It is now pretty much official. An epoch in Earth’s history is over. The Holocene is behind us.
Contemplating where we are heading next is where things start to get interesting.
Many are calling the epoch ahead the “Anthropocene” or “Age of Humans.” It is clear that our species will be intimately involved in shaping the time ahead. But what will define this new age and in what sense will it be a “human” one?
The changes we are facing are much more significant than the familiar litany of human impacts such as climate change, species extinction, and toxic pollution. Earth is entering a period in which some of its most fundamental processes are being co-opted and redesigned by engineers. Synthetic biologists, climate engineers, and nanotechnologists are reaching deeply enough into the workings of nature to alter the very metabolism of the planet we inhabit. In so doing, they start us down the path towards an entirely new, synthetic world.
The Synthetic Age: Outdesigning Evolution, Resurrecting Species, and Reengineering Our World provides an overview of some of the most significant of the transformations ahead. It shows how our species can now take steps towards constructing a synthetic version of nature, all the way from the atom to the atmosphere. It celebrates some of the technologies involved, but also posts a sober warning about how dangerous it would be to sleep through these world-changing events.
Should engineers, entrepreneurs, and the marketplace be allowed to replace the products of natural history with an entirely synthetic age? This book explains what is going on. It explores the promises….but also reveals the perils.
The Write Question (MTPR) radio interview (June 6th, 2018)
BBC Science Focus opinion piece (May 30th, 2018)
Last Word on Nothing interview (May 28th, 2018)
World Economic Forum Agenda opinion piece (May 17th, 2018)
The Ecologist interview (April 16th, 2018)
The Missoulian newspaper story (April 6th, 2018)
REVIEWS AND ENDORSEMENTS
Whether you are a techno-optimist or deeply skeptical of technological fixes to environmental problems, Preston’s overview of emerging technologies and call for a broad-based, truly democratic decision-making process is sure to resonate. In the Anthropocene, humans have a responsibility to care for our planet with collective, conscious intention. Preston makes clear the stakes involved and the decisions that lie ahead. We all must ask ourselves where our own values lie.
Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
The Synthetic Age is a powerful exposé of our ability to play nature and outperform evolution. This well-written and accessible book reminds us that humanity must accompany its ever-expanding technical prowess with a greater sense of responsibility of planetary proportions.
Calestous Juma; author of Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies
Preston’s thorough and engaging exploration of the many ways that our species has learned to control the natural world, from manipulating molecules to reorganizing ecosystems to controlling the climate, provides a compelling argument in favor of renaming the present epoch the Synthetic Age. The book is a fascinating combination of history, science, and ethics that asks us to consider what we value most in nature and in our own humanity.
Beth Shapiro, Professor, Physical and Biological Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of How to Clone a Mammoth
Preston thoroughly examines the promises and the perils of the forthcoming Synthetic Age. But I fear—more than he does—the prospect of living an artificial life on a denatured planet. I concede that we face a Semi-Anthropocene, a Symbiotic Age, hoping to keep the natural basics on a wonderland Earth.
Holmes Rolston, III, University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), Colorado State University; author of Genes, Genesis, and God
Christopher Preston is a philosopher who writes for you and me about the most important development in human history—the remaking of the planet from top to bottom, or rather from bottom to top. In the midst of distressing upheavals, he counsels and inspires calm engagement in the decisions that are upon us.
Albert Borgmann, Regents Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Montana; author of Real American Ethics and Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life