Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

Knopf. Feb. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9781524731670. $30. SCI
Greene (physics, Columbia Univ.; Hidden Reality) explores how both entropy and order shape the universe, with entropy being the ultimate winner. This plays out across the grand sweep of the time line of the universe, beginning with the Big Bang, then gravity forming cosmological structures such as galaxies, stars, and planets; nuclear fusion creating larger atoms; and later the rise of self-replicating structures, life, minds, and cultures, before the eventual dissipation of it all during a long, dark, and cold future. Greene, a reductionist who argues that all of life arises from strictly biochemical and physical processes, nevertheless seeks to explain the emergence of consciousness, creative storytelling, religious systems, and the arts. These chapters tend to sidetrack into cultural anthropology and speculation of how each of these features might be evolutionarily adaptive, though Greene returns to astrophysics in the final sections to postulate possible fates of the universe while revealing that in a probabilistic world, some exceedingly improbably things may happen given enough time.
VERDICT Another triumph for Greene, this work explores new territory not thoroughly covered in the author’s previous books, appealing to anyone trying to wrap their head around seemingly paradoxical astrophysical concepts.

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