George Greenstein, professor of astronomy at Amherst College, believes we are faced with a mystery, and one of immense significance. In his fascinating new book, The Symbiotic Universe, he argues that our existence, and indeed that of every other form of life, is an utterly astonishing thing. The deeper one looks, the more surprising it becomes that life ever arose in the cosmos. For in fact our existence depends on a network of unlikely circumstances, a remarkable series of coincidences. That they occurred at all is testimony that ours is fundamentally a universe of life. In looking for an explanation, Professor Greenstein begins with an insight suggested by the theory of quantum mechanics. He proposes that in the fitness of the cosmos for life, we are witnessing the effects of a gigantic symbiosis – a symbiosis between the physical universe on the one hand and life on the other. Between these two there is a union, a great metaphysical dance by which each supports the other. How did it come to pass that against all odds the cosmos succeeded in bringing forth life? It had to – in order to exist.
George Greenstein received his B.S. from Stanford University in 1962 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1968, both in physics. Toward the end of his career as a graduate student, he became attracted to astronomy and astrophysics. His Ph.D. thesis was in cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole, and it dealt with the first ten minutes of the cosmos. In his postdoctoral work at Yeshiva and Princeton universities, he began to study the physics of neutron stars and pulsars, the field that has engaged him ever since. He went to Amherst College in 1971, where he is currently professor of astronomy.