The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Hardcover, 2021

Status

Available

Publication

Bold Type Books (2021), 336 pages

Description

"Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is one of the leading physicists of her generation, at work on the origins of spacetime at the intersection of particle physics and astrophysics. She is also one of the fewer than one hundred Black women to earn a PhD in physics. In The Disordered Cosmos, Prescod-Weinstein shares with readers her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter - all with a new spin and rhythm informed by pop culture, hip hop, politics, and Star Trek. Prescod-Weinstein's vision of the cosmos is vibrant, inclusive and buoyantly non-traditional. As she makes clear, what we know about the universe won't be complete until we learn to think beyond the limitations of white-dominated science. Science, like most fields, is set up for men to succeed, and is rife with racism, sexism, and shortsightedness as a result. But as Prescod-Weinstein makes brilliantly clear, we all have a right to know the night sky. By welcoming the insights of those who have been left out for too long, we expand our understanding of the universe and our place in it. The Disordered Cosmos is a vision for a world without prejudice that allows everyone to view the wonders of the universe through the same starry eyes"--… (more)

Rating

½ (41 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DarthDeverell
In The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein describes her work and the field studying dark matter as well as the ways in which science reproduces the white supremacist hererocispatriarchal ableist capitalist values of
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Euro-American society and how that imposes limitations both on the field of science and on a society that stipulates who is allowed to dream. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein draws upon the literature of both astrophysics as well as historians of science and Indigenous and BIPOC scholars in her work, forging a monograph that both surveys the nature of dark matter research and the ways in which the practice of science must change and grow in order to benefit more than the colonialist governments who currently fund it.

Discussing the theory of quantum gravity and its importance beyond the sciences, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein describes how it did not necessarily matter in 1910, but is now absolutely essential for GPS and other technologies. She continues, “I tend to find that each person, whether they are a scientist or not, gets excited about spacetime and the fact that it’s curved for different reasons… So maybe it matters for humanity because we are the total weirdos who would care” (pg. 65). The major theme of The Disordered Cosmos, however, is the interplay between society and the sciences.

To this end, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein writes, “Part of science… involves writing a dominant group’s social politics into the building blocks of a universe that exists far beyond and with little reference to our small planet and the apes that are responsible for melting its polar ice caps” (pgs. 22-23). Examining the need to break down the white, Euro-centric views in science, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein continues, “What I really wanted everyone to understand is that Black thoughts, like Black lives, matter” (pg. 110). She also discusses how popular culture offers an ideal of what may be even as it highlights issues within our society. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein writes, “I’m not the only Black scientist who identified with Shuri when the film Black Panther came out – so many of us spent our whole childhoods dreaming of becoming her, only to realize that in a white supremacist society, it feels impossible. Shuri is what happens when Indigenous intellectual curiosity is not stifled. America is what happens when it is” (pg. 111). As Dr. Prescod-Weinstein summarizes, “Science is inextricably tied to power” (pg. 197). Furthermore, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein writes, “There is a strange contradiction among scientists: science is supposedly about asking questions, except about scientists and how science is done” (pg. 222). She therefore concludes, “I understand why other scientists don’t want to be confronted with the fact that science is inextricably tied to everyday, human, social phenomena” (pg. 236).

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein sums up the issues at the heart of academia: “Academia is still a capitalist nightmare that takes the life out of people who are conscious of its problems” (pg. 140). Further, “Our academic and economic structures are set up with capitalist incentives to keep it to yourself when you realize something is wrong and to favor quick, superficial work over work that requires deep, plodding thought. Those who get a little power within these structures are rewarded for their silence” (pg. 159). She continues, “It is never going to get much better until there is significant structural change in the power dynamics that dominate North American society – and global society. Until there is a reckoning with the reality of the world in which science is done, only a small elite will be able to succeed economically. And only a few will be able to spend their days at colleges and universities, supposedly doing science” (pg. 246). Writing of the larger implications for society, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein concludes, “Now that the inevitably of progress has been proven a lie, it is time to confront the colonialism and anti-Blackness and xenophobia that are foundational to what America is and why it exists. Now is the time to confront the history of gender and misogyny and how enforcing a gender binary in an essentialist manner was part of the violent colonial project” (pg. 252).

The Disordered Cosmos is a must-read for any historian of science and particularly for those in the sciences or who are committed to the cause of social justice.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Along with some Scientific American-type explanations (with more cursing) of what we know about physics right now, she talks about her life as a scientist, including how being raped affected her as a scientist, along with other aspects of being a Black, agender scientist who presents feminine. She
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doesn’t like the “dark matter” metaphor for Black experience because Black people are perfectly visible and made of the same stuff as white people; as she says, there’s a lot of dark matter passing through you right now but not a lot of black people. Given the choice, she would have named the stuff “invisible ether” or something like that. Also has an interesting comparison of knowledge claims in physics—white guys saying that empirical study isn’t necessary/important given their theories versus basically the same white guys constantly demanding proof acceptable to them that there is racial/gender bias in the scientific establishment.
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LibraryThing member fionaanne
DNF because it was due back at the library and the author really lost me when she started drawing parallels between melanin science and the continued exploitation of coloured folk. The Shuri reference was spot on but Chandra admitted the arguments were not well-formed and I was like, "why didn't
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you rewrite it then?!" I have no patience for authors who don't put in the work of editing elements that need it.
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LibraryThing member cloidl
I've read many science books, and I feel like somehow I have to like this book or be guilty of some kind of racism, but i agree with you, and from the almost 500 books I've read in the last couple of years this one while not the worst is near the bottom. It was an example of if you want to
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something badly enough, be it racism or another belief, you'll find it everywhere regardless of the evidence. Apparently quantum chromodynamics Is racists, as is dark matter, all created by racist white scientist, and I assume so will be black holes, if I read further. I've finished ever book i started, but I'm struggling with this one and feel like I'm the author's therapist by reading it. Most of her arguments are a stretch, such as why Caroline Herschel has to be called an astronomer not assistent, because Newton is referred to as a physicist not a natural philosopher. There are things in the world that can be improved and judging people, based on gender and race (which I agree is a bio social construct), but she seems to commit more racism and judges people in history out of their social and historical context. I for one will not read another one of her books, and stick to other author's (Neil de Grasse Tyson for example)
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LibraryThing member little-gidding
This book exists at the intersection of identity politics, representation, and science. Some people may be disappointed if they're wanting just a memoir or just a book about physics. But some people will love the broader ideas this book is engaging with. One of the overarching themes is that
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science is impacted by the people practicing it in ways that, while not undermining science facts, still change the directions of exploration, which impacts science future.
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LibraryThing member LisCarey
This is simultaneously a book about about physics and in particular dark matter, and an account of what it's like to be a black American woman of Caribbean extraction in the world of science, and in particular in physics.

Prescod-Weinstein loves physics, and started loving physics as a child,
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looking up at the night sky. Later in the book, she notes that her childhood in Los Angeles gave her no idea what she was missing until later in life, when she was a working theoretical cosmologist and astrophysicist. When, in the course of the book, she's talking about physics, she's often expressing joy and excitement.

When she's talking about being a black American woman of Caribbean extraction working in physics, not so much.

Prescod-Weinstein is only the 63rd black woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the United States. The more challenging parts of this book to read or listen to, but also very educational, are the parts where she's talking about the reality of being a black woman in science and especially in physics.

Her mother worked long hours and scrimped, saved, and did without, to send her to an elite high school where she could get the academic background and the connections to get into a distinguished college to begin her serious pursuit of a career in physics. She got a BA in Physics and Astronomy at Harvard in 2003, a master's degree in astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2005, and after a change in research direction, her Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo in 2010.

And all along the way, she encountered obstacles that her white, and especially white male, fellow students and colleagues did not. Being assumed to be there for diversity. Being questioned on her basic competence far more. Having her ideas often dismissed, and then the same idea being accepted readily when in it came from a white man.

Being raped. She isn't graphic in describing it, and does not name the man, but that trauma put a large obstacle in being able to continue her studies and her work. She had to overcome that to continue, but the trauma isn't gone.

Among the more "routine" challenges is the fact that women in academic departments tend to be stuck with the "emotional labor" of making things work, and as the only black woman, often the only black person in any group, she's always the designated person for any minority woman to seek out, or to be referred to, when they have questions and problems that white faculty and project leaders can't address. She values that work, and believes in its vital importance, but it also takes time, energy, and intellectual bandwith she could be more directly devoting to science.

It's an interesting book, sometimes difficult, but well worth reading or listening to.

Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.
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Awards

LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — 2021)
Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science (Shortlist — 2022)
Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize (Longlist — Nonfiction — 2021)
New England Book Award (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2021)

Language

Original language

English

Physical description

336 p.; 9.9 inches

ISBN

1541724704 / 9781541724709
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