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In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus dared to go against the establishment by proposing that Earth rotates around the Sun. Having demoted Earth from its unique position in the cosmos to one of mediocrity, Copernicus set in motion a revolution in scientific thought. This perspective has influenced our thinking for centuries. However, recent evidence challenges the Copernican Principle, hinting that we do in fact live in a special place, at a special time, as the product of a chain of unlikely events. But can we be significant if the Sun is still just one of a billion trillion stars in the observable universe? And what if our universe is just one of a multitude of others - a single slice of an infinity of parallel realities? In The Copernicus Complex, the renowned astrophysicist Caleb Scharf takes us on a scientific adventure, from tiny microbes within the Earth to distant exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond, arguing that there is a solution to this contradiction, a third way of viewing our place in the cosmos, if we weigh the evidence properly. As Scharf explains, we do occupy an unusual time in a 14-billion-year-old universe, in a somewhat unusual type of solar system surrounded by an ocean of unimaginable planetary diversity: hot Jupiters with orbits of less than a day, planet-size rocks spinning around dead stars, and a wealth of alien super-Earths. Yet life here is built from the most common chemistry in the universe, and we are a snapshot taken from billions of years of biological evolution.
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By Gary on 09-24-14
We're special but are we significant?
How special are we? We no longer consider ourselves the center of the universe, but we are in a fortuitous place and time for understanding our place in the universe, and complex life can exist at the nexus of order and chaos at least we have one data point.
Most of the current thought about our place in the universe rest on false premises and incorrect conclusions. This book gently takes the listener through the step by step process necessary in order to think about the problem in the most correct way. We generally make two kinds of a error in thinking about the problem 'a priori' and 'a posteriori' errors, before the fact and after the fact. (Did you know that most biographies on Thomas Bayes start off with the statement "he was probably born in 1701", funny stuff and this book will tell you why that kind of thinking is needed to understand our place in the universe).
There our subtle faults in most fine tuning arguments and purely probabilistic arguments for calculating life such as the Drake's Equation (though, I don't think the author used the eponymous equation by name). The author looks at both the telescopic and microscopic data we have, and for example delves into the Prokaryotic (simple single cell) merging into a Eukarotic (complicated single cell, the building block of complex life) and how unusual such an event really is.
This book is full of cool ways of thinking about the problem. I did not realize how unstable our solar system is and how our current epoch or order within our solar system will almost for sure not last for more than 10 million years or so. The planets orbits aren't stable and the three body problem's solution is always robust (sensitive to initial conditions). The architecture we have to observe leads to how we understand, and the better our tools the better are data becomes.
The author is just a good science writer. His books should be read by a larger audience, because he really does explain science that well. The author doesn't answer the question whether or not we are the only complex life in the universe, but he teaches the listener how to think about the problem so as not to make the common errors in thought while thinking about the problem.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful