On Being — A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

  • Author: ChemViews
  • Published Date: 25 October 2011
  • Source / Publisher: Angewandte Chemie International Edition/Wiley-VCH
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
thumbnail image: On Being — A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

Peter Atkins is known for his textbooks in the fields of physical and inorganic chemistry. In his new book, On Being, he explores the great questions of existence from a thermodynamic and entropic view-point.

Reading this book, one can see that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is Atkins' favorite law, says Uwe Meierhenrich, University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France, in his book review in Angewandte Chemie. The second law acknowledges that matter and energy tend to disperse and become disordered. The astonishing thing is, according to Atkins, that this natural spreading can result in the emergence of exquisite form.

In his book Atkins puts thought into space and time before the Big Bang. He interprets the formation of the universe as a separation of a formerly mixed state. To give an example: for electrical charges to exist and for the overall charge of the universe to be zero, there must be an equal number of positive and negative charges. Before the Big Bang, there was no charge. But instead of creating the charges out of nothing, Atkins hypothesizes that the formation of the universe was accompanied by the separation of ‘no charge’ into opposites. Charge was not manufactured, electrical ‘nothing’ was split into equal and opposite charges, instead.

In subsequent chapters, Atkins outlines how chemists currently decipher the reactions that form prebiotic molecules. He describes evolution by natural selection as the random generation of successful junk, instead of the purposeful acquisition of complexity. Humans are not the apotheosis of creation; they are better interpreted as the top junk churned into existence as matter and energy unwind. In his language, life is the avoidance of a certain kind of equilibrium, death is the usually unwilling achievement of that equilibrium. Atkins emphasizes that not only we are stardust, we are the children of chaos.

According to Uwe Meierhenrich, this application of the physical sciences to the great questions of being makes the book On Being ideal for expanding one’s mind. In the university's library, however, students should choose Aktins’ textbook on Physical Chemistry.

  • Read the full book review at:
    Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011, 50(40), 9240.
    DOI: 10.1002/anie.201104591

  • On Being. A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence
    P. Atkins,
    Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2011.
    ISBN: 978-0199603367

See also:

Article Views: 1903

Sign in Area

Please sign in below

Additional Sign In options

Please note that to comment on an article you must be registered and logged in.
Registration is for free, you may already be registered to receive, e.g., the newsletter. When you register on this website, please ensure you view our terms and conditions. All comments are subject to moderation.

Article Comments - To add a comment please sign in

Bookmark and Share

If you would like to reuse any content, in print or online, from ChemistryViews.org, please contact us first for permission. more


ChemistryViews.org on Facebook

ChemistryViews.org on Twitter ChemistryViews.org on YouTube ChemistryViews.org on LinkedIn Sign up for our free newsletter

Magazine of Chemistry Europe (16 European Chemical Societies)published by Wiley-VCH