Life's Solution
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Life's Solution : Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe

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Description

The assassin's bullet misses, the Archduke's carriage moves forward, and a catastrophic war is avoided. So too with the history of life. Re-run the tape of life, as Stephen J. Gould claimed, and the outcome must be entirely different: an alien world, without humans and maybe not even intelligence. The history of life is littered with accidents: any twist or turn may lead to a completely different world. Now this view is being challenged. Simon Conway Morris explores the evidence demonstrating life's almost eerie ability to navigate to a single solution, repeatedly. Eyes, brains, tools, even culture: all are very much on the cards. So if these are all evolutionary inevitabilities, where are our counterparts across the galaxy? The tape of life can only run on a suitable planet, and it seems that such Earth-like planets may be much rarer than hoped. Inevitable humans, yes, but in a lonely Universe.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 488 pages
  • 152 x 224 x 34mm | 780.19g
  • CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 50 b/w illus.
  • 0521603250
  • 9780521603256
  • 271,874

Review quote

'Life's Solution is an absorbing presentation written to challenge and inform the mind of the reader. Life's Solution is a superb contribution to both Contemporary Philosophy Studies academic reference collections and University level and Evolutionary Biology reading lists.' Library Bookwatch 'Life's Solution builds a forceful case for the predictability of evolutionary outcomes, their broad phenotypic manifestations. The case rests on a remarkable compilation of examples of convergent evolution, in which two or more lineages have independently evolved similar structures and functions. The examples range from the aerodynamics of hovering moths and hummingbirds to the use of silk by spiders and some insects to capture prey ... I recommend the book to anyone grappling with the meaning of evolution and our place in the Universe, and to biologists interested in adaptation and constraints.' Nature 'Simon Conway Morris's bold new book, Life's Solution, challenges this Darwinian orthodoxy by extending ideas he presented in his Crucible of Creation ... Conway Morris presents scores of fascinating examples that are less familiar. The lesson is clear. The living world is peppered with recurrent themes; it is not an accumulation of unique events.' New York Times Book Review 'Are human beings the insignificant products of countless quirky biological accidents, or the expected result of evolutionary patterns deeply embedded in the structure of natural selection? Drawing upon diverse biological evidence, Conway Morris convincingly argues that the general features of our bodies and minds are indeed written into the laws of the universe. This is a truly inspiring book, and a welcome antidote to the bleak nihilism of the ultra-Darwinists.' Paul Davies, author of Mind of God '... full of important information and insights ...'. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution '... this lively and well-researched book contains an impressive breadth of detail on subjects ranging from the nature of the early universe and the formation of stars and planets to the biological details of life. Scientists and the scientifically interested will find its arguments intelligent and thought provoking.' The Times Higher Education Supplement 'It is a fascinating tale, ranging across the entire field of living organisms ... he marshals an impressive and extremely wide-ranging array of arguments to support his case, from the microstructure of proteins and DNA at one end, to the large-scale processes in stars and galaxies at the other ... This is a fascinating book covering a huge range of evidence. Biologist or not, I recommend it. After all, we are all human and the question of our origins has to be one of the more import in the world. There is much here to stimulate those famously large brains with which humans are endowed.' Journal of the Geological Magazine 'This is a hugely important work of science ... for anyone with any interest in religion, for or against, it has immense implications ... It is exciting stuff ... The wealth of ideas in his book is intoxicating ... You must read it for yourself.' New Directions '... one of the most controversial volumes written about evolution in recent years by a respected biologist ... Skilfully written, Life's Solution is certainly an entertaining read. There is much to admire about Conway Morris's scholarship ...'. Heredity '...biologically fascinating and overwhelming.' Scientific & Medical Network 'The book itself is well set out introducing the reader to each example of evolutionary convergence with a thoughtful approach that carries them along without becoming to confused in detail but rather allows them to see the greater theme the author wishes to convey, with each chapter building on the preceding ones. For each chapter there are copious footnotes to which a reader may refer at the end of the book with a comprehensive index beyond this as well.' The Open University Geological Society Journal '... throughout the book, Conway Morris's writing is lucid ...'. Palaeontological Newsletter '... he brings an awkward problem into the light with a masterly argument for the inevitable existence of humans ... read twice.' New Scientistshow more

Table of contents

The Cambridge Sandwich; 1. Looking for Easter Island; 2. Can we break the great code?; 3. Universal Goo: life as a cosmic principle?; 4. The origin of life: straining the soup or our credulity?; 5. Uniquely lucky? The strangeness of Earth; 6. Converging on the extreme; 7. Seeing convergence; 8. Alien convergences?; 9. The non-prevalence of humanoids?; 10. Evolution bound: the ubiquity of convergence; 11. Towards a theology of evolution; 12. Last word.show more

About Simon Conway Morris

Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge, he is also the author of The Crucible of Creation (1998).show more

Our customer reviews

The book suffers from inconsistent expectations about the background of the readers. It is ostensibly targeted to the general reader but the long lists of examples (reminiscent of Darwin's Origin of Species) have insufficient information to understand why the convergence is unexpected and also become tedious. While weight of evidence is a reasonable approach, fewer examples with more detail about each would be more readable and the weight of similar examples could simply be referenced in an appendix for interested readers to pursue. Nevertheless, the presentation of evolutionary convergence is persuasive as an alternative to the more mainstream 'anything goes' potential evolutionary paths. In contrast, the broader argument that the conditions that enabled life to develop on Earth are extremely unlikely and possibly unique is unconvincing. While there are brief religious overtones that arise from this claim, they are presented more as a counter to Richard Dawkin's acerbic claims than as a genuine argument for God's existence.show more
by Jennifer Badham
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