Reviewed by David Ocame, N1YVV, Argus Station FN31ng
Every so often, you hear someone speak, or read someone's book, or listen to some piece of music and it makes you stop and think about what you thought you knew about the world. Then you rethink it again, because although it is hard to write down, or speak about, in words, you know it makes sense on some level. You need time to digest your experience and have it gel with everyday life. But it never really does gel because life is no longer plain nor ordinary, nor everyday.
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was one that opened my eyes and filled me with sadness at what we do to our world. The chemicals we pollute it with. Then James Lovelock published Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. I realized that no matter what nasty little chemical man produces on Earth, the universe already makes it in far greater quantities. Earth would recover and life would go on. Perhaps not for Homo sapiens or many other types of multi-cellular life. For Gaia theory looks at life not as a thin veneer on our world, but as a major contributor to it: a molder and shaper of it. It was through James Lovelock that I learned a new respect for the intricate, subtle, and mostly unknown interplay between the world of the living and the world of the seemingly not.
Now comes James Gardner with Biocosm with which he takes Gaia theory to whole new and infinite level. A Universe that holds infinite hope for finding life, intelligent life, in places other than our own Solar system. For not only must there be intelligent life out there in the Cosmos, it must expand and someday in the far future become "co-terminus" with it. Life, in all it forms, must permeate every nook, cranny and corner of the creation left in the wake of the Big Bang. It must, because the Universe is endeavoring to become alive and we are its heartbeat!
Gardner goes on to say that one of the purposes of all living organisms is to reproduce. And so it is with our Universe. It wants to make baby Universes. It wants to pass on its knowledge, as we pass on our DNA, to the next generation of Universes. Information is necessary to making babies. In fact, it was information encoded in the known physical constants that makes this Universe so friendly and nurturing to life. Information coded by intelligent life to create a Universe that would have just the right gravitational constant, just the right charge and spin on the electron, speed of light and so forth. All deliberately set so that life and the physical world we see would be the result.
If this all sounds as though it smacks of religion and belief systems, the reader would be correct in my opinion. In fact, Gardner states that Intelligent Design proponents - IDers -and scientists must sooner or later reconcile. Not give in, but understand that each has a contribution to the whole to be made. He also takes on Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee's Rare Earth point by point concluding that whether or not correct, "...discussion does not settle such arguments. Only experimentation can."
Lee Smolin, Christian De Duve, Edward O. Wilson and his Consilience, Complexity Theory, Chaos Theory, all these and more are ingeniously threaded together to give a cogent and logical theory of why the Universe is the way it is and, moreover, why it will be the way it will be. This is a book that whether you agree with all its content, you will have a lot to think about. It is a work to read and reread, come back and read it again. I daresay it will be one of the most important additions to any astrobiology collection. Each time I read Biocosm, it continues to give anew.
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this page last updated 6 November 2004
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