The Sleepwalkers

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First UK edition (publ. Hutshinson)

The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe is a 1959 book by Arthur Koestler, and one of the main accounts of the history of cosmology and astronomy in the Western World, beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and ending with Isaac Newton. The book challenges the habitual idea of a progressive science working towards a definite goal. The suggestion of the title is that the scientific discoveries and the geniuses that come to them are like a game of sleepwalking. Not that they come by pure chance, but that often the genius doesn't really know what he has discovered, as it is evident for instance in the three Laws of Kepler.


Koestler starts off the book by looking back into his childhood about his philosophy of the world. He states that when he looks at the world, he looks at it as how the Babylonians did. He goes on to talk about where the Babylonians and Egyptians left off and the Greeks took over philosophy. "Homer's world is another, more colourful oyster, a floating disc surrounded by Okeanus."[1]

We can add to our knowledge, But we cannot subtract from it. - Arthur Koestler

A central theme of The Sleepwalkers is the changing relationship between faith and reason. Koestler explores how these seemingly contradictory threads existed harmoniously in many of the greatest intellectuals of the West. He illustrates that while the two are estranged today, in the past the most ground-breaking thinkers were often very spiritual.

Another recurrent theme of this book is the breaking of paradigms in order to create new ones. People - scientists included - hold onto cherished old beliefs with such love and attachment that they refuse to see the wrong in their ideas and the truth in the ideas that are to replace them.

"The conclusion he puts forward at the end of the book is that modern science is trying too hard to be rational. Scientists have been at their best when they allowed themselves to behave as "sleepwalkers," instead of trying too earnestly to ratiocinate."[2]

Publication data[edit]

Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Hutchinson.

First published in the United States of America By MacMillan 1959

Published in Penguin Books 1964

Reissued in Pelican Books 1968

Reprinted in Peregrine Books 1986,ISBN 0-14-055212-X;

Reprinted in Arkana 1989, ISBN 0-14-019246-8;[3] Online readable version (limited preview) [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bellevue, John (2009). "The SleepWalkers." New York: The Macmillan Company.
  2. ^ Stephen Toulmin, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 59, No. 18. (Aug. 30, 1962), page 502.
  3. ^ Koestler, Arthur. The Sleepwalkers. London: Penguin Group. p. 4. ISBN 14-019246-9 Check |isbn= value (help). 

External links[edit]