The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities

Caleb Scharf. FSG/Scientific American, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-3741-2921-7
Humans, says astrophysicist Scharf (Gravity’s Engines), are torn between two philosophical extremes: either we—ourselves and our planet—are unique and rare or we are simply “as dull as they come,” our existence nothing special at all in a universe dripping with exo-planets and stars. Both points of view influence the way we search for intelligent life in the universe. Scharf says the trouble began with Copernicus’s heliocentric system and was strengthened by Newton’s theory of gravity and Einstein’s relativity—they all reinforced the idea of a homogenous universe with other stars and solar systems much like our own. But more recently proponents of the “anthropic principle” itemized the scientific “coincidences” needed for intelligent life to evolve, and, suddenly, humanity began to sound special again. Scharf recommends looking for “Earth-equivalent”—rather than “Earth-like”—worlds with the most basic features required to support life. Humans also need to understand that each world can, and probably will, change radically over time. Scharf covers a lot of ground, and his entertaining, accessible approach offers valuable insight not just into science, but also into the way our assumptions can make a difficult task, like finding life in the universe, even harder. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary Assoc. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/16/2014
Release date: 09/09/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-374-70946-4
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-374-53557-5
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4272-5197-8
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