The Origin of (almost) Everything: A book review by Bob Morris

The Origin of (almost) Everything
Graham Lawton and his colleagues at New Scientist
Nicholas Brealey (October 2018)

Once upon a time…give or take a few million years

As I began to read this book, I asked myself “Why hasn’t someone written this book  before now?” If someone has, please let me know. Credit Graham Lawton and his colleagues at New Scientist with creating a book that offers “a compilation modern origin stories as revealed by science, that brings together the important, interesting and unexpected.” These stories are organized within six categories: The Universe, Our Planet, Life, Civilisation, Knowledge, and Inventions.

As Stephen Hawking explains in the Introduction, “The universe started off in the Big Bang and expanded quickly. This is called “inflation” and it was extremely rapid: the universe doubled in size many times in a fraction of a second.” That’s quite a bit of history to examine.

These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me, also listed to suggest the scope of coverage of modern origin stories:

o Big Bang (Pages 13-17)
o Stars and galaxies (18-22)
o Black holes (38-42)
o Oceans (57-61)
o Carbon dioxide (72-76)

o Bacteria and antibiotics (90-94)
o Dinosaurs (105-109)
o Evolution of humans (120-124)
o Money (148-152)
o Domesticated animals (163-167)

o Alcohol (173-177)
o Music (188-192)
o Toilet paper (193-196)
o Arithmetic (206-1210)
o Timekeeping (216-220)

o Wheels (239-243)
o Aeroplanes (249-253)
o Typewriters (254-258)
o X-rays (264-268)
o  Rocket science (289-293)

Obviously, there were few eyewitnesses to major historical developments to interview so Lawton and his colleagues heavily depended on what science reveals with regard to what happened when and where…also why. For  example,  “Around 13.8 billion years ago matter, energy, time and space spontaneously sprang from nothing in the event we know as the Big Bang. How did that happen? Or to put it another way: What is the origin of everything? This is the quintessential origin mystery.” The exact day and date have not as yet been pinned down but we now know a great deal that sheds light on that origin mystery and hundreds of others.

Consider also this question: “When did we start worshipping gods?” Again, no specific day and date have as yet been determined. That said, there is an archaeological site in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey — Göbekli Tepe — that was discovered in the 1990s. Science suggests that it is a more likely candidate than others such as the Levant “about 8,300 years ago,” an area where Syria is now. The people who lived there “had the full package of Neolithic technologies: agriculture, domesticated animals, pottery, and settled villages.” As indicated on Pages 168-172, however, “recent genetic work pinpoints the origin of domestic wheat [and with it the origin of what became religions] to a spot very close to Göbekli Tepe.”

Graham Lawton and his colleagues at New Science duly acknowledge, “In the end, we had far too much material to squeeze into a single book…Maybe one day I will write The Origin of (almost) Everything Else.” Let’s all hope so.

 

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