Quaker Universalist Voice

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Grandparent Gift: The Big and Small

A Book Review of Caleb Scharf, The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing (2017)

What can grandparents give to grandchildren, beyond contributions to 529 Plans for education or reading stories? An answer is the gift of the big and the little.  And the scope of the big to the little is best explained in the new book, Caleb Scharf, The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing (2017).

The author and illustrator make their product sound like they had fun in the process of creating it.  They are curious and flexible and playful in a serious undertaking.  The reader feels no condescension by the author and illustrator when dealing with the big questions.  They begin with the biggest of the big 10 to the 27th power (or about 93 billion light years) in distance.  Then, they zoom inward by magnitudes of 10 through superclusters of galaxies into our local group of galaxies into our galaxy (called the Milky Way) into a complexity of life forms made up of cells, and passing through viruses to molecules where the laws of physics get confusing to the level of quarks.  It is a history in a journey through the scales of nature.

This is a significant book, hypnotic, and addictive depending on your experience with science. This book is flexible in service to all grandchildren of nearly all ages and of aid to all grandparents of whatever religious tradition or none.  the relevance is universal.

 The appended Notes are candid and impressive in tone and content. The grandparent should consider reading these appended Notes first privately to absorb the tone and quality of the author’s text.

The text is as clear as science can be communicated at the present time

Author Scharf is the Director of the Astrobiology Center at Columbia University.  

The graphics hold rapt attention. The artist Ron Miller is a regular contributor to Scientific American and National Geographic.  The author and illustrator are among the best of class in expertise in their crafts.  They can be relied on for the best we know now.  They are good companions in considering our shared reality.

They bring the story of our scientific knowledge current to now and emphasize the connectivity of the universe. The physics that operate inside us is the same physica that operates in the larger and smaller scales of the biggest to the almost nothing sizes and times. The patterns and events that are part of our daily experiences share the rules and properties in these connections. This is a synopsis book that will take your breath away in this zoomable path. 

This is a wonder-filled book.  And it is all real!

For grandparents, this is a book to read and look at together with grandchildren and mutually appreciate the reality unfolding in this page-turner.  This book presents occasions for deep conversation across generations.

You will need to add a paragraph of your own to Chapter 6 to include the lives of major religious figures of your religious tradition.  While on this task, take time to reflect on the nature of consciousness and intelligence in the presence of these huge dimensions and  the continuity of complexity from the big to the small.

This is a big story.  This is the story of every human. It is our story.  We are in this together.

Read carefully the several sentences below the titles of each chapter and reflect on the dimensions addressed and summarized in the text that follows.

The Preface itself provides nearly all the elements for the story of universal reality to explain, augment, revise, contextualize, or replace the story of your current religious tradition within your experience.

The purpose of this book is to tell our human story through what we humans know and do not know, about the whole nature of the universe.  To do this, the author has walked a path in tenfold steps, zooming into view and touring through the scales of the universe from the edge of the cosmos to the innermost pieces of nuclear reality. These steps are viewed with the scales of ten, from the edge of the currently observable cosmos to the deepest knots of nuclear reality.  The idea of powers of ten, sizes that shift by ten times and by a tenth chained together, gives us a language for expressing the continuities and relationships in nature.

Consider reading the Notes first to confirm the candor and openness of the author to future changes in our understanding and resources for further reading.  

Quakers:  Quakers face the same problem as other religions in confirming stirring traditional origin stories with current scientific knowledge. For parents, this  book is a good resource in introducing the larger and smaller reality to children.


  • Is it fair that Quaker parents avoid endorsing traditional origin stories to children?
  • What origin stories do Quaker parents endorse?


Caleb. Scharf, The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing (2017)

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