James N. Gardner

July 11, 2009

James N. Gardner is a widely published complexity theorist and science essayist whose peer-reviewed articles and scientific papers have appeared in prestigious scientific journals, including Complexity (the journal of the Santa Fe Institute), Acta Astronautica (the journal of the International Academy of Astronautics), and the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. He has also written popular articles for WIRED, Nature Biotechnology, The Wall Street Journal, and World Link (the magazine of the World Economic Forum).

Gardner is a graduate of Yale College and the Yale Law School. As an undergraduate at Yale, he studied philosophy and theoretical biology and was named, on the basis of academic accomplishment, a Scholar of the House. His Scholar of the House thesis examined the coevolution of form and content in 20th Century existential philosophy and was based in part on a series of personal interviews he conducted of Jean-Paul Sartre in Paris. At Yale College, Gardner served as Feature Editor of Yale Scientific Magazine and drama critic for the Yale Daily News. During this period, he also authored front page and editorial page feature stories for The Wall Street Journal.

At Yale Law School, Gardner served as Article Editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following graduation, he served as a law clerk for Associate Justice Potter Stewart on the United States Supreme Court during the 1975 October Term. Following his Supreme Court clerkship, Gardner moved to Oregon and was elected to the Oregon State Senate in 1978. During his tenure as an Oregon State Senator, he was consistently rated as the outstanding member of the Senate in surveys conducted by The Oregonian newspaper.

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Gardner serves a partner in a flourishing law and government affairs firm which he co-founded with his wife Lynda Nelson Gardner. His clients include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Microsoft, Hertz, Avis, Kraft, Abbott Labs, and the Association of American Publishers. He also serves as chief freelance reviewer of popular science books for The Sunday Oregonian.

Gardner’s pathway to the study of cosmology followed an unusual route. As a skilled practitioner of the art of politics, Gardner founded an international nonprofit organization in 1992—the Conference of World Regions (CWR)—that focused on studying the emerging political role of subnational regions in the global economy. His involvement with this group prompted him to begin thinking of the interaction of such regions as the operation of a complex adaptive system. This lead to the first of his three groundbreaking essays for Complexity—“Mastering Chaos at History’s Frontier: The Geopolitics of Complexity.”

Gardner next turned the lens of complexity theory toward a more complicated set of issues: the probable future coevolution of “memes”(hypothetical units of cultural transmission) and genes in the context of the rapidly emerging technological capacity to engage in human germline genetic engineering. That essay—which is reproduced in an appendix to BIOCOSM—was likewise published in Complexity.

With that foundation in place, Gardner decided to use the approach of complexity theory to probe an odd feature of cosmology that had intrigued him ever since he began studying philosophy and theoretical biology as an undergraduate at Yale: the strangely life-friendly quality of the physical laws and constants that prevail in our universe. The ensuing Complexity essay—“The Selfish Biocosm: Complexity as Cosmology”—became the foundation for BIOCOSM.

Gardner believes that his unusually eclectic background accounts for the distinctive cosmological vision put forward in Biocosm. As Gardner puts it, “I decided to take seriously Freeman Dyson’s assertion that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe and Christian de Duve’s admonition that life and intelligence ought to be at the center of our narrative of the cosmos, not relegated to the sidelines as a mere accidental result of the random interaction of dead molecules.

“Having embarked upon this voyage of discovery, it gradually became apparent to me that there existed an explanatory paradigm that could account for the oddly life-friendly qualities of the cosmos in a way that was radically different from traditional attempts to put forward a so-called final theory.”

“What I am saying, in essence, is that in attempting to explain the linkage between life, intelligence and the anthropic qualities of the cosmos, we have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. My Selfish Biocosm hypothesis asserts that life and intelligence are, in fact, the primary cosmic phenomena and that everything else—the constants of nature, the dimensionality of the universe, the origin of carbon and other elements in the hearts of giant supernovas, the pathway traced by biological evolution—is secondary and derivative. I doubt that a traditional cosmologist or astrophysicist would have reached this conclusion. I was able to do so only because I am an outsider.”

See essays by this author:
Biocosm: Lecture at Hayden Planetarium
Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life is the Architect of the Universe
It Takes a Giant Cosmos to Create Life and Mind
The Physical Constants as Biosignature: An anthropic retrodiction of the Selfish Biocosm Hypothesis
See selected books by this author:
The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos