Bryson does a remarkable job of incorporating scientific thinking into understandable language, and I want very much to accept this uniformly accepted origin.  This has yet to happen, unfortunately, because I find I cannot cast off the sense that science here is in a terrain it cannot properly identify.  More exactly, I am unwilling to accept that this concept is actually, scientifically based.  I understand that the human mind cannot grasp certain ideas, but I do not then automatically believe that something can emerge from nothing, which is what the theory insists upon.  Science itself can provide no definition of a singularity beyond its presence as something existing beyond the dimensions known to us.  Without meaning to denigrate high-level physicists, I am skeptical.  Simply, it seems to me that science, having no alternative, decided to define a truly spectacular and unimaginable event in terms that cannot apply to such an occurrence.  It is a way, to me, of using physics to account for activity that occurred before any laws of physics were in place.  For example, later in the book, we are told that nothing can exceed the speed of light, yet clearly quite a lot did, when the universe first came into being.

These enormous questions aside, and more pragmatically, Bryson’s book intrigued me in a way I do not believe the author intended.  In chapter after chapter, he reveals how great discoveries, ranging from the elements to the impacts of ice sheets, have been made.  In all of this, there is a recurring and disturbing reality: many names truly responsible for these discoveries have never been widely known, simply because there appears to be an immense amount of backstabbing, rivalry, and arrogance within every branch of the sciences.  This aspect of the book actually haunts me.  We are raised to believe that the pursuit of knowledge is a great thing, and we assume it is independent of the petty concerns surrounding other, less noble human efforts.  If Bryson is to be believed at all, this is blatantly not the case.  A scientist in Scotland is ignored because he cannot get his discovery printed in a respected journal, and one who can gains the credit for the discovery twenty years later.  Astounding information is not explored, because of a bitter competition between leading chemists or paleontologists.  To say that all these accounts intrigue me is to understate the case, for they sadden and mystify me as well.   As much as I enjoyed reading histories of the sciences, I was continually dismayed to see, time and again, how the smallness of mankind works against its very greatness.

Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything changed the ways in which I see the world, but not necessarily in ways that I like.  I do enjoy that my own mind is compelled to challenge, adequately or otherwise, the dominant thinking of the most esteemed minds we know.   The book, simply, made me think about the issues governing existence itself, and I am glad of that.  At the same time, I came away disillusioned by science itself, and feel that I know too much about the motivations of the men and women within it.  It intrigues me, and in a manner I am not likely to ever resolve, that arenas of knowledge can be corrupted by minor, human issues and failings.

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