Oxford University Press
January 4, 1990
How does order emerge from chaos? How can we account for the permanence, stability, and orderliness of subatomic particles, atoms, crystals? How did the complex structure of the astronomical universe come into being? What is the origin of biological organization, from DNA to human consciousness? And what philosophical problems do the answers to these questions pose?
In Cosmogenesis: The Growth of Order in the Universe, eminent Harvard astrophysicist David Layzer takes readers on a sweeping tour of modern science – from spiral nebulae to neuromodulators, and from the origins of the universe to the evolution of the human mind – and probes the philosophical implications of contemporary physics, astronomy, and biology. He provides an extremely lucid capsule history of the development of quantum physics, reveals how the expansion of the universe gives rise to two different kinds of order (chemical and structural order), and examines the modern biological understanding of life. But Layzer’s prime concern is with philosophical issues, most notably, whether the scientist’s conviction that events in the external world are governed by universal physical laws can be reconciled with the humanist’s conviction that each of us is free in important ways to shape his or her own life. (He concludes that these convictions can be reconciled and that the future is as open as our intuition tells us it is.) Along the way, Layzer offers many provocative new slants on unfamiliar scientific theories. For instance, he challenges the standard interpretation of the beginning of the universe, arguing that the early universe began not as a fireball, but in a state at or close to absolute zero.
Whether providing the physical explanation for why sour musical notes jar, speculating about the origin of consciousness, or charting the connections between quantum physics and cosmology, Cosmogenesis continually surprises, challenges, and stimulates. It will appeal to anyone fascinated by the philosophical implications of science or just curious about the world around us.
David Layzer is the Donald H. Menzel Professor of Astrophysics at Harvard University. He is the author of Constructing the Universe.