In the Beginning: The Birth of the Living Universe - John Gribbin

In the Beginning: Birth of the Living Universe (Penguin science) - John R. Gribbin
Is our Universe alive, and has it evolved by natural selection?


That's the question John Gribbin seeks to answer in In the Beginning, presenting the case that the Universe is literally alive and has literally evolved in the Darwinian sense. I should mention at this juncture that Gribbin is a serious, well-respected science writer. This is not, ostensibly, the kind of book you might find in the "Mind, Body and Soul" section of your local bookshop.

And it does contain genuine, well-proven science. Gribbin uses, among other things, phenomena like the redshift, the uncertainty principle and black holes to support his conclusions, explaining them in a cogent and readable fashion (even if he does leap lightly over some of the more tricky concepts in an "it's just like that, OK?" manner). And - this is a big bonus - there is no maths. Well, apart from the well-known equation E=mc2, but I can deal with that.

But. In the first place, there's not much here that I didn't already know. There were, admittedly, a couple of interesting things - the explanation for the spiral shape of the Milky Way being my favourite - but mostly it's stuff I've already read. This is probably more down to the fact that In the Beginning is older than I am, which never bodes well for science. There have been significant developments since 1993, and nothing I've ever read deals with the concept of the Universe as alive.

The main problem with this book, though, is that Gribbin just doesn't convince me. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the Universe as alive. But Gribbin never really explains how the selection of universes might work. What are the selection pressures? What do the universes compete for? These questions seem to be ignored or, worse, fudged. Gribbin asserts his position in very strong terms - "undoubtedly" is a word that is used a lot - but never gives any concrete explanation for why it is undoubtable.