Stefan Klein, the acclaimed writer behind The Science of Happiness and The Secret Pulse of Time, is on a mission to connect laypeople with the diverse and often misunderstood realm of science. With his latest book, We Are All Stardust, Klein sits down with some of the world’s most prominent scientists and poses the questions that us laypeople feel too intimidated to ask. The result is a collection of casual conversations with people who, at first, seem so extraordinary that we will never understand them. Yet, Klein brings them back to Earth, and we learn that they are just like us: curious humans merely trying to navigate the complexities of life.
Klein has an impressive list of interviewees, including the likes of Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, Sarah Hrdy, and V.S. Ramachandran. While the premise of the book is a simple idea: sit down with scientists and talk about their work and their lives, the resulting compilation provides a coherent overview of what the sciences look like today and how the discoveries of recent times affect us as individuals, members of society, and of as inhabitants of the world.
I’ve always considered the sciences a set of subjects that were difficult to master and to even begin to try to understand. I consider myself creative and that’s that. The realm of the arts and humanities is too abstract and so doesn’t cross to the practical the way science does. Owing to this, I was hesitant to begin We Are All Stardust, as I was sure that not only would I not understand what I was reading, I also would be left out of the equation entirely.
What became evident early on though, was that We Are All Stardust was neither particularly easy nor difficult to read. Klein doesn’t try to make his conversations anything other than what they are. He is merely sitting down with a fellow human, discussing their career, their passions, their dreams, their fallbacks, and, most interestingly for me, their abstract thoughts on the universe as a whole.
Interviews that stood out for me included those of cosmologist Martin Rees, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, neuropharmacologist Walter Zieglgänsberger, and developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik. Why these scientists in particular struck a chord is obvious to me; each of those scientists spoke through the pages and into my mind and heart in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Their words were not only about scientific facts and evidence, but also about philosophical dilemmas, mental and physical illnesses, and about living a unified existence in an often broken and corrupt world.
Martin Rees is fixated on the universe that we live in and in discovering what and who else is out there in the galaxy and beyond. In his closing remarks, he makes a bold statement
We humans of the present are certainly not the summit of Creation. Species more intelligent than us will inhabit the earth. They might even appear quite soon … and I hope that our successors have a better understanding of the world.
This statement, along with the penultimate interview of the book with Alison Gopnik, in which the psychologist discusses that babies have a greater understanding of the world than adults do because they are “completely spellbound by our environment and shut out the internal chatter of self-consciousness” echoed in the inner chasms of my brain.
To my surprise, here I was reading statements that were in a similar vein to my own feelings about consciousness, humanity, and of the existence of alien beings. They were coming from the mouths of people that I never thought I could understand, people who seemed so far off from who I am and what I do, yet, they were mirroring my own ideas. I found comfort finding out in We Are All Stardust that prominent scientists had some of the same ideologies that I hold, especially after they had done a lifetime of research on their subjects.
Klein really brought to life the intricate connections and collective consciousness that we humans have, even across continents and varying skill sets. He merges the personalities and ideas of the creative artists with the neuroscientists, the politicians with the animal behaviorists, and the accountants with the cosmologists. It was an incredibly odd experience to see these lines being drawn and to also understand why they existed. I feel now that I’ve been opened up to opportunities and ideas that I may never have previously considered, and yes, some of them are factual and don’t at first appeal to my creative mindset, yet they are now accessible to me in ways I never thought possible.
The interviewees (and Klein himself) of We Are All Stardust are some of role models of today, yet they are just one piece of the puzzle. We are all just as important as these great thinkers, and in our search to understand and learn about them, we are able to realise this. We discover that we are all in this together. Together we are all stardust.