The Unfinished Universe

As is often customary, this book’s dustjacket blurb makes some extravagant claims about the book’s contents. The prospective purchaser is informed that the author has replaced “the concept of a universe spawned by chance alone” with one in which “order is increasing.” The blurb goes on to point out that the author “confronts ... the dichotomy of free will and determinism, the presence of evil in a purposeful and ordered universe, the meaning of consciousness, and the role of the individual and society.” If a book could deliver all that this blurb describes, it would be well worth the purchase price. “Confronts,” however, is not the same as “resolves.” So before buying this purported universal answer book, consider the fact that the book is based heavily on the Gaia hypothesis--the notion that all life on Earth is symbiotically linked with itself and with the environment in such a way as to maintain the conditions necessary for its continued survival.

In the book, the author takes some swipes at most physicists’ interpretation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which implies that order in the universe is decreasing as time progresses. In the author’s own words, “The trend postulated by the Second Law is the exact opposite of the one proposed in this book.” Her main thesis is that “All organisms, both living and nonliving, act in ways that increase Form in space and time.” She also alleges that “the dogma of a universe running downhill is blocking the development of more positive views of the physical world.” She is suggesting here that the standard laws held by most physicists are rigid and outdated.

Its shortcomings aside, this book does contain some wonderfully evocative passages of lyric prose that extol the beauty and diversity of life on our jewel of a planet. Contrary to the author’s claim, however, the growth of order in living things does not necessarily result in a net increase or order in the universe as a whole.