Mondes d’ailleurs – Trinh Xuan Thuan
Thoughts: Part of my effort to read more books in French. The book began with a section of about 100 pages in which the author surveyed the evolution of Western philosophers’ thoughts about the possibility of extrasolar planets and life elsewhere, which began interesting but became a bit of a slog. The book picked up again when he reached the point of people actually discovering exoplanets, before taking several turns for the weird when he argued in favour of the strong anthropic principle (to his credit, he made it clear that his views were his own, and not those of most scientists) and then embarked on an earnest discussion of UFOs. He also has a habit, which I’ve noticed in other books of his, of talking about certain processes teleologically – processes occurring as the universe’s way that, for example, complexity might increase or life might spring into being, and talking about the emergence of consciousness and of life as a "cosmic imperative".
Despite its quirks, I found Mondes d’ailleurs to be a worthwhile and enjoyable read.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)
Trinh Xuan Thuan. 2021. Mondes d'ailleurs. Flammarion.
1. Les prémices des autres mondes
2. À la recherche d’autres mondes: Les exoplanètes
3. Le miracle de la vie terrestre
- 179-180: “Stromatolite” literally means “stone matress” in Greek - neat
- 227: thermophiles have cell membranes made of wax instead of lipids
- 255: “Cretaceous” comes from latin creta - chalk
4. En quête d’une vie extraterrestre: le système solaire
- 312: beneath its surface, Jupiter is fairly hot. This heat is not due to fusion—this would require a much higher temperature and pressure—but because of the force of gravity: as the gas that forms Jupiter accumulated, the internal pressure increased, and this caused the temperature to rise; this heat simply has not had time to dissipate.
5. Une vie autour des étoiles
6. À la recherche d’une intelligence extra-terrestre
- 388: Trinh suggests that processes of intergenerational cultural transmission are a necessary precondition for the evolution of intelligence: “Une longue période d’apprentissage est probablement aussi nécessaire. L’intelligence ne peut être efficace sans une certaine transmission culturelle des parents aux enfants.”
7. Aller dans les étoiles
- 440f: “Si la relativité exclut le passage du « mur » de la lumière, elle n’interdit pas, contrairement à ce que l’on croit souvent, l’existence de particules ou de phénomènes voyageant plus vite que la lumière, du moment que celles-ci ne ralentissent jamais pour passer sous la vitesse de la lumière.” Such particles, which haven’t yet been observed, are known as tachyons.
- 448: the Saturn V rocket was fueled by a mix of oxygen, kerosene and water - when the kerosene burned in the oxygen, it would heat and vaporize the water; the water vapor expelled from the engines being the main propellant
8. Où sont-ils? Le paradoxe de Fermi
Posted: Dec 13, 2022. Last updated: Aug 31, 2023.