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The Universe in One Hour

By Juliana Hanle
Yale Daily News
March 28, 2011

Two Yale professors would like to rename the Big Bang.

“The Great Flaring Forth,” would be more apt, joint School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Divinity School professors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim argued in their film “Journey of the Universe,” which premiered Friday night in Kroon Hall. The husband and wife team acted as executive producers for the film, which was hosted and also co-written with Tucker by Brian Thomas Swimme, a professor at the California Institute of Integrated Studies. Tucker and Grim, co-founders of Yale’s forum on religion and ecology, have spent the last twelve years planning “Journey of the Universe,” hoping to depict creation from the big bang to the modern cell.

“It’s an integration of modern science with a narrative of humanities,” Tucker said in her introduction to a third screening Saturday evening.

The film marries recent scientific discoveries with philosophical generalizations, cosmic imagery and picturesque narrations on the Greek island of Samos, home of third century B.C. mathematician Aristarchos, the first man to propose that the Earth orbits the sun, and sixth century B.C. philosopher Pythagoras, Tucker said.

In the film, Swimme uses materials on Samos to illustrate evolutionary processes. He compares a cellular membrane to a millennium old fortress, showing how it is constructed to protect its contents, and how both the membrane and the fortress allow those within to exit, but prevent those outside from entering. Such convenient construction, he argues, was not as accidental as modern Darwinists believe. Instead Swimme advocates a radical new perspective: that the origins of life were inevitable.

“The Great Flaring Forth” is a more accurate way to describe our universe than “The Big Bang,” because where the latter summons up an image of exploding rock, Swimme’s version, he said, signifies the beginning of life that he sees with the expansion of the universe. Only a precise set of circumstances have allowed both modern life to develop and galaxies to exist, Swimme said.

Thomas Lovejoy, a prominent advisor on the conservation of biodiversity who introduced a Saturday evening viewing in Kroon auditorium, compared Grimm and Tucker’s work to a one-hour tour of the entire Museo del Prado in Madrid.

“You see patterns you don’t see when looking at it in greater detail,” Lovejoy said.

Tucker, Grim, and Swimme said they hope that “Journey of the Universe” will reach hundreds of schoolchildren — they are coordinating with teachers in secondary schools to create an accompanying curriculum.

Indeed, the film represents only one limb of the vast “Journey of the Universe” project. Tucker and Grim’s team is also packaging “Journey of the Universe” as a book, to be published this spring by the Yale University Press, and a website, in addition to the curriculum.

The Saturday viewing was attended by about 150 people, including a small number of undergraduates. The students interviewed all said they were impressed by the production values, but that additional media would improve the experience.

“I’m most excited about its potential for education,” Andrea White ’13 , who is enrolled in the course American Environmental History and Values, co-taught by Tucker and Grim, said.

Rick Herron ’13 said he was impressed by the film, but said he would have wished for an explicit point.

“The notion of how cultural narratives would be changed was not wrapped up or summarized,” Herron said.

The film will be released on June 22 and PBS will broadcast “Journey of the Universe” this fall.


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