One attempt to discover what modern science (from molecular biology to quantum mechanics) can tell us about death. Reanney, a New Zealand microbiologist who died in 1994, began writing this with the idea of presenting a strictly science-based description of the biological meaning of mortality and the psychology of human longings for immortality. We therefore get early chapters on DNA, the ``selfish gene,'' and the implications of relativity theory for consciousness. Reanney relates his ideas to everyday experience, taking a visit to a childhood hometown that had changed beyond recognition as the starting point for asking whether a scene so vivid in memory does not have some ``reality'' despite its physical passing away. This leads to a proposal that the enormous fecundity of living things is grounds for believing that life can effectively reverse entropy, the universal process by which order decays into chaos. The real trouble begins when the author turns to the psychological side of his agenda, arguing, for example, that the universal birth experience (coming from darkness into light) is enshrined in the teachings of all religion, based on selective quotes from a number of mythologies. The book also makes much of split-brain experiments, which are no longer taken seriously by psychologists. In short, from reasonably plausible (albeit controversial) deductions from biology and physics, the argument rapidly veers into sheer speculation based on questionable scienceor even science fiction (the author is fond of quoting from Arthur C. Clarke). While his conclusionthat our destiny is to merge with a sort of cosmic consciousnesswill undoubtedly reassure many readers grieving a loss or facing the imminent likelihood of their own deaths, there is nothing scientific about it once he leaves the familiar ground of molecular biology. Ultimately, this belongs more in the realm of feel-good New Age writing than of science.
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