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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded

Discussion and news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology

The Copernicus Complex: A Primer

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In a month's time, the end result of two-and-a-half years of research, thinking, writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, editing, mulling, puzzling, coffee-drinking, beer-swilling, swearing, and tweaking will hit the shelves in the form of my new book The Copernicus Complex. In the coming weeks I'll be writing some special pieces here at Life, Unbounded, exploring some of what I learned, and expanding on some of the scientific tales in the book. This month's print edition of Sci Am is also carrying an excerpt from the book - but that's just a taster, without too many punchlines (sorry, frustrated commentators).

So what's it all about? At the simplest level it's about the quest to find out whether there's other life in the universe. But what I discovered during the past two years is that there's nothing simple about that quest at all (I know, but I am a simple soul). Not only did I have to dig into the science of stars, planets, nebulae, cosmology, atoms, molecules, non-linear dynamics, gravitation, geophysics, molecular biology, microbiology, genetics, evolution, space travel, microscopy, probability, statistics, paleoclimate, and chemistry, I also realized that I had to tackle the problems of mathematical bias, inference, and viewpoint that bedevil efforts to generalize what we know about the nature of existence.

As someone more akin to the dressing-gown-wearing, tea-sipping, befuddled Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, than to its pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent beings, it was therapeutic and helpful to construct the following tasteful infographic (click to expand) to explain what the heck I was doing all this time. I thought I would share it here.

For use in case of existential confusion.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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