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The Copernicus Complex: The Quest for Our Cosmic (In)Significance [Kindle Edition]

Caleb Scharf
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Though the concept of "the universe" suggests the containment of everything, the latest ideas in cosmology hint that our universe may be just one of a multitude of others-a single slice of an infinity of parallel realities.



In The Copernicus Complex, the renowned astrophysicist and author Caleb Scharf takes us on a cosmic adventure like no other, from tiny microbes within the Earth to distant exoplanets and beyond, asserting that the age-old Copernican principle is in need of updating. As Scharf argues, when Copernicus proposed that the Earth was not the fixed point at the center of the known universe (and therefore we are not unique), he set in motion a colossal scientific juggernaut, forever changing our vision of nature. But the principle has never been entirely true-we do live at a particular time, in a particular location, under particular circumstances. To solve this conundrum we must put aside our Copernican worldview and embrace the possibility that we are in a delicate balance between mediocrity and significance, order and chaos.



Weaving together cutting-edge science and classic storytelling, historical accounts and speculations on what the future holds, The Copernicus Complex presents a compelling argument for what our true cosmic status is, and proposes a way forward for the ultimate quest: to determine life's abundance not just across this universe but across all realities.


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Review

The Copernicus Complex delivers its argument with comparable clarity, insight and humour. There is much to enjoy along the way, including a compelling account of the extraordinary diversity of planetary systems we now know to exist (Telegraph)

The Copernicus Complex addresses a perennial mystery: the cosmic significance (or perhaps the insignificance) of life on Earth. Caleb Scharf summarizes current debates on how life began and how pervasive it is, explaining how our perspective has been changed by the recent discovery that there are millions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way. He sets his theme in a historical context, writing in an engaging and accessible style (Sir Martin Rees, author of Just Six Numbers and From Here to Infinity)

A tantalising approach to the mysteries of the universe (Peter Forbes Independent)

[A] witty, adroitly marshalled treatise on human significance (Robin McKie Observer)

An intoxicating collection of questions answered with other questions, and startling discoveries that make creation even more mysterious . . . Books such as these remind us that we are lucky to be here at all, and even luckier to be here now (Guardian)

How reasonable is it to think that we are alone in the vast expanses of space? And how significant is life on Earth on the Universal (or multiversal) scale? These are the questions that astrobiologist Caleb Scharf addresses intelli¬gently and comprehensively in his beautifully written The Copernicus Complex (Nature)

Sweeping in reach and lucid in exposition, The Copernicus Complex raises profound questions and offers provocative insights on our ongoing quest for life's cosmic context (Ray Jayawardhana, astrophysicist and author of Neutrino Hunters and Strange New Worlds)

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 (Publishers Weekly)

This lyrical tale describes how we have opened our minds to appreciate our cosmic insignificance as we explore the true wonder of the cosmos, including the fascinating question of whether we are alone in the Universe. Caleb Scharf highlights the newly discovered possibilities for housing life in the cosmos, but-just as important-the new ways we might find out if it is out there. This voyage of discovery demonstrates that scientific progress requires us to transcend the often myopic intuition that evolution has saddled us with, and let nature be our guide (Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, bestselling author of A Universe from Nothing and The Physics of Star Trek)

[The Copernicus Complex] is an engaging book that covers a lot of scientific ground . . . Scharf handles complex concepts gracefully (Times Higher Education Supplement)

About the Author

Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's Astrobiology Center and the author of Gravity's Engines. He has written for New Scientist, Science and Nature, and appeared on BBC's Horizon. He received his PhD from Cambridge University, and now lives in New York City.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 747 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (4 Sept. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ISOYAS8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #249,837 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Dr. Caleb A. Scharf is Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, and has an international reputation as a research astrophysicist, and as a lecturer to college and public audiences. The UK's Guardian newspaper has listed his blog Life, Unbounded, as one of their "hottest science blogs," while an editor at Seed Magazine called it "phenomenal. Informed, fresh, and thoughtful." Scharf is author and co-author of more than 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. His work has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, Scientific American, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today, and National Geographic, as well as online at sites like Space.com and Physorg.com. His textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, Extrasolar Planets and Astrobiology, has been called "the gold standard" for the field. His articles and reviews have appeared in such prestigious publications as Science, Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Dr. Scharf is a regular keynote speaker at academic meetings, such as for the American Physical Society, museums, and both public and private venues, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. He has been a guest on Krulwich on Science at NPR, William Shatner's "Weird or What?" and has served as a consultant to editors and producers at National Geographic Magazine, The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, and The New York Times.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Brian Clegg TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Gravity’s Engines, Caleb Scharf’s first book was one of the best cosmology titles I’ve ever read. In the way it explored lack holes and their relationship to galaxies and the universe it Unknownwas quite stunning. The only downside was a certain floweriness of style and the occasional dip into amateur philosophising. The big problem with The Copernicus Complex is that this philosophising becomes the main backbone of the book, which leaves it without an effective narrative arc.

The good news first. There are chapters where Scharf really delivers the goods. There’s a brilliant description of the latest views on the formation of the solar system, for instance. An interesting description of the different types of planets discovered around other solar systems. And even an easy-to-grasp introduction to Bayesian statistics, though this could do with a little more meat.

However, the problem is that the thesis of the book is to explore ‘the quest for our cosmic (in)significance.’ Scharf interestingly talks about the way the move to the Copernican model, shifting the Earth from the centre of the universe, reduced our sense of self-importance. But the real problem here is that there is simply no data to support all the later conjecture about whether life is unusual or common on other planets, so we end up with much hand waving and little substance. There are pages at a time that come to the conclusion ‘so this doesn’t tell us anything.’ Elsewhere we discover ‘If we carefully step through the mental minefield of Bayesian inference, we come to an unsettling conclusion: we can infer relatively little about the statistics of life in the universe from the history of life on Earth.’ That doesn’t so much seem an ‘unsettling conclusion’ as the obvious and not at all surprising one.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too scientific 30 July 2015
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book for me was heavy going, very scientific in the early chapters and I never finished the book. Unless you are of a very scientific background of have a degree in physics this is not a book to read and understand.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A significant book in the quest for Significance? 13 Oct. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A great idea of a book.

Fundamentally are we "more important than we thought" is the universe and our part in it not just a "small asymmetry" in an otherwise Homogeneous (Copernican Universe)

As i made clear throughout the book a lot of what is said on either side of the argument is lacking data and there are some interesting discussions in this book about why that might be.

I suppose for me the conclusion is less the point than being able to learn a bit of the logic and issues around the general and simple notion that if the Universe is teaming with life why have we either not been able to find it or indeed not heard from it.

For unpacking the issues around this discussion and leaving you want to look at some further reading i give it 5 stars....whether he is right or not i guess time (and it may be a very long time)....will tell.

Some book highlights:

discussion about the "machinery of metabolism"
Notes and thoughts on Thomas Bayes....and his friend Prices rooster story.
The idea of "prior ignorance"
Thoughts on Mitochondria
Thoughts about the past and future of our Universe and what intelligent life might actually be able to deduce from the universe they saw or will see..the notion of "Do we in fact know the the universe we observe around us today tells the whole story"
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 11 Oct. 2014
By Terry.
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great read.
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 2 Oct. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Purchased as a gift and so not read.
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