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Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0471179361, Hardcover)Are we alone, literally freaks of nature, just one planet of living, breathing things amidst a seemingly infinite, lifeless desert? This is one of the big questions posed by human nature, one that we have traditionally looked to religion to answer, but that is now coming within the grasp of science. Despite--or perhaps because--of this, we find increasing opposition to allocating resources to space exploration. Biochemist Robert Shapiro is an unabashed supporter of this research, and his book Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth is both a compelling response to the stay-at-homes and a pleasantly readable overview of what we know and don't know about the origin of life here and elsewhere.
Contrasting those who believe in special creation or a cosmic fluke that produced life only once with adherents to a life principle that favors its development wherever conditions suffice, Shapiro suggests that the best way to resolve the issue is simple: let's go looking. He feels that the importance of this question to most people has been underrated by those who (nobly) want to meet our basic needs here on earth before we take off for new worlds, and that we can accommodate everyone by shifting burdens of research funding and reinspiring the public with a new emphasis on this work as a search for meaning. Whether or not his ideas will move us forward, the lively, thoughtful Planetary Dreams is one of the best starting points for learning about the search for the origins of life here and, maybe, out there. --Rob Lightner
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:50 -0400)
In Planetary Dreams, Robert Shapiro explores the history of dreams and debates in search of the best current answers to the most elusive and compelling of all questions: Are we alone? In his pursuit, he presents three contrasting views regarding how life might have started: through Divine Creation, by a highly unlikely stroke of luck, or by the inevitable process of a natural law that he terms the Life Principle. We are treated to a lively fictional dinner debate among the leading proponents of these schools of thought - with the last named group arguing that life has almost surely formed in many places throughout the universe, and the others that life may well be entirely unique to our own blue planet.Shapiro reviews the competing theories about the start of life on Earth, and suggests the debate may best be settled by finding signs of life on the other worlds of our solar system. He takes us on a guided tour of the most likely sites, from the underground hot springs of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's airless moons. Along the way, he shares a wealth of fascinating stories about the ways in which our views of the heavens have changed, from the theories of ancient philosophers, who argued that the Moon was inhabited, to the current Origins and Astrobiology initiatives of NASA. He describes the probes that will be sent out in the near future in pursuit of the first compelling physical evidence of life beyond Earth, and concludes with a radical suggestion about how this quest might be supported through the next millennium.
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