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Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine Alan Lightman Pantheon (2018)

With his debut novel, Einstein’s Dreams (1992) — the poetic musings of a Swiss patent clerk on the nature of time — theoretical physicist Alan Lightman revealed an enthusiasm for entering the human psyche. His latest book, the collection of essays Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, goes further. Here, Lightman confronts the contradictions that arise from having a rigorous scientific world view, alongside his own mortal desires and fears.

Lightman begins Searching for Stars with an account of a mystical experience. He’s motoring through the coastal waters off mainland Maine, towards Pole Island, where he has a summer home. It’s a moonless night. Before he docks, Lightman turns off the boat’s motor and running lights, and lies down in the silence and darkness. “After a few minutes, my world had dissolved into that star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared ... I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos.” With that, Lightman begins an exploration of the tensions, both within himself and without, between the materialist reductionism of science, especially physics, and the absolutes of spiritual belief.

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Category: Science