Describe your latest project.
What exactly do we know about life? So far we've only encountered one example ? life on Earth ? and we tend to be a little biased by its familiarity. Life in Space explores what science can say about the definition and history of life in the universe. The book explores the philosophical issues involved in studying life before turning to astrobiology proper ? the scientific study of life spanning astronomy, planetary science, chemistry, biology, and a host of other fields. This book gave me a chance to present life as a single narrative ? building up from atoms to cells to organisms and moving forward from the first stars to intelligent life. Finally, in the last chapters of the book, I explore intelligence and humanity. The book comes full circle by talking about how our biology affects our philosophy, shaping the way we look at the world and the way we do research.
What inspires you to sit down and write?
I really enjoy putting things together, particularly when I can bring together learning from a number of different areas and make things fit.
Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
I was somewhat disappointed to discover that I'm only a "total geek," roughly 30% on the scale. I attribute this low value to the fact that I can geek out in a variety of unusual ways, including church geek and martial-arts geek.
What do you do for relaxation?
I'm a big fan of Hapkido and other martial arts. Throwing people always gives me a new perspective (as does getting thrown). Settlers of Catan is also a great way to spend an evening. And, of course, reading sci-fi and theology.
Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
What was your favorite book as a kid?
One book! You've got to be kidding. Let's say The Space Child's Mother Goose by Frederick Winsor.
If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Terry Pratchett, if only for the incredible throughput. So many crazy, funny, interesting ideas must go through his head all the time. I'm sad to hear about the Alzheimer's, but still think it must be a blast to see the world in the light he does.
What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
Number one: easy voice recognition. Number two: fold up to pocket size but still fold out to decent viewing and input size.
Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
One museum! I love the National Air and Space Museum in D.C.: amazing spacecraft, great open space, and real Moon rock. I was also there for the Star Wars: The Magic of Myth exhibit, which appealed to the inner geek (sci-fi and sociology both). I also love the British Natural History Museum for its unbelievable architecture and animatronic dinosaurs. Perhaps the best of all was the Harvard Natural History Museum, but maybe just because I worked there, tucked in among the one million insect specimens on the third floor. It also has some amazing blown-glass flowers.
By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
Somewhere we cannot imagine, but almost nowhere we have imagined.