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Book Review: You Are Here by Christopher Potter

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You Are Here is a thoughtful exploration of our being in relationship to an unimaginably monumental universe which, at this time according to most scientists, seems to have come from one single flash, a birth of creative energy known as the Big Bang. In an extremely easy-to-read fashion, Christopher Potter’s book deals with countless complicated concepts so that any interested person can glimpse the paradoxes facing modern science.

Beginning with a grasp of the age of the universe — 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang — You Are Here also talks of its immense size. Potter asks what is beyond the edge of this expanding mass of planets and stars and distant galaxies. Is it nothingness, if such a state is even possible? Is it empty space? Is it more star clusters just too distant for their light to reach planet earth? Or is it something more mystical? This cannot help but bring to mind the crystalline spheres deigned by ancient Greek scientist-philosophers to hold the stars.

And from whence cometh this conglomeration of stuff we name the “universe?” Common sense proclaims it could not have erupted from nothingness, yet scientific theory claims that is quite possible. Are we to set aside common sense and tag along with scientific theory with its astutely refined mathematics? Something seems contradictory with this picture yet most people go about their daily lives ignoring any rationalization about it.

You Are Here addresses the critical conditions necessary for our tiny earth to solidify from this vast void of particles, atoms, molecules, gases, substances. There were so many critical events that had to happen at just the right moment in time so "stuff" would coalesce into our one small planet that it seems downright impossible. But happen it did–and we are here.

And what about our existence? Is the very essence of humanness to be found preexisting in the primordial nothingness before the Big Bang? If it was, then whatever brought about the spark of life and a life of the mind also existed back then. You Are Here ponders whether that living energy actually started on our earth, or whether it somehow traveled here from outer space as part of the Big Bang's ongoing evolutionary expansion. In either case, there could be any number of far distant stars with solar systems similar to our sun’s. The conclusion: These systems would almost certainly contain earthlike planets where eventually the spiral helix of life could form.

I would highly recommend You Are Here as an extremely fascinating, easy-to-read book containing explanations of some of the most difficult scientific concepts in clearly understandable terms. You will not be disappointed. By far, it is one of the best books I’ve read that encapsulates human existence against a scientific background, and acknowledges the “prescientific” wisdom of the ancients who looked out at the heavens with a combination of pure reasoning and mysticism.

Is there a time — is there a place for us humans under the heavens? You Are Here would suggest, yes. Maybe the most we can say of being is that we are warmed by a sun either by accident or decree, but we are here riding atop the third planet from the sun. As Michael Polanyi in his book Personal Knowledge points out: "We are here precisely because we have a hint, a foreknowledge, that answers are out there and with our intellects, we crave to seek them out!"

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