Naomi Sherer reviews...
Questioning The Millennium
A book dedicated to Carl Sagan, whom Gould claims: the most passionate rationalist of our times and the best advocate for science in our millennium.
Just why is there so much to do about Y2K and the new millennium? I've been quick to pass over the hype as an illusion by folks needing something to cling to because of unfulfilled lives. But when I found a book dedicated to the phenomenon I had second thoughts. Here clearly, a logical mind had been aware of the historical, spiritual, and social aspects of the year 2000 for some time. He did not have the platform to state his views in the workaday essays that go into his books about evolutional paleontology that continue to enlighten us in such a delightful manner. The millennium warranted a book all to itself.
I quote from the jacket of Gould's earlier book, Dinosaur In A Haystack: "In his latest musings on evolution and other natural phenomena, Gould reveals the uncanny interconnections among distinctly human creations--museums, literature, music, politics, and culture--encompassing a delightfully wide range of topics...."
It is Gould's perception that makes his writing about the mysterious so meaningful. His brilliant mental capacity makes connections I miss when I look at historical events. Yet he is so clear in defining the concept of the millennium, its earlier apocalptic meaning, and how that has shifted to something entirely different.
Gould explains: "...the central shift of meaning that defines our current millennial madness--from millennium as apocalypse to millennium as calendrics--can best be understood as a change of empasis from one mental strategy to the other."
Here are his own words: "....the classic argument for linking the apocalyptic and calendrical millennium may seem awfully weak and disappointing-- for the junction requires a symbolic interpretation that will probably strike most of us as fatuous and far-fetched. Has so much ever been based on so little? But our secular todays provide no basis for judging the apparent strength and good sense of an argument to our more spiritually inclined forebears--for whom a symbolic link often seemed both brilliantly illuminating and entirely conclusive. Or so they said, at least--and I think we must take them at their word. It may be ours to reason why (as we try to understand); but it is not ours to deny the satisfaction felt by our forebears because we no longer credit a style of argument once equated with our modern regard for empirical science as a pathway to truthful answers about the natural world."
Gould discusses the numerical schemes devised by scholars, divines, and mystics but defines the millennium as apocalypse and again as a measure of time quoting the bible and papers of past scholars. He recalls attitudes such as those of James Watt, Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Interior, who stated we need not worry about evironmental deterioration because the world will end before any deep damage can be done.
Gould reminds us of human tragedies that occurred because of deep beliefs and misunderstandings by others such as Wounded Knee and more recent suicides embracing the promised apocalypse.
But the facts in this book, as with all Gould's writing, are laced with humorous and fanciful inclusions of biblical quotations and human reactions that you must read for yourself.
Buy it now
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