Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John Gribbin's "Alone in the Universe"

John Gribbin is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse, In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[The Solar System seems to be a rather] orderly place, with a neat arrangement of planets in tidy circular orbits... Did it have to turn out that way? Probably not, but the fact that it did is one of the reasons why we are here to ask such questions.
This strikes to the very heart of the argument put forward in my book, so Ford Madox Ford hit the nail on the head this time. The tidiness of the Solar System is just one of many unusual features about the Earth and the surrounding environment in space which I believe make our planet special -- perhaps uniquely special -- in terms of its suitability as a place in which a technological civilization could arise.

My contention is that life is common in the Galaxy, but our kind of intelligent life is rare. This is deliberately intended as a counterpoint to the excitement generated by the recent discovery of “other Earths”. “Other Earths” may be like our planet physically, and they may even have life (life based for reasons I explain in the book, on some variation on the DNA theme). But “little green men” with radio telescopes looking our way? I think not.

This matters, because it makes our home in space special, If we are the only -- or the most advanced -- civilization in our Galaxy, we have a special, and awesome, responsibility to take care of our planet and stop squabbling amongst ourselves. The Galaxy is there for us to explore, and perhaps even colonise, if we have the will to do so.
Learn more about Alone in the Universe and the author at John Gribbin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue