Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack, photographed in April 2011.

Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack, photographed in April 2011.

The message came out of nowhere last fall from a secretary at the Chopra Foundation in Carlsbad, Calif. Deepak Chopra wished to speak to them. Would it be all right if he called?

UCSC professors Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack—she’s a philosopher, he’s an astrophysicist—aren’t your standard readers of Chopra, whose 60–odd published books include titles like Ageless Body, Timeless Mindand Manifesting Good Luck Cards: Growth and Enlightenment. Chopra, however, had become a reader of Abrams and Primack. Their books on cosmology, The View from the Center of the Universe and The New Universe and the Human Future, had made an impression on him, and he wanted to get the word out. Pending his board’s approval, he would be awarding them part of a $100,000 prize known as the Rustum Roy Spirit Award, given by the Chopra Foundation “to those making major contributions to the scientific understanding of consciousness.”

“I didn’t even know it existed!” says Abrams of the prize, which was formally awarded to the couple and to Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Rudy Tanzi last week. “It was out of nowhere.”

The couple’s books present a view of the cosmos and humankind’s unique place in it that effectively makes the case for a science-based spirituality with roots in a shared cosmology—crucial, they argue, for a planet facing dire problems like climate change. (Read Santa Cruz Weekly's article on their most recent book here.html.)

The prize carries the power to put Abrams and Primack’s work in the public spotlight. Nineteen of Chopra’s books have been bestsellers, and 20 million copies are in print in 35 languages. And while Chopra’s faith in the mind’s power to control events and even create reality runs counter to the two scientist’s empirical approach, they respect him nevertheless. “He knows that Joel and I do not agree with his view, and he still wants to reach out to us, and I really like him for that,” says Abrams.

Chopra’s award may put the two Westsiders on the mainstream map, but Björk has already hipped her fans to Primack’s opus. Her latest album Biophilia, a conceptual music and science project based on apps, incorporates video from the Bolshoi simulation, called “the most accurate cosmological simulation of the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe yet made.” Primack served as one of two principal investigators on the massive project, undertaken at NASA Ames Research Center with the help of the Pleiades supercomputer, the seventh-fastest computer in the world.

“Björk’s assistant called, also out of the blue, to know if Björk could use the Bolshoi simulation in her show,” says Abrams. “She wanted to use it as the backdrop for a piece she wrote called ‘Dark Matter.’”

While Primack continues his work as director of the UC High–Performance AstroComputing Center, Abrams continues her own line of inquiry into the nature of things. She is shopping around a new book on the mother of all book subjects (or father, depending on your world view).

“What I’ve done is I’ve asked the question: given the universe that we now know exists—this ‘double dark’ universe made up of dark energy and dark matter—knowing that, is there anything that actually exists in it that would be worthy of the name God?” She pauses just a beat before tossing off the ultimate teaser.  “And I have an answer.”

The couple travels to Carlsbad March 2–5 to accept the Chopra award.