This is a philosophic work written by a physicist, grounded in rationality and empiricism. Walker begins with subatomic particles and ends with life itself and how it should be lived. A central assertion is that life exists because it perseveres whereas things that do not persevere tend not to exist. There is something Buddha-like and iron-clad in this utter simplicity that is arresting.
Walker ultimately argues that we have a moral responsibility to persevere and to do things that tend to make the life form itself persevere. What I found striking is his assertion that persistence itself is a kind of force or rule of the universe.
He uses the example of a chess game. The rules of the game are of a different kind of stuff than the players and the pieces. The rules exist independently of the pieces and the board. As Walker says, "the rules don't appear in the pieces and the board." (p. 10) The rules exist independently of any game and exist whether a game has ever been played or not. (I like to say they exist on the ether.) Every thought I ever thought exists and will exist until the end of the universe and beyond, and every thought I ever thought existed before I was born.
It is obvious that Walker has been influenced by Schopenhauer who saw "The World as Will and Idea." But Walker does not use Schopenhaur's terms although he acknowledges Schopenhauer's influence. Instead Walker speaks of "persistence" and "concept." The will of the world is its persistence, and the ideas are concepts.
The ancient and always contemporary question, "Why is there anything at all? Why isn't there nothing?" is something that Walker attempts to answer but of course does not.Read more ›
Disclaimer: Although under no obligation to review this book, I did receive a complimentary copy from the author.
For as long as people have existed, they have wondered about the meaning of life. From this has sprung the worship of spirits, animals, the sun, and God(s) - the study of physics, consciousness, and evolution - and a vast collection of literature and art. In the author's words, "As science knocks down each door, philosophy and spiritual inquiry regroup behind the next."
In this ambitious and delightful book, Walker boils it down to "Persistence." Life wants to persist on three levels: individually, at the species level, and collectively as the whole of life. Hunger, thirst, and self-protection are representative samples of individual persistence. They are ultimately responsible for our social interactions and our sense of ethics and morality. The sexual urge indirectly leads to the rearing and nurturing of our children.
Persistence drives the topic in each chapter. In the Big Bang and cosmology chapter, protons, neutrons, and electrons persist while more exotic particles did not survive the cooling after the Big Bang. Carbon based life-forms persist because, among other reasons, they propagate their patterns on to the next generation. Individual genes and collections of genes persist through the competition of natural selection. Consciousness and the availability of concepts make it possible for people to further the persistence of the third level of life - an impossibility for other species. Our moral analyses focus on all three of the author's categories - individual, species, and life as a whole.Read more ›
Martin G. Walker is certainly not shy. In "Life! Why we exist...And What we Can do to Survive" he tackles subjects that have been the main problems of philosophy for centuries - namely why we and everything else exists and what we can do to make our lives count. These are not easy questions. There is and old Punch cartoon, in which a child asks her father: "What's that, Daddy? Father: "A Cow" Child: "Why?" Why a cow? is actually a very deep philosophical question and one that I am as yet unprepared to answer. Yet Walker thinks he can answer this one and others like it, or at least give it a good try.
At the start I have to say that the author is an Amazon Friend and that he sent me a copy of his book to review on the understanding that I would in no way guarantee how that review would turn out. He readily agreed to this and I duly received a copy in the mail.
In "Life!" Walker nicely frames the major questions of existence, based in part on his understanding of Schopenhauer and on his own experience. He uses Schopenhauer's "Will" as the main driving force of life in the universe (or at least on earth- the only place that we know that life exists), but replaces it with "persistence" ("Will" sounds too Germanic in the bad sense to me anyway). By this he seems to mean something like a drive to persist. This characteristic of persistence is what drives living things to continue and fuels evolution through mutation. I might note that Walker uses mutation in a way that would disturb some biologists. He thinks of it as a mainly positive force, but many modern biologists point out that most mutations are probably deleterious.Read more ›