Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Weird Life by David Toomey

Books are fascinating windows into people. Take Weird Life, for example. The author is interested in the biology and physics, and in presenting a bunch of ideas, not tearing them down. On the Myers-Briggs J vs. P metric this book is clearly a Perceiving "P" not a Judging "J."  This has an important place in the ecosystem of scientific information, and it was a very entertaining book in its sheer diversity of ideas.

In this book, David Toomey describes all forms of life in the weirdest settings possible. He essentially starts with the tube worms at hydrothermal vents, which seem as weird as it gets, but wait, it gets weirder from there. At the same time, the book ventures out away from biology and toward physics, when usually you start with the physics. It becomes more and more speculative and (to this biochemist) less and less relevant as it goes on. Toomey deserves a lot of credit for describing some weird physics very well, like certain aspects of multiverse theory, better than any other book I've read. The biochemistry, on the other hand, is something I'd want much more of, but is not part of this book, reasonably so. Pretty much, this book starts with fascinating biological observations and then jumps to multiverse physics without much of the chemistry inbetween, at least at the level I would like. So I am happy to provide the chemist's perspective on this some day, I'm sure!

Weird Life does a nice job of cataloguing the biology and physics. I think I could be a lot more critical of some of the weird ideas here, and I found a few inaccuracies, but that's not really the point of a book like this. This book is a list of possibilities, and who knows, maybe some of them work. I hold out more hope for the first half of the book "working" than the second half, which gets into infinity paradoxes that, as a chemist, I think are closer to sophistry than to convincing arguments. But that's just one chapter at the end. This book is worth a read just for the discussion of Titan, that too is done better than any other treatment I've seen. Makes me want to go there, right now, where's the bus?

This was a fun book and enjoyable. Let's hope there's more material for another Weird Life book in a decade or two.

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