- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Inner Ocean Publishing (July 17, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1930722222
- ISBN-13: 978-1930722224
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,146,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life Is the Architect of the Universe
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For many years, traditional cosmologists and proponents of faith-based "intelligent design" have fought over the origin of the universe. One side maintains that pure chance can explain everything; the other that there must be a God. In Biocosm, James Gardner examines the evidence and finds a third hypothesis, one that has the approval of a number of noted skeptics and scientists. He calls it the "Selfish Biocosm," in a nod to Richard Dawkins, and outlines it in this homage to Charles Darwin. Gardner states his hypothesis:
The basic idea is that the anthropic, or life-friendly, qualities that our universe exhibits are logical and predictable consequences of a cosmic reproduction cycle in which a cosmologically extended biosphere, developed and evolved over billions of years to unimaginable levels of sophistication, serves as the device by which our cosmos duplicates itself and propagates one or more "baby universes."
Like many of the sentences in Biocosm, this one requires multiple readings before its meaning and ramifications sink in. This is not an easygoing, blow-your-mind look at the universe. Gardner is meticulous in outlining his ideas, explaining their falsifiability and scientific rigor, and offering deep chaos theory to support them. Did our universe create intelligent life in order to ensure its own reproduction? Gardner thinks so, though he knows his position will irk many cosmologists exhausted from battling pseudoscientists and creationists. His impressive list of scientific supporters includes Sir Martin Rees (Britain's Astronomer Royal), Michael Shermer (publisher of Skeptic magazine), and John Casti (Santa Fe Institute honcho). Biocosm synthesizes many disciplines and theories in its conclusions, offering much food for cosmological thought. --Therese Littleton
"This is the best popular account I've seen of the argument for "intelligent design." -- Harper's Magazine, October 2003
"[W]ill appeal to futurists, genuine new age speculators, and anyone who wants to consider possible world views...." -- New Age Retailer, December 2, 2003
This is the best popular account I've seen of the argument for "intelligent design." -- Harper's Magazine, October 2003
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The idea of universes evolving has been previously proposed - e.g. by Lee Smolin. However as the author points out, Smolin's proposed mechanism of universe reproduction via black holes makes no sense.
The topic is fairly far out. In short, nobody knows, and only a few care. However the liklihood of the hypothesis affects how eager people will be to read the book, so briefly:
An adapted universe might show signs of being born, signs of a navel, signs of parents, signs of being adaptively fit, signs of imperfections due to its evolutionary history and possibly signs of senescence. If the universe is not a sterile worker, it might also show signs of reproductive organs and signs of having previously given birth.
Observations show that the universe had a definite origin and shows adaptive fit. However the other signs are more questionable. The universe is not clearly and obviously sterile, but there's not much else positive to say. This evidence is dubious, but still inconclusive.
The author spends a lot of time on the universe's adaptive fit - however, this can be well explained by observation selection effects - with or without an evolved universe.
To clarify some common criticisms, the idea is not vulnerable to an infinite regress of intelligent designers, and isn't especially complex, and so is not severely pruned by Occam's razor.
The book is enjoyable to read, and is a reasonable treatment of the topic. However, it doesn't cover the simulation hypothesis. Simulation seems like the main way that universes are created in practice. Also, the simulation hypothesis predicts that we live in interesting times - and that seems to be the case.
Few will become believers after reading the book - but it's an interesting idea and we should continue to bear it in mind.
The essence of that synthesis is that life, mind and the fate of the cosmos are intimately and indissolubly linked in a very special way. To echo the insightful phrase of Princeton astrophysicist Freeman Dyson, it is my contention that "mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension."
The answer to this question has usually been framed in one of two anthropic principles. The weak version states the tautology that that since humans inhabit this universe, it must be life-friendly. The strong version suggests that life and intelligence will eventually be shown to by inherent in the laws of nature.
But whereas the strong principle usually ends up floundering on the implication of a theistic creator, Gardner proposes a naturalistic solution:
The basic claim of this book is that the oddly life-friendly character of the fundamental physical laws and constants that prevail in our universe can be explained as the predictable outcome of natural processes--specifically the evolution of life and intelligence of tens of billions of years.
The way this evolution takes place forms the essence of his Selfish Biocosm hypothesis--that the cosmos replicates itself and propagates itself in successive universes leading to universes that are bio-friendly.
To develop his hypothesis, Gardner draws not just on cosmology, but on evolutionary biology, computer theory and complexity theory. He does this in a thorough but extraordinarily clear manner. Though he has published his theory in scholarly journals, this book form is done in a rich format of beautiful pictures, an excellent glossary and explanatory sidebars on various related topics which are almost a book in themselves . Perhaps the clarity of the writing is due to the fact that besides his scientific interests and writings, Gardner is an attorney, a former state legislator and a lobbyist.
The book can be seen as a response to the famous statement by the physicist Steven Weinberg that "the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless":
In the final chapter, Gardner moves from scientific theory and considers the practical implications of the theory, including the ethical, legal and religious aspects. He concludes with Freeman Dyson's idea that a sufficiently evolved mind is indistinguishable from the mind of God.
The Selfish Biocosm hypothesis takes Dyson's assertion of equivalence one step further by suggesting that there is a discernible and comprehensible evolutionary ladder by means of which mortal minds will one day ascend into the intellectual stratosphere that will be the domain of superminds--what Dyson would call the realm of God.
By broadening our vision of the larger process, it provides a naturalistic and scientific basis for the search for meaning and for other "Big Questions" of our past and our future.
It doesn't try to deal with the infinite regression conundrum, nor does it try to delve into the details of abiogenesis/chemosynthesis, etc. It doesn't ever go down into that level of biological detail. it stays at the 50,000 foot perspective. Gardner isn't preaching religion here. He is being a scientist by asking "what if?" without caring that whole groups of people will criticize him for even pondering such possibilities.