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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 26: Jaime Green, Science Journalist

Jaime Green has just published her first book, The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos.

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Jaime Green has just published her first book, The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos, where she discusses whether there is life out there, and, if so, whether we will ever know.

Jaime’s book addresses one of the more difficult questions facing science, and one that may never be answered: is there life elsewhere in the universe. For her, it all starts with Star Trek. She was eight years old when she started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with her father, and the questions of life in the universe have been with her since then. “I grew up loving sci-fi, I’ve loved science my whole life. What I love is going out into the world and learning things and finding something new, and bringing it to my reader and saying, ‘Look how cool this is!’”

In the book, Jaime says that some people are drawn to science by their drive to understand, but that science can also show us what we don’t know, how little we understand the world, even as we’re inextricably a part of it. “I think I remember being a kid and learning about science, and it was always just full of wonder and mystery. For me, it was that initial wonder of learning about science, of learning about the particles inside an atom, or seeing the Hubble Deep Field image, which shows these uncountable galaxies.”

We start learning about the universe when we are children, and the stars are full of questions. “I remember being a little kid and looking at the stars, and having it trigger that fear of the dark feeling, that bigness and aloneness. But it’s also it’s one of the first kinds of science that we learn as kids. You’re exposed to dinosaurs, and you’re exposed to space, which are both tapping into these incomprehensible kinds of vastness. For dinosaurs, it’s time. We’re asking five year olds to think about something happening 65 million years ago. And then you learn about space. I experience this with my son. Recently, we’ve been able to see Venus and Jupiter really bright in the sky, very close together, and trying to explain to him how far away they are and how big they are, it’s so hard.”

A lot of what we think about life in the universe comes from science fiction, and Jaime points out that science and science fiction cross pollinate. “There’s a huge back and forth between between science and science fiction. It was scientific discoveries that enabled us to start imagining life on other worlds. Rockets were first written about in science fiction before they were made real. The idea of the Dyson sphere - physicist Freeman Dyson got the idea from a sci-fi novel - that in order to harness the power of a star, you could build a sphere, or a spherical swarm of satellites all around it, to get all of the energy coming off of a star and use that to fuel your advanced civilization.”

People often discuss the probabilities of life elsewhere in the universe, because there are billions of galaxies, and trillions of planets, but Jaime doesn’t think we should consider the odds and just accept that life has to exist elsewhere. “The only way that that works out is if you’re talking about the universe being infinite. If the universe is truly infinite, then, mathematically, there are a million exact copies of us, because of how infinity works. But if we’re thinking practically, no, and especially not in terms of intelligent life. Many scientists think that it’s very likely that simple, single-celled life like bacteria and archaea is common. That kind of life arose just about as soon as it was possible on earth, as soon as conditions settled down in the planets’ formation, it seems like that sort of life formed. What doesn’t seem as easy is the leap from that kind of life to complex life.”

Jaime used Scrivener to write her book, in part because, “I really feel like it’s like an extension of my brain. When I know that all of my research is safe, and in one place, and easy to find, and I don’t have to try to remember things, I really believe that opens up more space for creativity in your head.”

This book involved a lot of research, and Jaime used Scrivener to organize the many quotes and papers that were her sources. “Organizing everything by topic, and having different citations on a given topic all available to me, I was able to pull the ideas that I needed, and really take it a far distance from how it was written about in the original source.”

Jaime also talked about the process of publishing her first book; about the time it takes from manuscript submission to publication, and the anxiety waiting for that big day. It’s a long, slow process, going through the stages of editing, proofreading, and production. “You try to go about your life without totally losing your mind. It’s the slowest whirlwind you’ve ever found yourself in.”


Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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