For author Neil Shubin, it is all around us on Earth too.
Science has a history to it. But the history of Earth is billions of years older. A small percentage of that history exists in the very rock of the planet and scientists work hard at trying to decipher the clues that are left, to weave a mosaic that gets at the truth. It is a long process. But there are people like Neil Shubin who are devoted to that pursuit.
Neil Shubin makes that pursuit interesting with great writing. And while Shubin’s new book isn’t science fiction, The Universe Within pushes the envelope.
Here is a bit more about The Universe Within;
WITH BLACK-AND-WHITE LINE DRAWINGS THROUGHOUT
From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us?
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies—our hands, heads, and jaws—and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.
I took some time and sent Neil some questions about his new book, his work, and what he really thinks about starstuff. Here they are:
NEW RELEASE INTERVIEW: NEIL SHUBIN
Shawn Speakman: Tell Suvudu readers a bit about you and your work?
Neil Shubin: I’m an evolutionary biologist interested in the great transitions of evolution. One of those events lies in the transformation of fins into limbs over 375 million years ago. My approach is to go out and collect new fossils and to do work on genetics in the lab. My field work has led me to different places, mostly recently to the Arctic. There my colleagues and I discovered a creature transitional between finned fish and limbed animal. Our work on genetics seeks to uncover the genetic elements involved in limb and fin evolution.
Speakman: In THE UNIVERSE WITHIN, you explore humanity’s connection with the universe. Tell us a bit about the book and why you wrote it?
Shubin: If there is something in your life you take absolutely for granted, but other take as utterly bizarre you have the makings of a book. My first book, Your Inner Fish, was about our connection to other creatures and how we see those links in fossils, embryos and DNA. Spending a lot of my time looking at rocks gives me a perspective on our history with and ties to the planet, solar system and universe. That thinking led to THE UNIVERSE WITHIN.
Speakman: Aliens are always an interesting topic. You’ve looked at how our universe has helped shape our human bodies. Given that you’ve studied this from a scientific point of view, can you now extrapolate how other life in the universe could be shaped?
Shubin: Well, the sample size of my experiment is N=1: I have one known planet with life and I extrapolate from there. But, when you look at our planet, life got going very, very, very quickly. The earth is a bit over 4.5 billion year old. Life was probably here about 3.3 Billion if not a lot earlier. Then, it took about another 3.3 billion years for a talking, tool-making bipedal creature with big brains. So maybe the origin of life is the easy step, the origin of conscious life the hard one. Given how long it takes for conscious life on our planet, and that the Universe is 13.7 or so billion years old, maybe we need to wait a bit to see abundant planets with conscious life forms to chat with. I don’t know.
Speakman: Are we really made of stars? And what do you find to be the most interesting aspect of our connection to the universe?
Shubin: We are definitely starstuff. But we are earthstuff as well. My favorite connection to the solar system lie inside the molecular clocks inside our bodies. Every cell has them inside. And all of them are tuned to a virtual 24hr day. So, we carry the effects of the spinning of the earth and rotation of the moon inside the DNA in every cell of our bodies.
Speakman: A bit of fun. I see you are going to be on the Colbert Report tomorrow (1/9). What was your first experience like with Stephen Colbert and what do you like about being on the show?
Shubin: The thing to know is that the Colbert Report is a very smart show, reflecting the talents and aspirations of it host, its writers and producers. It also cares about ideas. Sure it is entertainment, but ideas do matter on that show. I love that. It also makes it a bit scary to be a guest because the segments are short and you have to be pretty clear in explaining yourself. Scary but fun.
The Universe Within by Neil Shubin is available today!
Get to know your universe!