The triumph of science in explaining man’s unique place in the universe might seem almost complete. But in this lucid and compelling account, James Le Fanu describes how in the recent past science has come face-to-face with two seemingly unanswerable...
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The triumph of science in explaining man’s unique place in the universe might seem almost complete. But in this lucid and compelling account, James Le Fanu describes how in the recent past science has come face-to-face with two seemingly unanswerable questions concerning the nature of genetic inheritance and the workings of the brain–questions that suggest there is, after all, “more than we can know.”
“Scientists do not ‘do’ wonder,” he writes in his introduction. “Rather . . . they have interpreted the world through the prism of supposing there is nothing in principle that cannot be accounted for.” But Le Fanu argues that there is nothing so full of wonder as life itself. As revealed by recent scientific research, it is simply not possible to get from the monotonous sequence of genes strung out along the double helix to the infinite beauty and diversity of the living world, or from the electrical activity of the brain to the richness and abundant creativity of the human mind. Le Fanu’s exploration of these mysteries, and his analysis of where they might lead us in our thinking about the nature and purpose of human existence, form the impassioned and riveting heart of Why Us?
When cosmologists can reliably infer what happened in the first few minutes of the birth of the universe and geologists can measure the movements of vast continents to the nearest centimeter, then the inscrutability of those genetic instructions that should distinguish a human from a fly, or the failure to account for something as elementary as how we recall a telephone number, throws into sharp relief the unfathomability of ourselves. It is as if we, and, indeed, all living things, are in some way different, profounder, and more complex than the physical world to which we belong . . . This is not just a matter of science not yet knowing all the facts; rather, there is the sense that something of immense importance is “missing” that might transform the bare bones of genes into the wondrous diversity of the living world and the monotonous electrical firing of the neurons of the brain into the vast spectrum of sensations and ideas of the human mind.