Stardust: Our Cosmic Origins

Book Contents Page

Praise for Stardust from a pre publication review: -

"Aimed at an intelligent and curious lay readership, Stardust is a fascinating, informative exploration of scientific thought and discoveries over the past two hundred years, which addresses age-old questions regarding the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of human existence and our perceptions of reality."

"Welch does not sit on the fence regarding his stance on the science-versus-religion debate, but what is so appealing is that he is not dogmatic about it. He writes persuasively, for example, about the concept of evolution (and common misconceptions regarding it), asserting its logic and credibility."

"...interesting topics for discussion include the notions of ‘memes’ and ‘memeplexes’, the probability of other intelligent life in the universe, and evolutionary psychology..."

"Welch’s knowledge is clearly sound, and ... he does not believe that art/beauty and science are mutually exclusive."
(See below)

Chapter Description
1 Introduction Where did the atoms we are made of come from and how do they know this?
2 Of Myths and Memes Before looking at current knowledge this is a review of older thinking. Also here is an introduction to 'memes'.
3 Deep Space - Deep Time What we have learnt over the last 200 years about both inner and outer space and the incredible depth of deep time.
4 The Big Bang It is now overwhelmingly accepted that the universe started in a big bang. The evidence for this is presented here from many different fields, including mathematics, astronomy and physics. The conclusion to this chapter then explores some of the strange concepts this theory entails.
5 Fundamental Forces Here, the four forces in the universe are described (gravity, electromagnetic, the weak nuclear and the strong nuclear). With each description is an explanation of how that force manifests itself in everyday life, for instance electromagnetism as the force-fields that stop you falling through the floor.
6 Evolution This is the largest chapter in the book and covers the topic in some detail. The main approach is to explain the subject by dispelling some of the popular myths surrounding it. Eight statements are listed that all seem reasonable at first glance. There then follows a discussion of each statement in detail, showing why it is wrong and what evidence we have for the opposite view. In this way we gradually come to a better understanding of evolution and, of course, of our own origins.
The conclusion to this chapter looks at the question of ‘design’ in nature and finishes with a discussion about where ‘natural selection’ actually acts.
7 Life’s History This chapter takes deep time as its starting point and, using some original analogies, tries to put some mileposts to the development of life on Earth, with particular reference to the appearance of human beings.
8 Where is ET? Having looked at life on Earth we move on to a fun speculative chapter on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. It also includes a serious discussion on the possibilities of humans spreading beyond our solar system.
9 Culture This chapter discusses culture in terms of the spread of memes or ideas and contrasts its Lamarckian nature with evolution by natural selection.
10 Evolutionary Psychology This is the second largest chapter in the book. It starts by looking at how the brain works and how it processes information. Without this understanding the brain would seem like a black box and mysticism could creep back in (possibly via Descartes’ mind/body dualism). It dispels the illusion that there is an ‘I’ inside your head looking out through your eyes, demonstrating instead the modular processing of information – building up models of the real world. It then goes on to examine the origins of behaviour and of traits like altruism and it looks briefly at concepts like the ‘illusion of self’ and ‘free will’.
11 The Scientific Method Here the ‘scientific method’ is described as a philosophy for investigating the world. And this openness and constant questioning of assumptions is contrasted with the dogma of strict, unquestioning adherence to religious texts. Also highlighted here are the dangers of oddball theories assuming the trappings of science.
12 The Future This chapter looks more deeply into evolution by exploring the fascinating question “are we still evolving?” It looks at concepts like gene pools and bottlenecks in the evolutionary history of a species. It then goes on to consider artificial intelligence and the future of computing.
13 Conclusion This final chapter pulls all the threads together from the wide variety of topics covered and shows how they all relate to the two central themes of the book: ‘where did we come from?’ and ‘what is the nature of reality beyond our perception of the world?’
Then the main point of the book is reached and the reason for the wide variety and diversity of subjects covered is considered.
14 Recommended Reading Finally, on the assumption that interest in these subjects has been stimulated, a number of other authors and books are noted as highly recommended, each of which explores individual topics covered here in more detail than there is room for in this book.

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