Physicist/astronomer Chaisson (MIT, Harvard) demonstrated his expository skills in earlier volumes such as The Invisible...


THE LIFE ERA: Cosmic Selection and Conscious Evolution

Physicist/astronomer Chaisson (MIT, Harvard) demonstrated his expository skills in earlier volumes such as The Invisible Universe (with George Field) and Cosmic Dawn, in which he described, respectively, new frontiers in astronomy, and the saga of the birth and development of the universe according to the conventional wisdom of contemporary astrophysics. The current volume follows Cosmic Dawn as part of a planned trilogy but moves farther from conventional wisdom in postulating a special importance to human life in deciding the future course, not only of mankind, but of galaxies. Thus, Chaisson edges closer to the thinking of Freeman Dyson, J.E. (Gaia hypothesis) Lovelock, Fred Hoyle, and even Teilhard de Chardin. Like them, he believes that humans are special in their ""conscious self-consciousness"" and have the power to shape destiny. Unlike them, he avers that he comes to these conclusions not because of a mystic or religious belief in a creative force directing evolution, but through his understanding of the ever-changing forces that have evolved matter from energy and life from matter in the course of the 15 billion years since time zero. The direction is toward ever-higher orders of complexity, and in our Own grand way, we have arrived at a state where we can make decisions for better or for worse. In opting for better, Chaisson sees the need for developing a universal system of ethics that would create a beneficent one-world citizenry; should such a condition arise, future generations could seed colonies in the solar system and ultimately move on to other galaxies. Chaisson arrives at these hopeful conjectures in five long chapters that provide a sort of freshman survey course on metaphysics and change from Greek philosophy to the present; review the physics of change with emphasis on entropy and thermodynamics; dwell on cosmic expansion in terms of increasing information wrought by the Matter Era and now the Life Era; and discuss implications of that Life Era. In sum, good in parts, but the parts do not a whole make--unless you want to believe it's true.

Pub Date: June 26, 1987

ISBN: 0595007910

Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1987