Sunday, December 22, 2013

Free Illustrated Children's eBook for Christmas: The Story of the Universe

The Big Bang for Children:
A Modern Creation Story
Based On the Latest Scientific Knowledge

During this holiday season until January 2, 2014 you can download my eBook for children for free with no strings of any kind attached. You can give this to anyone on your Christmas list. 

Children can view this eBook on their iPads, tablets, computers and cell phones. There are no ads of any kind and I do not want your email address or anything else -- just download the eBook, open it  and enjoy!

Here is the download link for this eBook:

At the bottom of this blog, you will also find links to free eBook readers; there are free eReaders for just about any computer, tablet or cell phone.

This children's eBook maps out the billions of years it has taken for the universe to evolve into its present form and for humans to populate the Earth. So don't just think of this as a children's eBook since adults will learn a few things too. 

In a sense, this eBook gives children the gift of time
as it gives them a perspective of the billions of years 
it took to bring human beings into existence

Children who are exposed to these basic scientific ideas will be given the gift of time -- that is they will be given an understanding of time. I believe they will become more grounded, as they will comprehend better the long history and process that has led to civilization today.

And while my story starts with the Big Bang, it continues up to the beginning of human civilization,

I wrote this book because I felt there was a need to explain the scientific view of the universe, as we now understand it, in simple terms. And I also felt that children could grasp these ideas more easily at a young age and perhaps understand, even better than adults, the incredible beauty of cosmos.

A page from my eBook: The Big Bang for Children


download at this URL:
Sony Reader is available for PC, Mac, Tablet, Android
Please check service requirements before downloading
For example, the PC versions requires Windows XP service pack 3 or Windows 7
The Barnes & Noble site has free readers for just about any device such as
the iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, Android, iPod (touch).
Almost as good as the Sony , listed above. It looks very good, but is a little harder to use.
Use full screen for best results.
download at this URL:


#1. Download and install the ebook reader (see above)
#2. Open the ebook reader (either Sony or Adobe)
#3a. Download the epub file for my ebook; click on it and it should open in the ebook program
#3b. Locate the epub file for my ebook in MS Explorer (file management) or other file management program; drag and drop the epub file onto the open reader program
#3c. With the Barnes & Noble reader you may have to click on 'add new item' and then navigate through the harddrive to locate the ebook file (extension .epub) and then select it.
IMPORTANT: MS EXPLORER BROWSER USERS! My ebook, .epub file, gets downloaded by MS Explorer as a .zip folder.
You will need to change & rename the folder from the extension [.zip] to the extension [.epub] to read my book -- why Microsoft did this is a mystery!
#4. Start reading but you may need to click on a picture of the book cover first if you are in the library section

Monday, December 9, 2013

Modern Time: Time as a Commodity

about the cultural aspects of time in my previous blog: 
Spend a little of your time with me and I will explain how our industrialized and commercial civilization has changed the nature of time for us as human beings.

We have all dealt with children who live entirely in the now moment. Part of our job as adults is to teach them our shared beliefs about time. This is so critical that it often becomes a major sticking point and causes serious arguments.   

This is what we teach them: In our consumer society we often think of time as a commodity with expressions such as 'time is money' or 'wasting time' or 'lost time' or 'time to spare'. When our children 'have time' they can 'spend time' with or 'give time' to a friend. And if they are about to 'run out of time', they might be able to 'buy some time' if they are clever.

Becoming widespread around 1300 BCE, the hourglass was accurate and also provided a way to visualize time. The future was the sand at the top, the tiny hole where sand fell was the present and the sand at the bottom was the past. Time became a commodity. Because the hourglass was so visual, it became an universal symbol for time. (
To 'manage time' we teach our children to think of time spatially, with the past behind and the future forward. We teach them to make sure they always have the 'right time' and then to 'make room' for the things they want to do and have to do. They want to avoid a 'crowded schedule', do some things 'ahead of time' and to not be 'pressed for time' and to not get 'behind schedule' or 'run late'. As they grow older this sense of time expands and they learn to get to the school bus 'on time' and go to bed with 'time to spare'. 
A typical modern planner, where time is envisioned as chunks & blocks of space. A person's daily, weekly and monthly future is laid out on a spacial grid. (
In the process we are teaching our children that actions have consequences and that what they did in the past matters.  We tell them that they need to remember what they did, so they can build on the past to accomplish things in the future. And we encourage them to imagine the future -- all within the framework of western culture.

A long term project planner page for the MUOS satellite system (Mobile User Objective System) from 2006-2013. This page describes the schedule for the build, launch and operation of 4 geosynchronous satellites. (
All of these time expressions are concepts and the values we share are based on mechanical, clock time.

Most of us think of the time produced by our clocks as time itself. Yet the only thing natural about the time produced by clocks is that it is originally based on a complete revolution of the earth (or more precisely, the average of such revolutions). The division of that period into 24 equal hours -- generally treated as two successive periods of 12 hours each (AM and PM), the division of each hour into 60 minutes, and the further division of each minute into seconds are all conventions -- human inventions. 
Keith Devlin from his blog: Devlin's Angle
The idea of time as a commodity has been around for hundreds of years in the US:
Time is money.
Benjamin Franklin, Advice to Young Tradesmen (1748)
And 150 years later: 
Observe a method in the distribution of your time. Every hour will then know its proper employment, and no time will be lost
Bishop George Horne

A BMW production line, where every aspect has been scrutinized using time-motion studies to provide the most efficient methods for assembling cars. (
Although work time is treated as a commodity, as humans we also have a need to experience time as a flow, not as chunks. This is why young people flock to rock concerts which erase fragmented and divided time. And other people drink, since alcohol can dissolve the division between each tick of the clock. 

Time is different depending on how we treat it and value it. We all know the concept of 'quality time', which is not the same as distracted or rushed time. We all know that ten minutes of intense and satisfying love making is qualitatively different from eight hours on the job. Many of us have had an 'ah-ha' moment of feeling wonderfully alive and joyful -- which may have only lasted for a brief time, but which we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. 

So my points are these:
  • Time is real, objective and exists independently -- just like the sun . We know this because the sun sets every night and rises every morning and the seasons change and our children grow older.

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge in modern tines (1980s). The same sun that rose 5000 years ago at Stonehenge rises today -- it is only our way of telling time that has changed. (
  • Our understanding of time is cultural -- how we experience time and deal with time is determined by our culture

A free program, that I downloaded and installed on my computer, tells time worldwide within a second, as it synchronizes itself to an atomic clock over the Internet. 
  • Time is subjective: when we are off duty, we experience time differently than when we are on-the-clock. For example, you need to arrive at 2 pm sharp for a meeting at work, but it's okay to arrive 15 minutes late for a  2 pm party on the weekend.
Hope you're not watching the clock when this is happening to you. 
  • Different from all the other animals, the human brain has given us an expanded and sophisticated sense of time, another sense just like touch or smell. This sense, which is related to memory (past) and imagination (future), is the reason we can grasp time and not just live in the moment. And also this is why we have survived and are the dominant species on the planet.

You as an individual can learn to live both on the clock and off the clock, to experience time in a number of ways. These are skills just like any other skills. 

There are times when you need to be able to feel the moment intensely as it is happening or you need to let time flow effortlessly when being creative. 

Yet when you are at work, you must operate quite differently -- you need to be vigilant, constantly alert and on top of things. 

There are other times when you need to turn off your cell phone and give your full attention to your spouse or child or best friend. And there are other times when you need to withdraw and follow an interesting idea within your thoughts without being interrupted.

These choices about time are up to you and they greatly affect the quality of your life, your personal comfort zones and how you feel about yourself.

Does Bluebell, the cat, care what time it is or whether there is a message on the cellphone? (

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Human Revolution: Symbolic Culture

 "Symbolic culture" is a term used by social scientists to describe the symbolic world of shared language and concepts that each one of us carries within us and is a creation of our culture.
Symbolic culture is a domain of objective facts whose existence depends, paradoxically, on collective belief. [ED: such as money or marriage]
Long before the late twentieth century invention of the Internet, evolution allowed humans to flit between two realms, reality on the one hand, virtual reality on the other. Symbolic culture is an environment of virtual entities lacking counterparts in the real world.
While all words are symbolic, there are gradations when it comes to their reality. For example, everyone has to share a belief in the value of paper money or it would be worthless -- although the paper itself would still exist.

This Hungarian money became virtually worthless after World War II. It experienced the worst hyperinflation the world had ever seen.

Yet everyone does not have to share a belief in the sun -- as the sun will come up tomorrow whether they believe or not.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Symbols are both virtual, subjective and shared collectively but also relate to an independent objective reality. Some independent objective realities are more independent than others -- to paraphrase Orwell from Animal Farm. And some symbols are more subjective than others, think of 'love' for example.

Related to the idea of symbolic culture, the "human revolution" is a term also used by social scientists who study the origins of human beings. This revolution refers to the point in human evolution when the symbolic culture emerged -- and which changed humanity forever.
"The Human Revolution" is a term used by archaeologists, anthropologists and other specialists in human origins; it refers to the spectacular and relatively sudden – apparently revolutionary – emergence of language, consciousness and culture in our species...
Symbolism was not an optional extra – life following the transition became fundamentally organized through symbols. (A summation of the thinking of 

Christopher Henshilwood and Ian Watts)

Now to relate this to the topic of deconstructing time 
I believe that time is one of our shared subjective symbols. Yet it does relate to the unrelenting undeniable objective progression of time. For example, we have all agreed that 12:25 in the afternoon is a symbol we understand. But we can also correlate this clock time to a specific point in objective time. 

Why Modern Time Is Subjective
Yet just about a hundred years ago there were no time zones in the United States, for example, but literally hundreds of local times in towns and cities each of which were synchronized to the noonday sun, which was different every couple of miles east to west. When the transcontinental trains were built, local time became too confusing for train schedules, so time zones were implemented. While time zones made scheduling much easier for commercial reasons, the local times were more accurate as each local noon correlated exactly with the sun at the peak of its travel -- a fact which kept people more in tune with the daily rhythm of the sun.

Clocks were actually an intrusion into daily life and changed the nature of time itself around the year 1300.
It was into a world of "natural time," based on the sun's march across the sky, and varying with the seasons, that the first mechanical timepieces -- time machines -- were introduced in thirteenth century Europe. At odds with the conception of time as something that flows, with the first clocks came the idea of measuring time by splitting it into equal, discrete chunks and counting those chunks. (Before that hours were variable based on the movement of the sun during the day which varied from season to season.)
Keith Devlin from his blog: Devlin's Angle
The combined effect of modern time keeping has been to disconnect us from the natural cycles of the planet. Few people today notice when the solstices or equinoxes occur, for example. Noon, that should be the highest point of the sun in the day, is no longer at the zenith for most locations since time zones mandate that noon be the same for all locations within a time zone. And even though the word 'month' comes from moon, our calendars are not synchronized with the moon and few of us know when the phases of the moon occur. Even fewer people can identify constellations which had been used for thousands of years to indicate seasonal changes.

Instead the modern world has substituted the rhythm of commerce for the natural and more precise cycles of the Earth. 

Yet we can imagine that in paleolithic and neolithic societies, and older civilizations up until about 500 years ago -- or about 99% of the time humans have been alive -- people told time by the sun, the moon and the stars. I imagine that members of these cultures were expected to know exactly what phase the moon was in and which stars or constellations were rising or setting. Of course the above is conjecture, yet I believe it is quite reasonable given my research.

If you think such ideas are out of date, consider the fact that much of Asia operates today on a lunisolar calendar. These areas include some of the most advanced and rapidly growing economies. And it you think it doesn't matter see my note at the end of this blog.

The phases of the moon were critical for most cultures before the industrial age. They organized time based on the moon's cycle.
 Eight months from a medieval calendar known as the Book of Hours: This is from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Each month is illustrated with the appropriate activity or work for that time period and days can be read in either a solar or lunar mode.
Above each month in the Très Riches Heures are the positions of the important Zodiac constellations for that time period. Before the industrial age, the Zodiac was used for telling time on a monthly or seasonal basis.
Galileo, whose insights formed the basis for modern science, realized that time measurement was critical to his understanding of physics. He was the first to use pendulums to improve the accuracy of his measurements. His discoveries led to our mechanical world and changed our idea of time -- from being a continuous flow to time consisting of sliced and diced fragments.

Drawing from the Works of Galileo Galilei, Volume 2, illustrating the dynamics of a pendulum. 

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
Galileo Galilei 
Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
Albert Einstein 

"A geometrical and military compass designed by Galileo Galilei," ( and built around 1604.

An early pendulum clock design -- by Galileo. 
Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma)...
Antiphon the Sophist, Greek thinker circa 5th century BCE

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
Albert Einstein

While this blog is a work in progress, I am certain of this: our shared notions about time create what we think of as time -- and that with different symbols, words and shared beliefs we would have a different experience of time. Our sense of time lives in our virtual internal world of symbols, our symbolic culture -- and that if we choose we could change it.



With the advent of digital readouts for time, the circular, cyclical aspect of time is no longer apparent. People accustomed to the round, repeating time clock wonder if something hasn't been lost when time is simply a number that goes forward in a linear fashion. But you can make a choice: you can decide which type of time display you prefer.

A digital readout is linear -- time going forward in a straight line with no sense of the cyclical character of time.

A circular clock emphasizes the repeating, cyclical nature of time.

NOTE: Mechanical time vs. natural time -- does it matter? Time is a basic reference point that we refer to many times a day, thousands of times a year. The word 'time' is the most used noun in our languages. 
For example, If we look at the moon for a time reference, we might be more in tune with nature itself -- and be less prone to adversely affecting the environment. I think our current commercial type of time affects us in major ways -- but I will save a full discussion for a later blog.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Patterns & Memory

It could be a "which came first -- the chicken or the egg?" type of problem, but I'm betting on the chicken. 

When I first considered writing this blog about the human experience of time, I questioned whether time was as crucial as I thought. The only other human capability that seemed equally important was our skill at grasping patterns.

The power we have as humans comes from our ability to see patterns. We see patterns everywhere. Discovering and utilizing patterns gives us the control that has allowed us to now dominate the Earth.

Finding a pattern is finding order. We are hardwired to see order, to create order, to manipulate our world based on order -- this is an essential drive in the human psyche, almost as compelling as sex.
...patterns have an underlying mathematical structure; indeed, mathematics can be seen as the search for regularities, and the output of any function is a mathematical pattern. Similarly in the sciences, theories explain and predict regularities in the world.
A scientific law "is a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts...expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present." (Oxford English DictionaryQuoted in this article:
Also read: Humans Are the World's Best Pattern-Recognition Machines 
Once a scientific law is established, it gives us the ability to build, create and predict based on those laws -- as we have now, in effect, cracked the code of nature by discovering an underlying pattern.
Why Order Is So Important: Comprehending order gives us comfort, predictability,  control, safety and removes uncertainty -- all of which allows us to have a better chance at survival.
I believe that this compulsion to find patterns is separate from our experience of time and the way that our brains put memories together. 

So Which Came First?

I believe the human sense of time -- hundreds of thousands of years before civilization began -- gave us the edge as a species and came first. Because without an ability to recall the past, we would not have the data necessary to discern a pattern. 

Before we could perceive patterns we had to have had a clear memory and a detailed understanding of what we had seen and experienced so we could connect the dots. 

Yet the combination of the two: a sophisticated understanding of time combined with a sophisticated perception of patterns, gave us a tremendous advantage.

The beauty and power of patterns is that they can apply to a variety of very different phenomena. Take the spiral: this basic design in nature can be the structure of a shell, a storm or a galaxy.

A spiral in a fossil shell. (

A spiral in the aloe plant. (

A spiral in a low pressure system when seen from a satellite. (
Massive spirals: colliding galaxies. (NASA)
Spirals can be understood mathematically as in this example by Theodorus of Cyrene, a Greek mathematician in the 5th Century BCE. Fundamental aspects of the spiral will apply to a sea shell, a plant, a storm or a galaxy and even similar molecular stuctures such as the DNA helix even though they are made up of quite different materials and vary considerably in size. (
And what does this have to do with time? 
Finding a pattern means that we connect things we have seen in the past to things in the present which we can then project into the future. 
My point is that human memory came first but it was combined with a separate remarkable ability to discover patterns. This led to agriculture, astronomy, mathematics, science, technology and civilization.

As our civilization progresses we have become increasingly sophisticated at finding patterns and building on what we have established. The discovery and development of fractal geometry was only possible with computers, for example. 

A natural fractal is displayed in the veins of this plant. It was not until computers could do the complex calculations that a mathematical pattern was discovered in fractal structures. (
In the following, wonderful example, the famous mathematical relationship discovered by Pythagoras 2500 years ago (in a right angled triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides) is used as the basis for an increasingly complex fractal design ending with a lifelike tree. This illustrates how we often build on our existing patterns to make increasingly sophisticated patterns.


There often is no use for a pattern when it is first discovered. This was true for fractals. Yet as time goes on, people often see how a new pattern applies to various real world problems. In one of the first practical applications, the fractal antennae is much smaller, lighter and more sensitive than previous small antennas and quite useful for cell phones. I believe we have only begun to see the ways that fractals can be used in the real world.
Design for a fractal antennae. (
The impulse to see patterns is so strong we often find them when there is none -- such as the face on the surface of Mars. Since a large part of our brains is devoted to face recognition, it was hard to *not* see a face when the lo-res image had facial characteristics. It turned out, of course, to be a geological feature on Mars, a mesa. Yet millions of people believed it was evidence of life on Mars while logically it was almost certain that it was simply a surface feature on the planet. 

The low resolution photo on the left appeared to show a face on the surface of Mars, but as the photographic resolution increased (middle photo & higher still on the right) the facial characteristics disappeared. (NASA)
When I watch the very popular detective shows on TV, shows that seem to dominate programming -- such as Criminal Minds, Elementary, Castle, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Law And Order, CSI, NCIS, Hawaii 5-O, Cold Case, Numb3rs, Bones, Without a Trace plus numerous made for TV movies and documentary type shows like NBC's DateLine -- the bulk of the story is about finding the pattern that leads to the killer. It appears that even in our leisure moments, we are looking for patterns and enjoy the game of finding them.

Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco -- a popular TV police drama. In the last 60 years there have been about 650 crime dramas on TV around the world. Many ran for a number of years. (

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Part 2: Science vs. Faith, Religion and Belief

Get the free 2-year set of blogs from DeconstructingTime in a PDF eBook. 
Click now to view a PDF version online and/or to download the PDF file.

Please read my first blog on this subject, Part 1, in which I explain the fundamental connection between science, faith, religion and belief.

What do this and my previous blog have to do with time? Quite simply time is often at the center of disputes between religion and science. The scientific discovery that the Earth was billions of years old and humans millions of years old upset the accepted religious understanding as interpreted from the Bible, for example. At the same time religion often spoke/speaks of a supreme being who lived in a world independent of time or spoke about immortal gods or spiritual realms outside of time -- concepts which scientists often dismissed.
Religion and science go together. As I've said before, science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal -- the search for truth. Hence it is absurd for religion to proscribe Galileo or Darwin or other scientists. And it is equally absurd when scientists say that there is no God. The real scientist has faith, which does not mean that he must subscribe to a creed. Without religion there is no charity. 
Albert Einstein
It is also important to remember that the classic battle between science and religion, i.e., the arrest and imprisonment of Galileo by the Catholic Church was not religion vs. science but rather a battle between two different scientific theories. Yet this battle seemed to set the stage for today's conflicts between religion and science, such as those involving human evolution and the Big Bang Theory.

The Earth centered, geocentric, system held that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. Refined by Ptolemy it was quite accurate.  (
Galileo promoted the new idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun while the Catholic Church held with the earlier scientific theory that the Earth was at the center of the solar system, known as geocentric. The older theory had been in place for about two thousand years; in addition, over the centuries, this Earth centered system had been refined to be quite precise with the Ptolemaic model. It was not nonsense (as some modern commentators have stated) but good science in that it explained the movement of the sun, moon and planets very well up to a point.

And while not widely known, the geocentric system is still useful and used today under various circumstances:
The geocentric (Ptolemaic) model of the solar system is still of interest to planetarium makers, as, for technical reasons, a Ptolemaic-type motion for the planet light apparatus has some advantages over a Copernican-type motion.
Zeiss Planetarium Projector in Montreal. (
It is also used by NASA when it makes some calculations easier. 

NASA uses the Geocentric Solar Ecliptic (GSE) system for some applications. The GSE is now the preferred system for depicting vector quantities in some space physics situations. (  
The conflict between science and religion is often one of older ideas or an old science vs. new concepts. Ideas once held by religion such as lightning bolts being thrown by an angry god have been replaced by a scientific understanding of electricity in the atmosphere. Few people would argue with this today. As a result some ideas in religion need to give way to well established scientific understandings.
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
Albert Einstein
Science, on the other hand, needs to acknowledge that it cannot know everything. There is a limit -- as I have suggested in my earlier blog. Science, for example, relies on its ability to measure. Measurement is at the heart of the scientific method. Yet there are things, critical things, that cannot be measured.
Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. 
Galileo Galilei 
Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. 
Albert Einstein  
 I do not believe that science can explain, for example, why there is such wide ranging diversity in the Universe if the Universe is solely governed by predictable laws.

Every snowflake, every person, every galaxy is unique. If this were simply a scientific world of laws of cause and effect, then it would also be a cookie cutter world of duplicate people and galaxies -- a Universe of clones. Yet it is our uniqueness that science cannot explain, which is essential to life and a fundamental mystery.

Snow crystals photographed by William Bentley ( While subatomic particles, the building blocks of nature, are exactly alike, and water molecules are, for the most part, exactly alike, every snow crystal is different. "The water molecules in an ice crystal form a hexagonal lattice..." "it is indeed extremely unlikely that two complex snowflakes will look exactly alike"
And there is more. The diversity in the Universe is a delicate balance. Too much diversity would cause galaxies to shred apart and many people would be born with three eyes. It appears that the Universe has just the right mix of predictable laws along with a sprinkle of diversity that seems to defy those laws.

We know with nature, in particular, that diversity is a survival strategy. Diversity gives a species the advantage of responding differently to changing environmental conditions, for example.  
Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.
This principle of change or movement prevents nature from ever really repeating herself... 
The History of Scientific Ideas, Charles Singer 
Even something as simple as green seaweed as seen through the natural mosaic of endlessly diverse water surface ripples shows the infinite variations created by nature.  (
The soul given to each of us is moved by the same living spirit that moves the universe. 
Albert Einstein
This idea was also expressed by the poet/painter/photographer who went by the name of Wols. In 1944 when looking out at the Mediterranean at Cassis, France, he wrote:

... eternity
in the little waves of the harbor
which are always the same without being the same...
All loves lead to one love, and
beyond all personal loves,
there is the nameless love,
the great mystery,
the Absolute,
the cosmos ...

Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang 
Schulze)  Watercolors, Drawings, Writings by Wols


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake

Electron microscope photograph of an "antenna of common wasp, Vespula vulgaris" magnified 3000 times. Scale is about 30 micrometers or about 1/1000 of an inch. (

The Millennium Simulation, an extremely sophisticated computer simulation of the large structure of the cosmos -- showing the filaments that the Universe is made of -- is a "model... of the Universe in a cube over 2 billion light years on a side, holding 20 million galaxies." (

See a full video of the structure of the Universe, the largest detailed structure ever visualized by humans based on scientific data put together by the 
Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

Science vs. Faith, Religion and Belief

Scientists often scoff at what they call 'primitive belief systems' such as those with medicine men and shamans. Yet the roots of science come from the same  fundamental human impulses that formed these beliefs.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. 
Albert Einstein
For example, history of science professors James E. McClellan and Harold Dorn wrote, “In the case of Neolithic astronomy, we are dealing not with the prehistory of science, but with science in prehistory.”

And going back even further to animistic beliefs, the roots of science are still visible. 
"Animism" is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples' "spiritual" or "supernatural" perspectives.Animism encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in some other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows.
The return of the Pleiades every year was a major event in many cultures as it often marked the beginning of the rainy season and for some was the beginning of the new year. Since there was a distinct seasonal change when it appeared, it was also given godlike powers and treated with reverence in many religions. According to Wikipedia, the Pleiades was known to "the Maori, Aboriginal Australians, the Persians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Maya, the Aztec, and the Sioux and Cherokee." as well at the Greeks. When the Pleiades first appeared in the night sky -- which lasted only a few minutes at the beginning of its annual reappearance -- indigenous tribes often greeted it with wild celebrations. Yet their ability to mark time was sophisticated enough that they knew exactly when to look for the Pleiades -- even though appeared over the horizon very briefly at first. (
The time of the rains was announced to the Hottentots by the rising Pleiades, whose reappearance was hailed at the annual festival. The first missionary to the Khoi-Khoi, George Schmidt, (1737), relates that, 'At the return of the Pleiades these natives celebrate an anniversary; as soon as these stars appear above the eastern horizon, mothers will lift their little ones on their arms, and running up to elevated spots will show to them those friendly stars, and teach them to stretch their little hands towards them. The people of a kraal will assemble to dance and sing according to the old customs of their ancestors. The chorus always sings, "O Tiqua! our father above our heads, give rain to us, that the fruits (bulbs, etc.), may ripen, and that we may have plenty of food and a good year."' 

It is now believed that the 1600 BCE Bronze Age Nebra Sky disk, with pictures of the sun, moon and Pleiades was used astronomically to determine the fall and spring solstices and also had religious importance. (
An essential part of many animistic religions was the role of the shaman. 
Shamanism among Eskimo peoples refers to those aspects of the Eskimo cultures that are related to the shamans’ role as a mediator between people and spirits, souls, and mythological beings. Most Eskimo groups had such a mediator function, and the person fulfilling the role was believed to be able to command helping spirits, ask mythological beings to ... enable the success of the hunt, or heal sick people by bringing back their "stolen" souls.
The above definition of the role of the shaman is not unlike the Greek hero: 
In Greek mythology heroes are regarded as mediators between gods and mortals...
Tylor, the anthropologist who coined the term animistic, was quite condescending:
Tylor believed that animistic beliefs were "childish" and typical of "cognitive underdevelopment", and that it was therefore common in "primitive" peoples such as those living in hunter gatherer societies.
And what does all this have to do with science? Well, it's really quite simple, but hard to see from our modern technological and scientific perspective: 

In the beliefs of all cultures 
-- from the most 'primitive' to the most modern -- 
across the globe, there was/is an underlying uniquely human logic: 
There are forces outside of human beings 
which can be known 
and once known can be influenced.

This idea is so much a part of us and our cultures that we take it for granted. And more than that, we are still driven to better understand these outside forces and to learn how these forces can be tamed or used to our benefit.

This idea is at the heart of science. Rather getting the help of a shaman or making offerings to gods and goddesses, with science we now look for laws of nature which once understood can often be controlled or harnessed for our own good. But the basic impulse is the same.

And BTW just how far removed is science from previous ideas about gods and goddesses? 

Commenting on the Western fascination with technology and science, Dr. Eugen Weber in his conclusion of the entire history of the West (52 1/2 hour lectures) pointed out the importance of Greek mythological ideas which led to today's obsession with modern technology. Weber believed that modern science is, in a sense, stealing fire from the gods and putting this power that the gods formerly controlled into our own hands.
Really when you think about it, our patron saint is Prometheus who stole fire from the gods.
Eugen Weber
Professor of History, UCLA

Public Television Series

The Western Tradition
However, science was designed to answer some questions but not others. 
Science, natural philosophy, proceeds on the information given by the senses. This line of its attack is thus limited and we cannot hope that anything but limited objectives can be reached. Science does not profess to solve ultimate problems. On the other had it does seek to solve its limited problems with a known degree of accuracy and a known margin of error.
Charles Singer
A History of Scientific Ideas
There are many things beyond our understanding -- and always will  be beyond our understanding -- which is the realm of religion. And yet there are things that we now do understand -- such a earthquakes, storms and disease -- that used to be part of religion. Nevertheless science will always be limited and religion will always speak to that part of our soul that craves a connection to a huge universe that fills the sky  with hundreds of billions of galaxies that contain hundreds of billions of stars.

It is also important to note that the father of the Big Bang theory was a Catholic Priest,  Georges Lemaître -- so a religious view point led directly to our modern understanding of the creation of the Universe.
Lemaître explored the logical consequences of an expanding universe and boldly proposed that it must have originated at a finite point in time. If the universe is expanding, he reasoned, it was smaller in the past, and extrapolation back in time should lead to an epoch when all the matter in the universe was packed together in an extremely dense state. ...Lemaître argued that the physical universe was initially a single particle -- the “primeval atom” as he called it -- which disintegrated in an explosion, giving rise to space and time and the expansion of the universe that continues to this day.
In 1931 Georges Lemaître, a Catholic Priest, was the first to propose that the Universe began with the Big Bang. (
In a recent article in the New York Times, a scientist, Adam Frank, bemoaned the fact that the truths of science such as evolution theory were not more widely accepted:
"This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity." Yet as we know, the Manhattan project brought us the ever present threat of nuclear war as well as nuclear reactor accidents  -- so perhaps a blind faith in science is not always a good idea.

Science and the institutions of science should not become a kind of unquestionable priesthood that is as inflexible as the Catholic church of the 1600s that tried and imprisoned Galileo.
Charles Singer
A History of Scientific Ideas
Knowledge for knowledge sake has created an imbalance in our worldview. Human knowledge should progress evenly on all fronts. When our understanding of the physical universe far surpasses our understanding of ourselves a great disequilibrium occurs. It isn't as though we don't need to know all this stuff. It is simply that there are other things we need to know in order to make sense out of all this physical knowledge we have gathered. 
Dr. John M. Artz 

As you look through the veil of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy to our companion galaxy, Andromeda -- with its billions of stars aligned in a majestic order -- it is hard to not believe in something much greater than ourselves. If you ever get a chance, look at it through a telescope. It will take your breath away.

A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
Carl Sagan