THE UNFINISHED UNIVERSE: A New World View by Louise B. Young


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A while back, Young, who is a physicist by training, wrote a lyrical book celebrating earth's charms called The Blue Planet; the title was based on the then-new and spectacular images of Earth seen from space. In this volume the physicist has turned philosopher; the writing is less lyrical and more doctrinaire. Young turns out to be a staunch supporter of James Lovelock's ""Gaia"" hypothesis. Lovelock is a British scientist who in 1979 published the theory that the earth is a gigantic living system in which atmosphere, oceans, and soil interact in a self-regulating system to support and maintain life. The movement is toward order and against entropy; from the simple to the complex. Such a view need not impose a deity's directing hand, but does invoke a creative directing hand of nature, one that sees a connectedness of everything to everything that Young herself sums up in Francis Thompson's lines: ""Thou canst not stir a flower/Without troubling of a star."" The evidence for such a view tends to lie in the selective eye and interpretation of the beholder. Thus Young rhapsodizes about snorkeling off coral reefs to see the vast cities of coral animals, the symbioses of predator fish and their cleaner shellfish. She describes the hypotheses concerning the first nucleated cells, composed, as some believe, of cooperating organisms (e.g., mitochondria may originally have been bacteria). Many biologists agree with some of these ideas; many have reasoned on the advantages, from an evolutionary standpoint, of sexual reproduction rather than fission, of cooperation and communication in higher organisms rather than isolation and competition. However, to state such ideas does not imply that some organic earth force is at work, It took eons for the first self-replicating units to form; more eons before multicellular organisms came into existence. Those who see an inevitable gain in order and complexity ignore the prodigal waste of nature, the devastating effects of climate and catastrophe; the extinction of many species and the dead-end of others (where are sharks headed?). It may offer comfort to some to see on earth a grand defiance, or even a suborning of the second law of thermodynamics to life's purposes, as Young suggests. But for many, the wonder of nature lies in the unexpected and the unknown--the surprise that awaits and not the movement toward the universal mind, which Young sees as the finishing touch to the unfinished universe.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster