What We Are Reading in our Inquiry

by Joshua Mauldin

Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone, by Lucas Mix, CTI Research Fellow, 2015-16


During our Induction Day on September 1, CTI presented the current research fellows with an astrobiology reading pack. Among the texts was a lively book by Lucas Mix, an astrobiologist who is also one of the fellows at CTI this year. Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone, has served as a handy source in the early stages of the Inquiry. Mix’s book introduces the field in an accessible way, but he isn’t afraid to include some detail. The reader encounters sentences like “A chain of redox reactions within phototrophs shuttles protons across a membrane, building up an osmotic potential.” (p. 295) A non- scientist like me has to slow down a bit at such points, but Mix is an invaluable guide in explaining how the details make up the broader picture.


Looking at things through a microscope –  figuratively but also literally – leads us to rethink the whole. As Mix explains, for example, in answering the question, ‘What is Life?’ it is important to note that ‘There does not appear to be a significant difference between biological chemistry and abiological chemistry, between how molecules interact within organisms and how they interact outside  organisms.’ (p.84)  There is more to the story even at the level of biochemistry, but what is striking is how deeper understanding of the science can lead us to  question our basic categories, leading us to re- examine what it is to be alive.


Astrobiology provides a rich harvest for scholars interested in the societal implications of this field of science. ‘What is life, what does it mean, and what is our place in it all?’ Mix concludes the book with these questions. (p. 299) They stand as a fitting summary of our focus at CTI over the next two years. ‘What is life?’ is a question astrobiology  is especially suited to answer. ‘What does it mean?’ will be the terrain of scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and theology, as well as interested scientists. ‘What is our place in it all?’ is a perennial human question, exhibited in the vast and rich history of our attempt to come to grips with our place in the cosmos, evident in religious traditions throughout the ages and around the world. The groundbreaking discoveries of astrobiology invite us to revisit those perennial questions, and thus to rethink our place in the vastness of the cosmos. Lucas Mix’s book is an excellent entry point into these questions, both for scholars and interested lay readers.


Order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Space-Astrobiology-Lucas-John/dp/0674033213