by John Hands, author of Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe
After my wife died of cancer I began to ask myself: What are we? Where do we come from? Why do we exist?
These are questions that humans have been asking for at least 25,000 years. During all of that time we have sought answers from the supernatural. About 3,000 years ago, however, we began to seek answers through philosophical reasoning and insight. Then, around 150 years ago, we began to seek answers through science: through systematic, preferably measurable, observation or experiment.
As a science graduate and former Open University tutor in physics, I wanted to find out what answers science currently gives. But I couldn’t find any book that did so. There were two reasons for this.
First, the exponential increase in empirical data generated by rapid developments in technology has resulted in the branching of science into increasingly narrow, specialized fields. I wanted to step back from the focus of one leaf on one branch and see what the whole tree shows us how we evolved from the origin of the universe.
Second, most science books advocate a particular theory, and often present it as fact. But scientific explanations change as new data is obtained and new thinking develops.
And so I decided to write the book that hadn’t been written: an impartial evaluation, as far as possible, of the current theories. Part 1 would consider the scientific explanations of the emergence and evolution of the matter and energy of which we ultimately consist. Part 2 would do the same for the emergence and evolution of life, because we are living matter. Part 3 would cover the emergence and evolution of humans. Part 4 would see if there are any consistent patterns in the empirical evidence from which to obtain fundamental answers.
When my friends wanted to be supportive, they said, John, that’s ambitious. When they wanted to be realistic, they said, John, it’s mad. In my saner moments I agreed with the latter.
The book took more than 10 years to research and write. I needed to examine findings in specialized scientific disciplines from cosmology through biology to neuroscience. I asked experts in each specialty to check my draft results for errors of fact or omission or unreasonable conclusions. 60 such experts, including Paul Steinhardt, Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, and Tim Crane, Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, did so.
The answers I reached surprised me.