Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future


In a thought-provoking, humorous, and engaging style, Dorion Sagan combines philosophy, science, and an understanding of illusion to probe the deep questions of existence.

Operating on the precept that the universe is far weirder than we might imagine, Sagan-- son of acclaimed scientists Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis--uses his knowledge of philosophy, science, sleight-of-hand magic, and the fantastical writings of Philip K. Dick to explore some of the deepest questions we face on...

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In a thought-provoking, humorous, and engaging style, Dorion Sagan combines philosophy, science, and an understanding of illusion to probe the deep questions of existence.

Operating on the precept that the universe is far weirder than we might imagine, Sagan-- son of acclaimed scientists Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis--uses his knowledge of philosophy, science, sleight-of-hand magic, and the fantastical writings of Philip K. Dick to explore some of the deepest questions we face on Earth. He provides fresh insights as to why we are here, the nature of technology, the prognosis for humanity, the living nature of our planet, and a reasoned explanation to why our universe is probably just one of an infinite number.

Sagan also provides answers to twelve pressing questions:

  • Why does life exist?
  • Why do we drink water?
  • Can we save the Earth from global warming?
  • Are human beings central and special?
  • Is it possible that we've arisen by pure chance?
  • Is the Earth an organism?
  • Are we part of its exo-brain?
  • If it is alive, can it reproduce?
  • Can the universe?
  • What does the future hold in store for us?
  • Does God exist? What is the nature of ultimate reality?

Notes from the Holocene is a prime example of the writing coming from a new generation of scientific writers. It will inspire readers to think for themselves while leaving them chuckling with tongue-in-cheek anecdotes--a rare combination that Sagan delivers with ease. And yes, as geneticist J.B.S. Haldane says, "the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A heterogeneous hymn in the key of Gaia, Notes from the Holocene sets Dorion Sagan, coauthor of an indispensable suite of popular science books, free to compose inspired mind jazz riffing among the best available science, a select database of world literature, and an arsenal of tasty anecdotes."--Bruce Clarke, President, Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, and original bassist for Sha Na Na (1969-1973)

"Notes from the Holocene is a pop culture trek of reality reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but rife with scientific, religious, and philosophical neurotrinkets, many original enough for scholarly pursuit."--Jessica Whiteside, Professor of Terrestrial Paleoenvironments, Brown University

"Dorion Sagan's Notes from the Holocene is at once profound and hilarious. Melding science and speculation Sagan puts forth the 'big questions'—who and what are we—in the context of 4,000,000,000 years of life on Earth and the far briefer context of human thought. When you finish reading Notes from the Holocene you will feel both humbled and exhilarated to be a part of the history and presence of Earth's biosphere. You'll not only know you live on a planet, you'll feel it."--Lois Brynes, President, Deep-Time Associates

"Why does life exist? Is the Earth an organism? Are we part of its exobrain? Can we save it from global warming? In seeking answers to such difficult questions, Dorion Sagan leads his readers down canyons of cosmic time and space by luring them onward with a paper trail of visual metaphors and social references that range from prehistory to pop culture. Sure-footed and encyclopedic in its scientific and cultural scope, this text coaxes the reader to savor the more exotic fruits of molecular, biological, and cosmological research, richly garnished with philosophy both ancient and modern.By canvassing these deeper aspects of cosmological existence in his characteristic stream-of-consciousness style, the author offers an intimate perspective that is spectacularly different from the majestic Cosmos presented by his illustrious father."--Reg Morrison, author of The Spirit in the Gene

"Dorion Sagan has vividly expounded what I experienced viscerally while living in the artificial world of Biosphere 2: that we are literally, and not figuratively, all parts of our biosphere. He brilliantly expands this into a unifying, science-based cosmology--and it is thrilling. For anyone trying to make sense of the seeming chaos of our world today, Notes from the Holocene is a must read."--Jane Poynter, author of The Human Experiment

"In Notes from the Holocene, Sagan's 'wild speculations' are like stepping before the dressing room mirror. Seen from so many sides, our reality is revealed to be as mysterious as we thought--or perhaps more so. Provocative, sometimes disquieting, and thoroughly exciting, Sagan tackles the Big Questions with wit and wisdom that I'd expect from him, like a magician explaining a parlor trick."--Seth Leary, Exhibits Research and Development Manager, The Museum of Flight (Seattle)

"Looking into the future, Sagan doesn't see the customary technological Eden but a universe far stranger than science fiction. With humor, humility, and sobering scientific knowledge, he describes a purposeful Earth, an evolved God, and a human image so reflective of the cosmos that his unavoidably anthropomorphic argument finds the truth in the lie. Although concepts don't quite exist yet to contain his ideas, Sagan proceeds anyway down the difficult and productive routes of paradox and metaphor. In the end, helping us imagine an unthinkable, thaumaturgical, and sane future, he actually begins to create it."--Victoria N. Alexander, author of Naked Singularity and Smoking Hopes

"In Notes from the Holocene Dorion Sagan crosses freely that no man's land between science, religion, and philosophy. The result is a synthesis of ideas linking the peculiar to the universal, sleight-of-hand and the anthropic principle, science fiction and science faction. . . . Think the Symposium with Tallulah Bankhead, Derrida, and Philip K. Dick as dinner guests. This is Sagan's most personal book to date. Appropriately, since the subjective informality of Notes allows him latitude to advance the difficult questions, ones an academic approach would likely sidestep: Is the Earth an organism? What's our place in it all, and is it as central to the universe as we presume? The timeless reach here is matched by its timeliness: arguably no generation has more needed to understand its context in, and impact on, the big picture. Yet the broadest of speculations is still grounded in the science, where even the four elements of classical cosmology -- the frame on which he stretches his canvas -- find a contemporary gloss in his portrayal of thermodynamic systems. Like the master illusionists he details, Sagan conjures up a world whose magic is only augmented by knowing how the trick is done. It's a smart, daring book and I've come out the smarter for having read it."--Steve Shavel, author of How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold

Publishers Weekly

This casual and lively book deals with some of the most basic philosophical questions we have: why are we here? How did life arise from nonliving particles? What is the fate of the earth? Sagan (What Is Life?), son of astronomer and science writer Carl Sagan, draws on, among others, science, philosophy and "the speculations of science fiction" in attempting to answer these questions. He begins with a quick introduction to James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, that the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism, and that life is not just a "passenger" on Earth but an integral part of the planet's systems. In chapters titled "Earth," "Water," "Air" and "Fire," Sagan touches on the oceans and atmosphere, the evolution of life on Earth, the laws of thermodynamics and human consciousness, always circling back to Lovelock's theories. Sagan is equally comfortable discussing scientists like Richard Dawkins and Lewis Thomas, and science fiction authors like Philip K. Dick and A.E. van Vogt. The chatty style and ranging mind communicate a broad understanding and should appeal to inquisitive readers who want to know more about Earth and our relationship with it. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933392325
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/27/2007
  • Series: Sciencewriters Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorion Sagan is author of numerous articles and twenty-three books translated into eleven languages, including Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future and Into the Cool, coauthored with Eric D. Schneider. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Wired, The Skeptical Inquirer, Pabular, Smithsonian, The Ecologist, Co-Evolution Quarterly, The Times Higher Education, Omni, Natural History, The Sciences, Cabinet, and Tricycle. He edited Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel, a 2012 collection of writings addressing Margulis's life and work.

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Table of Contents

1. Earth
2. Water
3. Air
4. Fire
Afterword: Twelve Mysteries

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