Rebecca Goldstein

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Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Newberger

(1950-02-23) February 23, 1950 (age 74)
Alma materBarnard College (BA)
Princeton University (PhD)
  • (m. 1969; div. 1999)
  • (m. 2007)
InstitutionsColumbia University
Rutgers University
Trinity College
Harvard University
New York University[1]

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (born February 23, 1950) is an American philosopher, novelist, and public intellectual. She has written ten books, both fiction and non-fiction. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science from Princeton University, and is sometimes grouped with novelists such as Richard Powers and Alan Lightman, who create fiction that is knowledgeable of, and sympathetic toward, science.[5][6]

In her three non-fiction works, she has shown an affinity for philosophical rationalism, as well as a conviction that philosophy, like science, makes progress,[7] and that scientific progress is itself supported by philosophical arguments.[8]

Increasingly, in her talks and interviews, she has been exploring what she has called "mattering theory" as an alternative to traditional utilitarianism.[9][10] This theory is a continuation of her idea of "the mattering map", first suggested in her novel The Mind–Body Problem. The concept of the mattering map has been widely adopted in contexts as diverse as cultural criticism,[11][12] psychology,[13] and behavioral economics.[14]

Goldstein is a MacArthur Fellow, and has received the National Humanities Medal[15] and the National Jewish Book Award.

Early life and education[edit]

Goldstein, born Rebecca Newberger, grew up in White Plains, New York. She was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. She has one older brother, who is an Orthodox rabbi, and a younger sister, Sarah Stern. An older sister, Mynda Barenholtz, died in 2001. She did her undergraduate work at City College of New York, UCLA, and Barnard College,[16] where she graduated as valedictorian in 1972. After earning her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University, where she studied with Thomas Nagel and wrote a dissertation titled "Reduction, Realism, and the Mind", she returned to Barnard as a professor of philosophy.[17]


In 1983, Goldstein published her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, a serio-comic tale of the conflict between emotion and intelligence, combined with reflections on the nature of mathematical genius, the challenges faced by intellectual women, and Jewish tradition and identity. Goldstein said she wrote the book to "insert 'real life' intimately into the intellectual struggle. In short, I wanted to write a philosophically motivated novel."[18]

Her second novel, The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989), was also set in academia.[19] Her third novel, The Dark Sister (1993), was a fictionalization of family and professional issues in the life of William James. She followed it with a short-story collection, Strange Attractors (1993), which was a National Jewish Honor Book and New York Times Notable Book of the Year.[20] A fictional mother, daughter, and granddaughter introduced in two of the stories in that collection became the main characters of[21] Goldstein's next novel, Mazel (1995), which won the National Jewish Book Award[22] and the 1995 Edward Lewis Wallant Award.

A MacArthur Fellowship in 1996 led to the writing of Properties of Light (2000), a ghost story about love, betrayal, and quantum physics. Her most recent novel is 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010),[6] which explores ongoing controversies over religion and reason through the tale of a professor of psychology who has written an atheist best-seller, while his life is permeated with secular versions of religious themes.[6] National Public Radio chose it as one of its "five favorite books of 2010",[23] and The Christian Science Monitor named it the best book of fiction of 2010.[24]

Goldstein has written two biographical studies: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005); and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006). Betraying Spinoza combined her continuing interest in Jewish ideas, history, and identity with an increasing focus on secularism, humanism, and atheism. Goldstein called the book "the eighth book I'd published, but [the] first in which I took the long-delayed and irrevocable step of integrating my private and public selves".[25] Together with 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, it established her as a prominent figure in the humanist movement, part of a wave of "new new atheists" marked by less divisive rhetoric and a greater representation of women.[26]

In 2014, Goldstein published Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, an exploration of the historical roots and contemporary relevance of philosophy.

In addition to Barnard, Goldstein has taught at Columbia, Rutgers, and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and since 2014, she has been[27] a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities in London. In 2016, she was a visiting professor in the English department at New York University.[28] In 2011, she delivered the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Yale University, "The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature". She serves on the Council on Values of the World Economic Forum,[29] and on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America.[30]

Goldstein's writing has also appeared in chapters in a number of edited books, in journals including The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Tikkun, Commentary, and in blog format in The Washington Post's "On Faith" section.[31][32]

Personal life[edit]

Goldstein married her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein, in 1969,[33] and they divorced in 1999.[33] They are the parents of the novelist Yael Goldstein Love and poet Danielle Blau. In a 2006 interview with Luke Ford, Goldstein said:

I lived Orthodox for a long time. My husband was Orthodox. Because I didn't want to be hypocritical with our kids, I kept everything. I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away, and I was a happy little atheist.[33]

In 2007, Goldstein married cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker.[34]

Awards and fellowships[edit]



  • Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010)
  • Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics (2000)
  • Mazel (1995)
  • The Dark Sister (1993)
  • The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind (1989)
  • The Mind-Body Problem (1983)

Short stories[edit]

  • Strange Attractors: Stories (1993)


  • Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away (2014)
  • Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006)
  • Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Communications, NYU Web. "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient".
  2. ^ "Sheldon Goldstein" (PDF). Rutgers University, Department of Mathematics.
  3. ^ Kadish, Rachel (2012). "The Physics of Fiction, the Music of Philosophy: an Interview with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein". Ploughshares. Emerson College.
  4. ^ Interview with Rebecca Goldstein (2006). "Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem".
  5. ^ Lightman, Alan (15 March 2003). "Art That Transfigures Science". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c Schillinger, Liesl. "Prove It". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  7. ^ Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger (14 April 2014). "How Philosophy Makes Progress" – via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  8. ^ Anthony, Andrew (19 October 2014). "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: "Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that"". The Observer – via The Guardian.
  9. ^ "Feminism, Religion, and 'Mattering'".
  10. ^ "The Machinery of Moral Progress: An Interview with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein –". 27 August 2014.
  11. ^ Grossberg, Lawrence (1992). We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture. Routledge.
  12. ^ Grossberg, Lawrence (2010). Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Duke University Press.
  13. ^ Kashak, Ellyn (2013). "The Mattering Map: Integrating The Complexities of Knowledge, Experience and Meaning". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 37 (4): 436–443. doi:10.1177/0361684313480839. S2CID 144899088.
  14. ^ Loewenstein, Meine, G., K. "On Mattering Maps" in Understanding Choice, Explaining Behavior: Essays in Honour of Ole-Jørgen Skog, Jon Elster, Olav Gjelsvik, Aanund Hyland, and Karl Moene (Eds.). Oslo, Norway: Oslo Academic Press. pp. 153–175.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Our Lab | Barnard Year of Science". Retrieved 2022-08-16.
  17. ^ "Biographical Sketch". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  18. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein web site". Archived from the original on 2006-12-12. Retrieved 2006-11-07.
  19. ^ Reichel, Sabine (May 21, 1989). "Of Jews and Germans: The Conflict Unresolved : THE LATE-SUMMER PASSION OF A WOMAN OF MIND". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ Goldstein, Rebecca (1993). "Strange Attractors: Stories". Viking. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ Dickstein, Lore (October 29, 1995). "World of Our Mothers". The New York Times.
  22. ^ a b "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved 2020-01-20.
  23. ^ McAlpin, Heller (November 23, 2010). "People Are Talking About These Five Books". National Public Radio.
  24. ^ a b Kehe, Marjorie (1 December 2010). "Best books of 2010: fiction". The Christian Science Monitor.
  25. ^ Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (December 22, 2015). "Flourishing in the Company of Like-Minded People". The Humanist.
  26. ^ Jacoby, Susan. "Atheists – naughty and nice – should define themselves". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, "Distinguished Fellows for 2013-2014"
  28. ^ ""Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Named 2014 National Humanities Medal Recipient". New York University. September 3, 2015.
  29. ^ "Global Future Councils". World Economic Forum.
  30. ^ Board
  31. ^ "Articles, Chapters & Stories – Rebecca Newberger Goldstein".
  32. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein". Retrieved 2015-11-02.
  33. ^ a b c Luke Ford, "Interview with Novelist Rebecca Goldstein - The Mind-Body Problem", conducted by phone April 11, 2006, transcript posted at
  34. ^ Crace, John (June 17, 2008). "Interview: Harvard University's Steven Pinker". The Guardian. London.
  35. ^ "President Obama Awards 2014 National Humanities Medal". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2 September 2015.
  36. ^[permanent dead link]
  37. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein | The Montgomery Fellows". 5 January 2017. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  38. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein". Moment Magazine - The Next 5,000 Years of Conversation Begin Here. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  39. ^ "Romancing Spinoza | Whitney Humanities Center". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  40. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: secular humanist with a soul". The Christian Science Monitor. 2011-06-10. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  41. ^ Seering, Lauryn. "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein – Freedom From Religion Foundation". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  42. ^ "The Miller Scholarship | Santa Fe Institute". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  43. ^ "Redirect".
  44. ^ "Fellows – Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study". Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. 2018. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  45. ^ "Jim Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation – Fellows". Jim Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 2017. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  46. ^ "Koret Foundation -". Koret Foundation.
  47. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  48. ^ "Rebecca Goldstein – MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  49. ^ "Edward Lewis Wallant Award | University of Hartford". Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  50. ^ "Rebecca Newberger Goldstein bio". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-12.

External links[edit]