January 9th, 2006


Another book ...

At The Heart of the Web(sigh) ... I had really hoped that this book was going to be better than it ended up being. Not, mind you, that it was bad or a dull read, or difficult, or anything like that, it's just that for me it was pretty much re-packaging a lot of stuff that I'd read before in other contexts. Now, admittedly, I have read a lot of books over the years in the general ballpark of At the Heart of the Web: The Inevitable Genesis of Intelligent Life, so I shouldn't expect great revelations (especially in a book that came out 16 years ago), but I was hoping that the author, George A. Seielstad, would take it beyond the "usual suspects" of cosmological and biological niches. Frankly, he does tease the reader with the concept that Man is evolving in his particular technological manner in order to be able to take "Gaian life" beyond the bounds of the Mother planet ... but he never quite gets there.

If you want a book that firmly puts Man in context of the greater cosmos, At the Heart of the Web is a good one for providing all the various charts and graphs, showing various levels of being, natures of stars, size and lifespan of creatures, etc.. etc., etc. ... while providing all the details of the Anthropic stance ... how things are "just so" from the microcosmic forces to the expansion factors of the Universe in general. He does have nuggets of info that I'd previously not been aware (there were some "Johnny Carson" moments where I was thinking "I did not know that!") like if the Earth somehow managed to collapse down to a black hole it would have an event horizon that would be about 1/3 of an inch across, and that it appears that the Universe "prefers" to have an ever-reducing number of super-massive black holes, and that the mathematics of ultra-super-massive black holes end up with them eventually exploding, and that the math for a black hole that had the entire mass of the known Universe exploding would be virtually identical with the math involved in the Big Bang (i.e., the concept of the "recycling Universe").

In some aspects this is a very "green" book, firmly rooted in the "Gaian hypothesis" of the Earth being one "superorganism" of inter-related parts, of which Humanity is sort of the "fruiting body", ready to move out into space. However, it is sort of difficult to see where the author "is coming from" in those areas, as most of the time when he's meandering over into that area, it's in the form of charts and graphs and not polemics (well, right up to the last chapter, which I had hoped was going to point to space, but instead got tut-tutty over Human, and especially Western/developed nations' stewardship of planetary resources).

If nothing else, At the Heart of the Web gives background for why there is an "anthropic principle", showing how intelligent life (like that of Man) is likely a necessary development of a Universe of the sort we find ourselves in. As noted above, this is certainly an interesting look at the various macro- and micro-cosmic aspects to this (and the book is quite extensively illustrated, with everything from side-by-side deep space pics showing a supernova's explosion to a busted chair illustrating increasing entropy!), but I just wish the author had taken it a bit further down various speculative paths.

As is often the case for these books off my long-ignored "to be read" shelves, this can be had for quite little over at Amazon ... with "like new" used copies going for under a buck. Quite the deal if you'd be interested in checking this out!

Visit the BTRIPP home page!