Reviewed by Ian Lipke
I have not had the pleasure of reading any of Roy Gould’s work before Universe in Creation and I will have to take steps to rectify that situation. Gould writes the deepest scientific thoughts with the ease of a skilled raconteur. He is never boring, always interesting, seemingly unconcerned or unaware that he is overturning ideas that have come out of sound research and have been accepted by the scientific community.
Gould’s opening remarks are along the lines that scientists don’t normally treat nature as though it were a character in a novel but it might be time to think that way. Our knowledge of the universe is staggering – we know about its origins and infancy, its growth, and even its relationship to life – so we should be mature enough to delve into the implications of a universe that is constantly creating itself and moving forward. How many of us have realized that most of space was created after life had already arisen on earth and that the majority of energy in the universe was created long after the Big Bang? Preconceptions at this point are receiving a battering but Gould goes on unperturbed to suggest we should widen our research methodology to find out not just how the universe works in its minute details but what the universe is trying to do.
The point here is that the universe has a plan, and that plan is the infrastructure with which the universe was born. Infrastructure as used here means a building plan in which chance and uncertainty are built in, and Gould goes on to clarify what the plan is and what its consequences happen to be. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea that “the universe has a plan, that it is going somewhere, trying to accomplish something as it unfolds” (5). I’m pleased to discover that I was not alone. The idea that the universe is the sum of everything there is, turns out to be an inaccurate depiction. As an entity the universe can create new space, bring new energy into existence, travel faster than the speed of light, expand inward not outward, and has the startling property of being neither animate nor inanimate.
Most scientists, in my limited experience, view life as “a kind of epiphenomenon, like a guest who showed up for dinner but wasn’t invited” (8). Gould examines all the explanations for the evolving of life but claims that the available evidence suggests that the universe may well be set up to guarantee the emergence of intelligent life. Note the key words ‘the evidence suggests’ leading Gould to clarify that “ we cannot prove that life follows inevitably from the building plan” (12), but we can examine the evidence and make decisions on what we see. “Nature has arranged that, in this immense universe, at this particular time in cosmic history, each of us, no matter how tiny we are, can roam the universe with our gaze and our minds” (36).
Among the giants of cosmological research the names Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Bernhard Riemann, Alfred Einstein and Caroline of Ansbach have their place. Princess Caroline, later wife to King George II of England, had studied with Leibniz and realized the incompatibility of Leibniz’s and Newton’s views. She initiated a debate that raged for many months but out of which came Leibniz’s view that space and time are both purely relative. Later Riemann was to show the truth of Leibniz’s assertion by developing the geometry of possible worlds i.e. worlds of the mind, in which length comes to depend on location. It took Einstein to show that Riemann’s ideas actually held in the context of space.
Gould’s book is filled to overflowing with fascinating, imaginative detail of the sort you have just been reading. That is safe science, science that is nowhere near enough to satisfy a mind as voracious as that of Roy Gould. Nor is safe science enough to invoke the sense of wonder that is around us. Gould is an addictive writer when it comes to enthusiasm and provocation. Order created out of disorder, “purposefulness without purpose” (as Roald Hoffmann declared).
According to Gould we can see how space, stars, and planets all arise from the machinery of the universe. We can dissect every life-form right down to the molecular level and yet, life itself “remains bookended by two of the greatest puzzles: at one end, how life originated, and at the other end, how it is possible for mere molecules to assemble themselves to be aware, sensate, and conscious” (125). Of course Gould examines these puzzles to get a sense of the challenges that life had to face and to see how life innovated. He raises the question that perhaps with the emergence of intelligence and creativity, nature has created a brand new force, that perhaps our species has started to edge out nature “as though we had taken over the mantle of creation – and destruction as well” (138).
No matter how long and detailed a review may become it can never do justice to Roy Gould’s views. They are fascinating in subject matter and riveting in narrative style. And they keep on coming. I recommend this book very highly. It is cosmology at its most intricate and explanation at its simplest. A wonderful book.
Universe in Creation: a new understanding of the Big Bang and the emergence of life
By Roy R. Gould
Harvard University Press
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