Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

THE SYNTHETIC AGE

THE SYNTHETIC AGE
18 Jul
2018
by Christopher J Preston • The MIT Press • £20.95 (hardback)

There are several moments in Christoper Preston’s essential new book that describe how new technologies mark ‘completely new territory’, or ‘a giant philosophical leap in terms of how we view life’, or, whimsically, as ‘the Regenesis’. While many are self-proclamations from the technology’s creators, the message is still the same: the human race is about to enter a new era in environmental manipulation.

What else is new? Hasn’t every generation thought its discoveries could spell the end of the world, or presage the start of a new one? Nevertheless, argues the science writer, ‘we are at the dawn of a new age... Humans are no longer just surrounding ourselves with new materials. Our species also is gaining the ability to reengineer a number of key planetary purposes.’

The Synthetic Age runs through these technologies, from atmospheric engineering that could turn down the sun’s heat, to the reintroduction of extinct species, to new feats in nanotechnology which could give ordinary materials such as carbon and silicon powerful properties. In a scary chapter, Preston details how synthetic biologists have created cells from scratch in a bid to create useful life forms. Such artificial microbes could generate fuel or consume carbon dioxide pollution. Sounds good. However, he shows how this would spell the largest rupture from the Darwinian nature. While all cells today are rooted to 3.5 billion years of evolution, ‘a synthetic organism literally has no ancestors... nothing has been passed down. Nothing has been inherited.’ Even genetically modified organisms and the fictional dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were created from pre-evolved material. Frankenstein’s monster too.

Preston does not write off all new inventions, celebrating where new tech has cured disease, improved lives or made everyday practices more sustainable. Rather, he anticipates that it will be a moral minefield, with each new form of control presenting questions to everyone from the most environmentally-conscious hippy to the shrewdest entrepreneur (perhaps especially the hippy entrepreneur). ‘Can has never automatically entailed should,’ he emphasises. To Preston, as important as the discoveries themselves is the need to have the widest and fairest discussion about them. Doing that ‘is perhaps the worthiest political task of our time.’

Click here to purchase The Synthetic Age by Christopher J Preston via Amazon

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

by Graham Hoyland• William Collins • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Dr Lucy Jones• Doubleday Books • £19.99 (hardback)

Books

by Daniel Pinchbeck• Watkins • £9.99 (paperback)

Books

by Jasper Winn • Profile Books • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Nathan H Lents • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £16.99…

Films

This hard-hitting marine conservation film – part of the Ocean…

Films

Here are the newest non-fiction offerings to satisfy that craving…

Exhibitions

The Society’s Earth Photo exhibition captures the planet’s natural riches…

Books

by Alanna Mitchell • Oneworld • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Christopher J Preston • The MIT Press • £20.95…

Books

by Jamal Mahjoub • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Joanna Kafarowski • Dundurn Press • 15.99 (hardback)

Books

by Peter Dauvergne • Polity Books • £9.99 (paperback)

Books

by Mary Beard and David Olusoga • Profile Books •…

Exhibitions

It’s hard to imagine life without the visual world upfront…

Books

by Patrick Winn • Icon Books • £14.99 (paperback)

Books

by Mark Nelson • UA Press • £21.99 (paperback)

Books

by Ed Douglas and John Beatty • Vertebrate Publishing •…

Books

by Tristan Gooley • Sceptre Books • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Adam Weymouth • Particular Books • £16.99 (hardback)