Where is the human race heading? | The Edinburgh International Book Festival has always enjoyed asking big questions, and they don’t come much bigger than those posed by John Hands in Cosmosapiens, an astonishing new survey of scientific understanding and its limits. With the breadth of Bill Bryson, the exploratory powers of Stephen Hawking and the controversial bent of Richard Dawkins, Hands’ decade-long study challenges our understanding of human evolution.
“I wanted to find out what answers science currently gives.”
After John’s wife passed away, he began to ask the big questions: Where to we come from? Why do we exist? There’s been supernatural reasoning, philosophical, and scientific – “I wanted to find out what answers science currently gives,” he explains. He worked on this for a decade.
Science increasingly looks at narrow, specialised fields. He wanted to step back from the branch and look at the whole tree, “So I decided to write the book that hadn’t been written.” An unbiased look at all the data. When friends were being supportive they’d say “…that’s ambitious”, other times, “…that’s mad”, but he did it.
He was surprised to find that ‘established’ facts like the Big Bang Theory are actually contradicted and adapted constantly. He showcases the concordance model, which seems the most up to date theory. He displays the entirety of evolution of life on earth as a 24 hour clock – humans appear 29 seconds before midnight. He takes on neo-Darwinism, collaboration vs competition in terms of evolution – taking on Dawkins directly. He talks of how people can be dismissed as a “closet creationist” if they disagree with theories. There’s a look at human awareness vs other species, and the implications of the mind and evolution. There’s a consideration of how ego can impact people refusing to let go of their disproved theories.
John Hands’ work sounds fascinating, but it’s intimidating. The scope and scale of it causes one audience member to ask if he can even read his book, but he’s assured that he can. As one that’s won multiple ‘Book of the Year’ listings in 2015, it’s a book that will challenge you in several ways, but explores multiple layers of the entirety of the universe and world, and somehow he’s managed to cram it into 700 pages.
The theories and science he considers are too detailed and great to outline here, but it’s an hour that forces you to consider new ideas.