Nancy Ellen Abrams

Nancy Ellen Abrams

Bio

Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams are married and have unusually complementary viewpoints. Joel R. Primack is one of the world’s leading cosmologists and helped create the foundational theory of the evolution of the universe. Nancy Ellen Abrams is a writer and lawyer with a background in the history, philosophy, and politics of science, who has worked on science and technology policy. She has also for over two decades closely followed Joel’s research, attended countless astrophysics conferences, and talked to almost everyone in the field. Together they have developed and taught a prize-winning course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, called Cosmology and Culture.

Nancy Ellen Abrams received her B.A. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, her J.D. from the University of Michigan, and a diploma in international law from the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City. She was a Fulbright Scholar and a Woodrow Wilson Designate. She is a writer whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers, and magazines, such as The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Environment, California Lawyer, Science and Global Security, and Tikkun. She has a long-term interest in the role of science in shaping a new politics and has worked in this area for a European environmental think tank in Rome, the Ford Foundation, and the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, where she co-invented (with R. Stephen Berry of the National Academy of Sciences) a novel procedure called “Scientific Mediation.” This procedure permits government agencies to make intelligent policy decisions in areas where the relevant science is crucial yet controversial. Scientific Mediation aims not to resolve scientific disputes, which can only be done by scientific research, but to make the essence of the disputed issue transparent to the non-scientists making the actual policy decision. She has consulted on its use for the state governments of California and Wisconsin, private corporations and organizations, and the government of Sweden, where Scientific Mediation has become standard procedure in the Ministry of Industry. With Joel R. Primack, she co-authored a prize-winning article on quantum cosmology and Kabbalah, as well as numerous articles on science policy, space policy, and cultural implications of modern cosmology.

Abrams is also a songwriter who has performed at conferences, concerts, and events in eighteen countries, released three albums, and been featured on National Public Radio and television. New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye’s bestseller, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, describes her songs, includes a photo of her with Joel, and closes with the complete lyrics to a song she wrote for and performed at the 1986 Nearly Normal Galaxies conference, one of many major astronomy conferences where she has performed. The late Senator Paul Wellstone used lyrics from another of Nancy’s songs as chapter headings in his book Powerline. Several of the songs on her 2002 album, Alien Wisdom, explore themes from The View from the Center of the Universe.

Abrams has been intrigued by science’s border with myth since studying with Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago. She works as a scholar to put the discoveries of modern cosmology into a cultural context and as a writer and artist to communicate their possible meanings at a deeper level. “Cosmology and Culture,” the course she and Joel developed and have co-taught since 1996 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has received awards from both the Templeton Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. Abrams and Primack’s co-written articles have appeared in books and magazines including Astronomy Now, Philosophy in Science, Science, Science & Spirit, Spirituality and Health, and Tikkun.

Over the past ten years, they have given many invited talks on themes from The View from the Center of the Universe not only at universities but at planetariums, cultural centers, conferences, churches, and synagogues. Their talks are multimedia presentations, in which Joel presents new cosmological ideas and Nancy discusses their meaning and relevance, performs her own songs, and sometimes leads the audience in guided contemplations to help them visualize the ideas. In their attempt to bring science to the public, they have spoken at venues from the State of the World Forum in New York and the Senate Chamber of France to the North American Montessori Teachers Association and the Cornelia Street Café in New York City.