The Turbulent Universe by Paul Kurtz (book review).

‘The Turbulent Universe’ is the final book by philosopher Paul Kurtz, who died in 2012. In many respects, the first two-thirds of the book is a whistle-stop tour of the sciences, our universe and culture. All of which tended to be familiar territory to me but will no doubt be a good refresher for anyone who needs it. The philosophical discussions comes in the last third of the book at a level that should be accessible for all. Kurtz comes from a mixed French/American background and indeed examines French history and culture, occasionally showing how its presence as an empire has dropped over the centuries. Indeed, much of his arguments centre on how our cultures should not stay static but be prepared to and accept change as a way of life.


I’m not altogether sure I would agree with him about the universe becoming smaller with telescopes. We might see more but we are no further to getting closer to anywhere else. Kurtz spends some time on other means to get there but is aliens had discovered such means, then surely we might have seen evidence of it out there even if they hadn’t reached as far as here yet.

I had some raised eyebrows as Kurtz examined the sexual proclivities of American presidents that makes the likes of Clinton look minor compared to Lincoln and Jefferson. Interestingly, having political leaders with mistresses is more common than not. Must be a power thing.

His observations of the Greeks adoring the male body as denoted by the number of statues did make me wonder because of their own proclivities at the time why they, shall we say, had the male sex organs in relax than erect position, which surely would have pointed out their preferences.

A lot of moral decisions are based on the lesser of two evils. Saying that, I do have to question the Geneva Convention on page 209, where acts of torture isn’t permissible and how even western countries ignore the rules when it suits them by applying the letter of the law ie we aren’t in a war with a country. When we are no better than the enemies we fight, it tends to mock the certain levels of acceptability under war-like conditions. It ultimately will come down to it’ll be all right as long as no one finds out about it. A bloody slick slope to slide down to, especially as the Geneva Convention offers nothing to chide such actions but a slap on the wrist to founding members.

Something else I wish I could have discussed with Kurtz is on page 215 where everyone should be entitled to free healthcare as it is something that seems to be trailing behind in the USA. Obama made some in-roads but it’s still lagging behind when it comes to looking after its own population. Indeed, looking at the list of these rights, the USA was either slow to take up on many of them. Mankind, as a whole with herd instinct not to stand out, can often be very reluctant to change old practices, yet individually many people are more prepared to change if it suits them.

Occasionally, Kurtz does hit on Science Fiction themes and actually falls under the herd instinct in that Man shouldn’t go out into the galaxy. Being confined to one planet where it is possible for the entire population to be wiped out by anything from a meteorite crash, a nuclear war or biological virus, not to look for somewhere else to go at sometime would be folly for mankind. Our examination of space and even visiting the Moon and Mars has given us enormous technological jumps that we have only ever achieved by war before. With such motivation, we might even find ways to evade the current problems of distance between the stars.

I reacted far more to the last third of the book as can be seen above. Whether Kurtz wants you to react rather than agree with him, we’ll never know now. For his final opus, it is worth your time to peruse, ponder and debate. Whether you agree with me or him, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Prometheus Books. 257 page enlarged paperback. Price: $20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-735-8)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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