Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brian Cox's Galaxy Song: What is life?

It's good to have Brian Cox back on TV again.

Confident. Cool. And doing little science experiments in beautiful locations.

Asking questions about the similarity of DNA of all the living beings on the planet - are we all related? Perhaps we just live on the same planet...  How confident can we be about what happend 4.6 billions years ago... where's the line between science and faith on something like that?

I like questions. And, so I liked Wonders of Life. #wonders

Photo: Anna Hopkins

Cox's gospel supposes science can explain everything, offering a universe destined for cold disorder... in which the laws of physics exercise their totalitarian rule.

It's doubtless part of the picture - though I can't help but think he missed the final few pages of the story... Yes, I think there'll be a wedding at the end of the universe, and that'll be the first page of something new.

Cox concluded, Riffing on a re-write of Eric Idle's Galaxy Song. (Original version of Galaxy Song.)

"The question "what is life?" is surely one of the grandest of questions. And we learned that life isn't really a thing at all. It's a collection of chemical processes that can harness a flow of energy to create local islands of order like me and this forest by borrowing order from the wider universe and then transmitting it from generation to generation through the elegant chemistry of DNA. And the origins of that chemistry can be traced back four billion years most likely to vents in a primordial ocean. Most wonderfully of all the echoes of that history stretching back for a third of the age of the universe can be seen in every cell of every living thing on earth. And that leads to what I think is the most exciting idea of all because far from being some chance event ignited by a mystical star the emergence of life on earth might have been an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics and if that's true then a living cosmos might be the only way our cosmos can be."
What do you think?


  1. I think C. S. Lewis's 'Funeral of a Great Myth' would be an interesting voice to add to the conversation.

    You can see the beauty of the story, the grandeur of it - it isn't brash or ugly (unless you react to the final destination of all things with fear/loathing/horror, etc.) but rather marvellous - the intrepid course life has charted across the universe, marching to the laws of physics, doomed to ultimately end in night, but creating wondrous moments of beauty and order in the chaos to which it is marching unstoppably. It's a little Anglo-Saxon - the resolute march of the hero to his doom. The ascetic in me likes the unflinching, uncompromising idea of a universe bound up with law in the way he describes.

    What I feel is important to remember as a starting point is that this isn't the only story (myth) of why the world is the way it is, or where it's heading. But of course, like every myth, it is told with the conviction that this is what the evidence/what we observe/feel/see in front of us *must* lead us to believe...

  2. Oh also, I learn a lot about wondering from him - as in being laugh out loud amazed by the beauty of things.

  3. his joy is contagious and commends his views.

    who else would smile in child-like wonder while saying we'ee heading for cold disorder...come a long way from things can only get better...

  4. Haven't we just!

    The mixing of the science as a way of knowing and a sort of 'scientism' - a scientific worldview if you like (though words like that are difficult to band around) i.e. what he says at the beginning, that science can explain everything - is interesting. Interesting to go through the material and try and work out when that happens.

    Interesting also that he says that if that is the case (science can explain everything), it has to be able to give an answer to the sort of questions he's asking (and presumably believes he's answering) in the series...