Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning

Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning

Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning

Life Evolving: Molecules, Mind, and Meaning


In just a half century, humanity has made an astounding leap in its understanding of life. Now, one of the giants of biological science, Christian de Duve, discusses what we've learned in this half century, ranging from the tiniest cells to the future of our species and of life itself. With wide-ranging erudition, De Duve takes us on a dazzling tour of the biological world, beginning with the invisible workings of the cell, the area in which he won his Nobel Prize. He describes how the first cells may have arisen and suggests that they may have been like the organisms that exist today near deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Contrary to many scientists, he argues that life was bound to arise and that it probably only took millennia--maybe tens of thousands of years--to move from rough building blocks to the first organisms possessing the basic properties of life. With equal authority, De Duve examines topics such as the evolution of humans, the origins of consciousness, the development of language, the birth of science, and the origin of emotion, morality, altruism, and love. He concludes with his conjectures on the future of humanity--for instance, we may evolve, perhaps via genetic engineering, into a new species--and he shares his personal thoughts about God and immortality. In Life Evolving, one of our most eminent scientists sums up what he has learned about the nature of life and our place in the universe. An extraordinarily wise and humane volume, it will fascinate readers curious about the world around them and about the impact of science on philosophy and religion.


This preface is dedicated to all my colleagues, past and present, at the Catholic University of Louvain

A whiff of wood smoke

On a clear summer night almost 75 years ago, I was sitting, wrapped in a blanket, a scarf on my head, with a group of similarly clad youngsters circling a campfire. There was not a breath of wind. the flames rose straight toward an inky sky studded with stars. So did our voices joined in song, the only sound, with occasional crackling of burning wood, to break the silence of the night. All of a sudden, for a brief instant, light fused with darkness, song and silence became one, and I felt carried to another world, seized by intense emotion, suffused with a sense of unfathomable mystery, feeling, beyond the infinite depths of space, the awesome majesty of God.

Today, the boy scout of my reminiscence is an old man. What was then his future is now my past, a past that happened to coincide with the most dramatic burst of knowledge in the whole history of humankind. the night sky of my youth has been explored to the outermost distance and earliest beginnings of the universe. the innumerable appearances of matter have been reduced to a small set of elementary particles and forces. Life itself has yielded its secrets. Its central mechanisms have been unravelled in intimate detail, and its history, which, as we now know, includes that of humankind, has been probed back to an origin lost in the mists of time.

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