Amherst astronomer/physicist Greenstein displayed a fine facility for exposition about the heavens in his earlier Frozen...

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THE SYMBIOTIC UNIVERSE: Life and Mind in the Cosmos

Amherst astronomer/physicist Greenstein displayed a fine facility for exposition about the heavens in his earlier Frozen Star. This new work reveals where his musings are leading him now. He is a full-fledged follower of the anthropic principle, which, ""in its purest form,"" asserts that ""the only things that can be known are those compatible with the existence of knowers."" Another version is that the rules of nature are precisely those that are conducive to life as we experience and observe it. The anthropic principle was named by British physicist Brandon Carter in 1974 to describe the ""had-to-be"" style of reasoning that Fred Hoyle brought to a problem in the stellar evolution of elements. The issue was how the element carbon could be created, given the profound improbabilities that nuclei of helium and a particularly unstable isotope of beryllium would meet and fuse to create carbon atoms in the heart of red giant stars. Hoyle said this could happen if the resonant energy of the reacting beryllium and helium nuclei matched the resonant energy of carbon. It ""had to be"" if heavier elements--and eventually thee and me--were to be produced. And when the good scientists looked, sure enough, they found the requisite resonances. They also noticed other improbabilities and coincidences, puzzling ratios, ""just right"" ranges of temperature, useful properties of water, and other curiosa that appeared to people like Carter, Freeman Dyson, George Wald, and now Greenstein, as evidence that the cosmos was made for life, and, Greenstein adds, that life was made for the cosmos--we are linked symbiotically. Here, these ideas are put forth with much enthusiasm and illustrative excursions into cosmological theories and quantum mechanics. In the end, of course, while Greenstein stoutly denies a Creator for his system, he admits that acceptance of the principle or its symbiotic extension is a matter of faith, not reason--a fact no skeptical reader will fail to notice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988