Science that sounds like science fiction.
In recent years, scientists have hypothesized life-forms that can only be called "weird": organisms that live off acid rather than water, microbes that thrive at temperatures and pressure levels so extreme that their cellular structures should break down, perhaps even organisms that reproduce without DNA. Some of these strange life-forms, unrelated to all life we know, might be nearby: on rock surfaces in the American southwest, hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, or even in our own bodies. Some, stranger still, might live in Martian permafrost, swim in the dark oceans of Jupiter's moons, or survive in the exotic ices on comets. Others - the strangest of all - might inhabit the crusts of neutron stars, interstellar nebulae, or even other spatial dimensions.
In Weird Life, David Toomey takes us on a breathtaking tour of a universe of hypothetical life, a universe of life as we do not know it.
©2013 David Toomey (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
book about forms of life that exist outside the terms of what has come to be the "standard model" of heat, pressure and PH circumstances of survival. Toomey's work here is informative but presented in a way that is easily accessible to the layman, often entertaining, always engaging stuff to make us see deeper into life and its incredible durability.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Weird Life takes on the question, “what forms can life exist in besides the carbon-based, water-saturated, oxygen-metabolizing, DNA-encoded ones we’re most familiar with?” Which leads to other questions: did life evolve on Earth more than once? Is there a “shadow” evolutionary tree, whose organisms work differently, and perhaps are specially adapted to hostile environments like undersea hot vents? Could there be life elsewhere in the solar system, in the clouds of Jupiter, the methane seas of Titan, under the ice of Europa, or on the high mountain peaks of Venus (where the temperature is relatively cool)? Is hypothetical life elsewhere in the galaxy MORE likely to be on NON-Earthlike planets?
My own take-away from this book was that much is still a mystery. The first few chapters, which discuss life that manages to survive in extreme environments on Earth and current theories about biogenesis, make clear that a lot of the knowledge science does have is both recent and somewhat speculative. Indeed, it’s difficult to define exactly what life IS, and what we’ve gotten used to thinking of as fundamental building blocks (cells, nuclei, etc.) might not necessarily be. And perhaps this chauvinism is blinding us as we begin to search other worlds for signs we’re not alone in the universe.
Later chapters consider other planets and the SETI program, and I found these the most interesting. Toomey discusses the famous Drake Equation, and its current implications for the distribution of intelligent life in our galaxy. While there are still many unknowns, the Earth itself offers some important clues. For example, most scientists agree that life appeared almost as soon as it was possible. Then it took another billion years for multi-celled life to appear, and another two billion for intelligent life to appear. Unless our planet is a drastic edge case, the implication is that life could arise easily, but intelligent life, not so. Perhaps the last other sentient species in our neighborhood came and went before modern humans ever existed.
The last chapters go into more unconventional territory, and consider possibilities like machine intelligence swiftly outpacing biological intelligence, becoming something beyond human comprehension (i.e. the “singularity” concept coined by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge and further popularized by Ray Kurzweil). There’s also some contemplation of what, in the fundamental rules of physics, makes life possible in our universe, and whether it could exist in other universes, operating under somewhat different rules. And might we even be living in some sort of a simulated reality, like The Matrix but more so? If so, what would be the clues?
All in all, the topics discussed here represent only a skimming of a wide-ranging body of scientific research and speculation, and more knowledgeable readers might find it light fare, but Weird Life is still a tasty sampler platter.
Exploration of Non-standard Living things
The wide ranging series of science topics that were covered while talking about life.
The Narration was amazing, Mr. Martin's voice is very similar to Rod Sterling's so I kept expecting him to say "in the Twilight zone"
There were several time that I laughed out loud, but fascination was more a descriptor for my reaction
I keep up on weird topics like SETI and Extremeophiles so I expected this to be a fun but not terribly informative piece. I was wrong! The author covered the latest information and coverd it in a quick but concise manner that kept me amused while informing. Well done.
I didn't pay enough attention to the description to understand that this book's focus is entirely on the potential weird life that may be found in our solar system and beyond in the form of extraterrestrial life. From the description, the sample, and even what I can make our of the cover photo, I was under the impression that this book would be about weird forms off life on our own planet - cave dwellers, hydrothermal vent dwellers, etc. It is not. Oops.
Bloke who took to audiobooks in order to beguile long hours on the road travelling to photography gigs across his home state. Now addicted!
As many have pointed out, this isn't a catalogue of the monstrous and marvellous. This is a discussion of the hypothetical boundaries of life as we could anticipate finding it sprawled across the universe.
First off, let me say that I bet we never find any evidence for giant dirigible beings floating up and down in the thick, turbulent gaseous atmosphere of some distant, surfaceless planet. I mean, what the hell are they eating? Where are the parallels in our own atmosphere?
This kind of sets the tone for the 'gee whiz', science-fictiony aspect of much of the book, and as a consequence I, for one, significantly discount the author's apparent 'optimistic' assumptions about the virtual inevitability of life virtually everywhere you might chance to look.
As for the 'if' 'if' 'if', and 'then' robot brains have taken over and are evolving themselves, and that's the kind of intelligent life SETI will encounter stuff - give me a break! Because, like, smart phones! Geez!
Surely the core of life is that life strives, and life intrinsically cares very much about the continuation of its own existence? Programming some hyper-processed chip of sand to BEHAVE as if it did (and, sorry, that is all that it will ever do) is not even close to being the same thing, but could, ironically, turn out to be one of the most suicidally reckless acts undertaken by our suicidally reckless species.
Oh, and what about your bloody hands, people!? Giant centipedes ain't going to evolve the intelligence to build technological civilizations - and, vitally, to store and readily transmit the information required - any more than dolphins are! Or develop much in the way of an intellect at all! Another sad limiting case the author doesn't really tackle - if you cannot manipulate the world around you competently there is no selective pressure for you to evolve the kind of brain-power we recognise as intelligence. Let's face it; any putative wind-tossed gasbag's thought processes would amount to little more than 'da da dum dum' and 'ooooh'.
There is much of interest in this book, and much that is genuinely thought-provoking. But if you're looking for a catalogue of freaky animals, go elsewhere, and otherwise anticipate a fairly regular 'yeah, sure' response...
Fantastic book, with a great deal of interesting scientific information and topics. It doesn't really go into very much depth, but keeps things moving along at an interesting pace. Listening to it, it is easy to get lost in the interesting world of the bizarre creatures from our planet (and beyond...?), and the narrator does a FANTASTIC job. Overall, the book doesn't get bogged down with overly scientific and professional speech and information, which does mean some topics are not as in depth as I would have liked...however, it does a great job covering a wide range of interests, explains things in a simple to understand manner, and keeps your interest. The narrator adds a lot of life to what could have otherwise been a very dry read, and its a great jumping off point to expand your interest into a variety of other areas.
The humor and easy to follow/understand explanations of what could have been rather confusing or technical scientific information.
Outstanding narrator, and perfect for these types of audio books.
This audiobook reminds me a lot of the History Channel series "The Universe" - the same way complicated ideas and concepts are explained with clever analogies, clear language and humor is echo'd here in this book. If you enjoy one, you will surely enjoy the other.
I'd be somewhat hesitant. The first couple of chapters of the book focused on some of the knowns of "weird life" but the last few left a bad taste in my mouth. The discussion on robots taking over and becoming self-aware was a stretch. Too much "suppose that" sentences starting off big ideas and I found myself asking for a little more evidence than just imagining it at some points. While some of the points brought up are good, if you are looking for evidence to back up the claims, there is none.
He was a little too robotic in his narration and didn't seem to have much energy. I think this type of book would have done well to have a more upbeat narrator.
I'd say it is worth listening to if you enjoy to think about what could be and let your imagination run wild. To me the book borders on science and pseudo-science, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The boundaries have to be pushed, prodded, and explored so that some of the more amazing discoveries can be found. I was hoping this book did a little better job presenting evidence to back up some of the more extreme ideas, like computer self-awareness, as I'm not convinced the author knew enough about the topic to present it is a viable scenario of "weird life".
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