To wit. The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and try to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. In this forest, hell is other people.
An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. To me this seems much more plausible than the idea that ET is a friendly alien trying to help us. The novel is a deep one, with many layers, that bear reading multiple times.
Despite its bleak themes, the book is sparse, luminous warm, a brilliant gem of a novella. The first volume in a projected triptych that is a prequel to the astounding trilogy His Dark Materials see below. While that one was a cornucopia of sophisticated and well developed ideas — multiverse, an Oxford tantalizing similar to Victorian Oxford but subtly differently, steam-punk London, people having their psyche embodied in an externally visible daemon, a beautiful conceived instrument to measure truth, mysterious elementary particles known as dust, the Magisterium, an epic showdown between the forces of Good and Evil, a decrepit God dissolving into thin air, visiting souls in Hell, armor-wearing polar bears, vampire-like soul-sucking creatures vividly described — La Belle Savage is a straightforward coming-of-age story for teens that takes place twelve years prior to the events depicted in The Golden Compass, involving the baby Lyra and her parents — Mrs.
Coulter and Lord Ariel - who abandon her for reasons that gradually become clear. Not a bad novel but a pale shadow of what Pullman wrote before - nothing of the grandeur, the intellectual inventiveness, and the emotional bonds the reader develops with the principal characters in Pullman's earlier work. A great pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes adventure and turned into a clever movie of the same name that is not as true to the canon as this book is.
Published as a supposedly lost manuscript of the late Dr. In the course of his Viennese adventure, Holmes unravels a sinister kidnapping plot, prevents a European war and is analyzed by Dr. Sigmund Freud to explain his obsession with his math tutor, Prof. Moriarty supposedly the Napoleon of crime. So far so good. If only those thousands of physicists and mathematicians working on a grand unified theory would listen to the author. But a search of the internet reveals deafening silence. Apparently, this stroke of insight never even made it into an arXiv reprint.
Arrggh; if only they knew. The novel is notable for eschewing supernatural explanations, replacing them instead by brain-based explanations - opium addiction and zombie-behavior today known as REM sleep behavior disorder induced by laudanum are major plot devices. A collection of short and longer re-interpretations of the Illiad and the Odyssey , primarily involving alternatives histories of Odysseus. Reminds me very much of Borges. A psychoanalysist muses about the neuroscience of the left and right brain, philosophy and metaphysics. I couldn't get much out of this one. Interesting background reading by two Wall Street Journalist on crypto currency.
Gox and Silk Road fiascos. They have no leaders, no social class, a relative low level of violence, and lots of sex. Everett's field research uncovers two aspects of their culture. Firstly, and most famously, the lack of linguistic recursion. Every Piraha sentence is simple, short and refers to a single event or statement. He emphasizes how language is shaped by the environment and the culture of the speakers, rather than being formed by a biologically driven universal grammar Chomsky or a language instinct Pinker. Everett explains many features of the culture and the language of the Piraha by what he calls the immediacy of experience principle.
Only what a person has directly seen, heard or otherwise experienced or what a third party has directly experienced him- or her-self is taken to exist by the Piraha, is taken to be real. Their extreme form of empiricism explains the absence of any creation myth, of fiction, of concepts like great-grandparents due to their low life-expectancy, very few Piraha have direct experience with the parents of their grandparents. On the other hand, per the immediacy of experience principle, dreams are accepted as a different aspect of reality, as it is a direct form of experience.
A partially submerged Manhattan is the real protagonist of this post-Global Warming novel, a make-do, vibrant, exciting and impoverished SuperVenice hit by a monster hurricane followed by a financial crisis triggered by some of the various characters the book follows. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
Mid 70s quasi-utopian novel, a product of countercultural Berkeley, in which the fictitious reporter Weston visits Ecotopia — the states of Northern California, Oregon and Washington that violently seceded from the Union to form their own country, living in harmony with nature and the environment.
The society does not reject technology but only adopts those technologies and industries that serve the overall well-being of the social and ecological order. The book is valuable for providing an alternative vision, not for its literary values, which is slight. I bought the 40th anniversary addition, with an insightful afterword by the author, predicting the rise of demagogues and fascists need I say more?
I now fly the flag of Cascadia a more recent reincarnation of Ecotopia at my Seattle home as a symbolic gesture. The novel has little action or dialogue and describes a handful of mundane occurrences — a dinner party, somebody painting a scene, a sailing boat trip to a lighthouse - spaced out over ten years, at the vacation home of Mr.
Ramsay, their children and a few of their friends in the Hebrides. The short middle section of the book evokes a powerful, magical and profoundly sad sense of passage of time, absence and the evil that men do. Subsequent chapters deal with some more recent development in algorithmic complexity, in particular Chaitin's contributions. What seems early-on like paradise turns into a perfect, all transparent Bentham panopticon with the inmates having voluntarily and happily given up all rights to privacy under the motto of 'privacy is theft', 'secrets are lies" and 'sharing is caring'.
Great read but chilling. Two biologists take an unsentimental, yet not unsympathetic, quantitative look at what makes a dog a dog. The reason dogs make good pets is in large part because they have this innate behavior of finding somewhere to sit and wait for food to arrive, which is exactly what our pet dogs do. Their niche is scavenging food from humans. They are like ravens and foxes that scavenge food from wolves or humans. Where is that dog food supply? Look for humans, and there it is. Why are dogs nice to people? They are the source of food. Dogs find some food source that arrives daily and they sit there and wait.
Of the approximately one billion dogs on the planet, the authors estimate that million of them are village dogs. No matter where they are found, peaking in the tropics and with a steep gradient toward the poles, they roughly look and weigh the same. The Coppinger's argue that these are not mongrels, nor strays, feral or abandoned dogs but are the naturally selected, i. These breeds could not survive in the wild and their phenotype would quickly disappear in the general gene pool of dogs were they to cross-breed.
However, giving the abandon with which dogs engage in sex and the young age at which they become sexual mature months , there is never a short supply of dogs. A great monograph — proving you can write like a scientist and tell a compelling story to an old-dog lover like me. Dietrich — now a successful novelist — goes out of his way to be faithful to the point-of-view of all participants of this bitter dispute that ended with a series of court decisions in the early s with a post-script added by the author in to bring the story up-to-date.
The book attests to the compelling power that dense virgin, primeval forests with a capital F has over the human psyche. It is the environment in which homo sapiens lived in for much of the past , years. While I love forest as much as the next German-American listening from an early age to stories about the Teutonic forest it is a different matter to be in a tent or sleeping bag deep in a dark and brooding forest, with its incessant nocturnal voices, tyrannized by clouds of mosquitos.
I enjoyed this book while experiencing the majesty of Olympic National Forest during the day and the civilized comfort of an old-time Lodge at night! Well written biography of Leroy Hood, who co-invented the first semi -automated DNA sequencer that, together with three other instruments he helped develop, the DNA synthesizer, and the protein sequencer and synthesizer, powered the Genomics revolution that is at the heart of modern biology, medicine and the biotechnology industry.
Lee was the chairman of biology who recruited me to Caltech back in He later founded the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. The book well captures the heady days of the human genome project and some of its people; it is no hagiography, as the author, a journalist specializing in the biotech industry, highlights both the many strengths but also the weaknesses of Lee as a scientist, mentor, entrepreneur, fund-raiser, mesmerizing public speaker and manager.
In June of , A. Hotchner visited a close friend in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital. It would be the last time they spoke - three weeks later, Ernest Hemingway shot himself. During their conversations, Hemingway entrusted the tale of the affair that destroyed his first marriage to Hotchner, his editor — of how he gambled and lost his wife and son.
A wild but well told tale, of two consecutive plane crashes in the African bush, of impotence cured in a house of God, of Parisian nights carousing with Scott Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker, of adventure, conceit, passion and lusting after life. Taunt and dark murder Icelandic mystery, taking place amid the usual chaotic and dysfunctional family milieu of any Nordic thriller, during a ten days spell of never ending rain and gloom in present day Reykjavik in the fall.
The story involves a rare genetic disease that expresses itself fatally at a young age but only in a subset of carrier and whose Icelandic carriers were, illegally, identified by breaking into the genomic database of Decode, famously based in Iceland. To judge by Republican propagandists and Nordic noir crime fiction writers, Scandinavian societies must be in a state of almost complete societal break-down given the amount of rape, murder, incest, divorce in these novels.
Of course, having just returned from Iceland, it is one of the most developed, peaceful, prosperous, efficient and spectacular beautiful countries I know. Bizarre novel by the Icelandic Nobel Laureate, part magical realism, part allegory and satire. Despite a 10 pages enthusiastic introduction by Susan Sontag, the novel is a dud, without much internal logic. He does make a number of trenchant observations.
This belief that science would offer us an exemption from our place in this vast panorama of disintegration — of which the rotting armadillos and raccoons, the circling vultures, were only the most immediate manifestations — was a displacement of a fundamentally religious instinct. I own a sweatshirt that succinctly summarizes what the belief in the upcoming singularity among the smart money in Silicon Valley amounts to — rapture for nerds. His two biggest regrets are the death of his young lover, Antinous, and the very bloody second Roman-Jewish War that ended in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of most of the Jewish population.
Hadrian is an admirable man — disciplined, thoughtful, diplomatic as a default, forceful when necessary, a consummate traveler. During his 19 years reign, the Empire was peaceful and prosperous; the official practice of religion was tolerant towards all the gods of the various people and tribes ruled by Rome, provided they, in turn, accepted the idea of a Pantheon— that Christianity, famously, did not. To give you a sense of the style, here is the ending. Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore.
But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall not see again Let us try, if we can, to enter into death with open eyes The author takes up a version of Whiteheadian pan-experientialism, and defends it against Thomas Nagel and Jaegwon Kim and discusses this in relationship to the ideas of William Seager, Galen Strawson and John Searle. Beautiful produced gem of a historical novella of the life of Margaret Cavendish, nee Lucas, an English aristocrat, poet, playwright and self-taught philosopher, who lived during the 17th century Civil War and the ensuing Restoration much of her adult life was spent in exile in Paris and Holland.
She wrote at a time when few women did and great intellectual ferment was in the air — this is, after all, the period of the European Enlightenment and the birth of modern science — that she herself tried to contribute to. Hardly a regime conducive to becoming pregnant! Terse, sparse and well observed writing by Dutton. History, by the gifted science journalist, of the neglected English physician Thomas Willis and his turbulent times England during the Civil War and the ensuing Restoration.
Willis, together with William Harvey, is a founding figure of modern anatomy, neurology and psychiatry, who turned a field that was utterly dominated by what Aristotle and Galen had though and written 1, years earlier into something more recognizable as modern science. And the nobler the patients, the worse the treatment - King Charles II, who suffered from kidney disease, was purged, plastered, scalded and drained of quarts of his blood dying in the process. Many millions of patients must have been killed over the two millennia by such quackery.
My introduction to urban fantasy, narratives where the fantastic and the mundane interact and interweave at the intersection of a real, city, here London above the modern world and below a medieval London with magic, speaking animals, demons and angles. I would call this fantasy for adults; sad, poignant, utterly fascinating and hypnotic. And the way the real London, including the Underground, is woven into the texture of the novel is striking.
The title Neverwhere itself is very compelling and prompted me to buy the book! A noir crime thriller by a Mexican diplomat translated by Katherine Silver dark, cynical with a classical Chandlerian acerbic, vulgar self-deprecating violent cop with a fast gun. The book is an admixture of third-person point of view with rambling inner monologue of the protagonist, following all the twists and turns in an attempted assassination of the President of the US while visiting Mexico City, which turns out to be about local political infighting.
A sad ending. Unfortunately, we continue to live in a world with about 10, nuclear explosive devices, with more countries acquiring the technology. The explosion of but a single one of these devices in anger will change the world as we know it. It can sometimes seem astonishing to anyone who seriously considers the continual, indeed rising, level of risk of nuclear war in this second nuclear age to witness the continuing denial, the inexplicable ability of much of the world to ignore a fate hurtling toward us.
The same denial process is in place in the refusal to contemplate the existential threat of runaway AI or Superintelligence. A chilling account. How would we as a nation deal with the uncertainty of identifying the culpable agents, whether to retaliate in kind and how to live in a world where more such attacks might take place.
The book is not analytical and not as insightful as I would have hoped for. Well-crafted account of TBI and the toll it takes on civilian society. The child survived with no apparent adverse effect, save for a scar that still remains visible today, more than 70 years later. Winslade eloquently traces the remarkable medical revolution that enabled s of victims of massive brain injury due to traffic accidents, falls, guns and so on, to ultimately return to a productive life.
Until recently, the majority would have either died, remained in coma or been scarred for life. Death of a loved one allows healing to start; while no such mourning process is possible when the patient hovers for years in a clinical limbo, alive, yet a zombie. More than years into the Enlightenment that this French savant inaugurated and that may well be coming to an end in the tumultuous second decades of the third millennium, the mind-body debate continues to take place on terrain that Descartes first named and explored. Light on descriptions and character development, strong on historical context.
The real thing, the classic Gothic novel that defined the modern vampire a la the undead, or Nosferatu. Highly melodramatic, compelling, and well-paced story, with sweltering psycho-sexual undertones, told in the form of letters, diary entries, telegrams and newspaper cuttings. It is an archetypal, irresistible and romantic story of scientific discovery as is, of course, the grandeur of Machu Picchu and the dramatic conquest of the short-lived Inca empire by Pizarro and his men in Yet each such discovery proved illusory and turned out to be a sunspot, a fixed star or a figment of imagination.
The situation remained unresolved until November Presto — no need for Vulcan! He acquires a reputation as a effective physician and healer but also as a free-thinker, which is dangerous in these times when people are burned at the stake for minor transgression from the faith.
Replete with historical and erudite details, Yourcenar gives Zeno great depth, a real Mensch of the late Middle Ages, with a cantankerous and not always sympathetic character. He could no longer see, but external sounds reached him still.
Good Friends Might Be Your Best Brain Booster As You Age
As once before at Saint Cosmus, hurried footsteps echoed along the corridor: it was the turnkey who had just caught sight of the dark pool on the floor. But the anguish was over for him: he was free; this person who was coming to him could be only a friend. He made, or thought that he made, an effort to rise, without knowing clearly whether someone was coming to help him, or if, on the contrary, he was going to give help. The rasping of keys turning and bolts shoved back was now for him only the triumphant sound of an opening door. And this is as far as one can go in the death of Zeno.
He retreats to a country house of his own design, travels in his imagination, and turns neurotic. Essentially without plot, the reader is treated to a series of extended meditations on des Esseintes bizarre artistic literary, visual and olfactory experiences in a heavy, imagery-laden but effective language. To wit,. What literature had treated heretofore was the abundant health of virtues and of vices, the tranquil functioning of commonplace brains, and the practical reality of contemporary ideas, without any ideal of sickly depravation or of any beyond. In short, the discoveries of those analysts had stopped at the speculations of good or evil classified by the Church.
It was the simple investigation, the conventional examination of a botanist minutely observing the anticipated development of normal efflorescence abounding in the natural earth. Baudelaire had gone farther. He had descended to the very bowels of the inexhaustible mine, had involved his mind in abandoned and unfamiliar levels, and come to those districts of the soul where monstrous vegetations of thought extend their branches.
There, near those confines, the haunt of aberrations and of sickness, of the mystic lockjaw, the warm fever of lust, and the typhoids and vomits of crime, he had found, brooding under the gloomy clock of Ennui, the terrifying spectre of the age of sentiments and ideas. He had revealed the morbid psychology of the mind which has attained the October of its sensations, recounted the symptoms of souls summoned by grief and licensed by spleen, and shown the increasing decay of impressions while the enthusiasms and beliefs of youth are enfeebled and the only thing remaining is the arid memory of miseries borne, intolerances endured and affronts suffered by intelligences oppressed by a ridiculous destiny.
The tedium of it all! Huysmans has powerful turn of phrases at his command. The author is torn by his desire to defile his earlier Catholic upbringing by references to black masses and pedophilia, and his yearning to belief. For many years, I too shared this desire to believe in the God of my childhood like des Esseintes, I was taught by Jesuits in the face of my scientific and rational instincts who knew better.
These won out. The father is portrayed as a violent, difficult character seeking to hide his past but becomes more sympathetic in the telling of his semi-tragic story. I assume writing the book was cathartic for the daughter, reconnecting to her ever-so-distant dad. Exceedingly well written and insightful. Thoughtful extended argument, born from his own experience as a war journalist shades of Hemingway supported by anthropological-historical analysis, from a mesmerizing writer who re-acquainted us with the ancient notion of adventure as a rite of passage, essential for maturing.
Yet during and after catastrophes and calamities - London during the Blitz, Germany cities during WWII bombings, the siege of Sarajevo during the s, NYC after , soldiers in battles throughout the ages — people pull together, experience a deep sense of community the army speaks of high-group cohesion , including large drops in crime rates, suicide and psychiatric diagnoses.
His book is a plea, a cri de Coeur for returning veterans who long in civil life for the for the sense of unity and purpose they had while deployed. In combat, soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion, and politics within their platoon. People speak with incredible contempt about — depending on their views — the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president or the entire U. Regretably, this accurately reflects the current public discourse in the US, the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Unfortunately, besides giving veterans a public platform to speak about their war experiences, whether horrid, heroic or in between, and a general plea for more civility, Junger offers no solution or therapy to this modern ailment - alienation.
I warmly recommend this book to everybody concerned about the future of our liberal societies. His fate remains uncertain but is unlikely to be good. In a sort of coda, the final scene takes us to the same location on the night of the worst bombing attack by Allied planes toward the end of the war, when fascism had almost run its unholy course. A short, sparse but mesmerizing account of the stark life of a simple man raised at the turn of the Orphaned and abused as a child, with minimal education, disciplined and hardworking he remains poor throughout his life, solitary except for an all too brief time, when he is happily married.
Looking back, toward the end of the life, he is content. I read it twice over back-to-back in the Tyrolian Alps by pure coincidence. Superb; translated from Ein ganzes Leben. The classical Cold War thriller of murder set in a nuclear submarine above and below the artic ice shelf. I re-read it after four decades — it has aged remarkable well, sans extreme violence and sex.
Funny and well-crafted, the book epitomizes the frat-boy, high risk, take-no-prisoner Wall Street culture blind to its consequences on the larger economy some of the anecdotes a bit too convenient to be true. The book makes for depressing reading as it reveals incompetency most traders have little idea of the larger context of their deals and a financial system designed to rewards its own. Such revelations are part and parcel of the political anger and fury fueling the rise of demagogues and proto-fascists.
Nine chapters on a diverse range of topics relating to scientific advances and their impact on modern society — how we live, how we die, how we not have babies, about research on stems cells and embryos, about genetic research, pre-screening and testing — from a modern conservative scholar. His biggest gripe is with the dramatically reduced birth-rate among educated women in advanced liberal democracies and what this implies for our culture.
Indeed, a reduced birth-rate is the only non-violent means to address contemporary massive extinction of species and environmental degradation. Warning — this is not a breezy read but it is well worth the effort. It postulates that elementary particles are not point-like but extended strings either open or closed living in a space-time of more than 4 dimensions requiring an explanation why only 4 are apparent to us. There exists an enormous number of possible vacuum states, on the order of 10 to the A key difficulty of string theory is that its predictions can only be tested at energies that exceed the energies available to particles colliders such as LHC at CERN by a trillion, making it effectively impossible to test using conventional means, such as particle accelerators.
He summarizes three arguments, justifying them with examples drawn from the history and the practice of physics. It is acknowledged by physicists that there are no viable alternatives to string theory despite the best efforts for close to four decades of many, many theoreticians. This can be applied to either empirical predictions or to the emergency of a more coherent conceptual framework. Indeed, the belief of physicists in the existence of the Higgs particle was so high that when its discovery was confirmed in , nobody was particularly surprised.
These are examples of theories that are held to be correct description of physical phenomena despite the temporary ranging between 20 — years underdetermination of some of their key predictions. Dawid discusses how over the past years of fundamental physics the balance has changed from observation confirming theories e. In the process, the phenomenal e. In other words, over the last two centuries in physics the the conceptual distance between empirical signatures and the fundamental theory has become very large indeed.
In an aside, Dawid comments on the uncertain ontological status of other universes e. They belong to a peculiar class of objects that are epistemically inaccessible to us but that have some conceptually characteristics of observable objects. Will a fundamental theory of consciousness, such as IIT, share some of the characteristics of string theory? Note that conscious minds share some properties with the uncountable universes postulated by eternal inflation i. Geo-transformed to celebrate a dozen different civilizations from nearby star systems, the planet now plays host to various forlorn people who chose to remain behind.
A strong sense of melancholy and doom pervades the novel and animates its flawed heroes and anti-heroes battling each other, as life drains away under the dying of the light. The author, a financial journalist who worked for several years as a bond salesman, keeps the action fast-paced and exciting by following the actions of a few individuals who, ultimately successfully, bet against this market. Wall Street comes out as totally unscrupulous, cynical and incompetent, engaging in socially-non-productive forms of gambling with vast sums that endanger the fabric of modern society.
As acknowledged by the trader themselves, the game is rigged with profit privatized and risk socialized as witnessed by the bail-out of AIG, Goldman-Sachs and others by the US government in late The book and its successful movie adaptation feed the palpable public anger expressed by Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Saunders on the left in the run-up to the election. A powerful and well told story. Fantasy, somewhere on the spectrum between allegory and myth. A beautiful told story of an elder and very tender couple, Beatrice and Axle, in post-Arthurian England in which Christian and Romanized Britons and the invading pagan Saxons have established an uneasy equilibrium.
The land is covered by a mist that makes people forget. Thus, the couple tries to remember what happened to their son and go on a voyage to seek him out for they are sure he awaits them with joy. The novel has many fantastical elements — a dragon, ogres, knights of the realm — but is really about memories and forgetting and how both forces shape us in ways good and bad — memories of love-making, raising children and harmonious times clashing with memories of rancor, wounds and bitter disappointments.
The amnesia that is central to the novel is both collective King Arthur broke the peace treaty and slaughtered innocent Saxons as well between the couple. The ending is ambiguous and, like the rest of the novel, not really satisfying, even though the novel contains passages of great literary power. A well-done combo of space opera, steam punk and cyberspace novel that plays several hundred years in the future in a distant planetary system in which an alien civilization the Festival brings advanced technology to a th century industrial society modeled on Victorian England, telescoping a millennia of techno-social progress into a single month.
The book kept my attention even during an emergency landing due to smoke in the airplane cabin, no mean feat! There are not natural kinds but constructed and contingent terms. The parallel with religio , then, lies in the fact that we are not used to thinking of both religion and science as systems of beliefs and practices, rather than conceiving of them primarily as personal qualities.
And for us today the question of their relationship is largely determined by their respective doctrinal content and the methods through which that content is arrived at. That modern theories of, say, the origin and composition of stars or of the working of the human brain are not just sophisticated games but are superior, in a measurable way, to older theories let alone to non-scientific accounts of these phenomena. The writing is exceptional well-crafted and contains real nuggets about Climate Change, the modern academic endeavor a hilarious scene when he encounters deconstructionists' rabid take on the so-called scientific narrative and life.
This is supposed to be the funniest book in the English language of the An outstanding exposition of Epicurian philosophy, its physics and ethics, by a little known Roman writer living in the first century BCE. It is worthwhile to re-read this beautiful and evocative poem every few years for its celebration of the vitality of nature the poem starts with evoking the power of Venus, goddess of fecundity and how happiness can be found in the here and now. Human misery derives mainly from the dread of gods, the hereafter and death. Calm deliberation shows that the gods are not concerned in any way, shape or form with us why would they?
The poem exudes supreme rationality, denial of superstition, and views nature as constantly changing and evolving. Sex is natural and ought to be enjoyed. The universe is infinite, contains nothing but atoms and the void, and is indeterminate grace of the swerve. Even today, such lucidity is only for the few. As John Locke wrote in his journal at the end of the The first governs a few, the two last share the bulk of mankind and possess them in their turn.
But superstition most powerfully produces the greatest mischief. Beautiful crafted and observed psychological vignettes from the life of three women - the English modernist novelist Virginia Woolf, an American housewife in s Los Angeles and a successful editor, living with her lesbian partner in s Greenwich Village. Three common threads running through all stories are unhappiness, Mrs. Dalloway and suicide. Compelling read even though the abulic stance of the three protagonists is a difficult one for me to project myself into. The Hours was turned into a superb and subtle eponymous movie, very faithful to the original novel, with a haunting score by Philip Glass.
Short fictions and disturbances. The short story about Sherlock Holmes keeping bees in a mountain region in Asia is superb and haunting. The remaining ones are passable, but no more. It starts out strong, with an account of the early phase of the horrific, convulsive event known as the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" of , in which millions of Chinese people died, many of them scientists and other intellectuals.
The story involves contact with an alien civilization — Trisolarans - four light years out and the resultant effects on culture, religion and politics, with warring factions within society some that wish to accelerate the coming of these Aliens to Earth. The basic premise makes one really think - the hallmark of a thinking's person novel. Some of the dialogue and the personalities are a bit wooden. At times the writer adopts the point of view of the aliens living in a near-chaotic solar system with three suns that have basically human level motivations.
The story never makes any attempt to explain how the problem of decoding messages from radical alien cultures is solved. His subsequent buildings became defensive and turned inward, away from engagement with nature. The text cites a beautiful poem that expressed the bucolic outlook of the Art and Craft movement. It grows even now I pray that the world remembers my name, not as a monstrous sinner, but as the glorious savior you know I truly am.
I pray Mankind will understand the gift I leave behind. Filled with the usual tropes of such thrillers, this one is smarter, darker and more compelling than most. The entire action takes places in under 24 hours in Florence, Venice and Constantinople. The SF novel that was turned into a blockbuster Ridley Scott movie his only SF flick that isn't dark nor apocalyptic , with Matt Demon in the main role of astronaut Mark Tawney, who is unintentionally left behind when a NASA-sponsored Mars expedition has to rapidly evacuate the planet.
Mark survives despite all odds by taking a relentless let's-face-down-the-odds attitude -. No blubbering, despairing, "why me" lucubrations but an all-American or should I say, all Leibnitzian positive, if rough, attitude to life's persistent challenges such as running out of water or only having enough food for one month on a planet that is completely abiotic that Matt solves with a rational attitude, a lot of mad science and duct tape seriously. Another very prescient SF novel by the crazed Californian who died in near poverty. The dialogue is wooden; not to be recommended for its literary exposition but for its idea, decades before they become more widespread.
The history of the fall of the magnificent Inca empire, the last great civilization living in splendid isolation from the rest of the planet and believed that it encompassed all lands, brought down in a single, terrible year with the arrival of the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro and his men. The Inca emperor, Atahualpa, had just emerged victorious from a bloody civil war at the head of a million men strong-army; how could a mere handful of men threaten him? The book describes the events leading up to , the various attempts by surviving Inca leaders following the murder of Atahualpa to fight the invaders and the tragic fate of most Indians, Inca or not.
I read this book at the occasion of my visit to Lima, the capital of modern Peru, Cusco, the erstwhile capital of the Inca empire, and Machu Picchu. These events that took place almost half a millennium ago continue to resonate deeply in the history and in the culture of the country. The author, Hemming, is an explorer and anthropologist, emphatic toward the minds of the Indians and Spaniards who lived so long ago. The book is well researched and filled with detailed footnotes. A must-read when visiting Peru.
Well-crafted and enjoyable to read, despite the dark theme of the coming war. Many years later, he discovers the why. Enigmatic and compelling with only the faintest touch of supernatural, ghost-like elements. He calmed himself, shut his eyes, and fell asleep. The rear light of consciousness, like the last express train of the night, began to fade into the distance, gradually speeding up, growing smaller until it was, finally, sucked into the depths of the night, where it disappeared. All that remained was the sound of the wind slipping through a stand of white birch trees.
Very readable account of the search for a universal truth-calculus, the demise of this ancient dream and the consequential computer revolution this search birthed. Grand space opera that takes place in that eponymous year in which may of the planets of our solar system have been terra-formed, asteroids have been turned into habitats and genetic engineering has created a plethora of human life forms.
Today, more than years later, neo -Darwinian arguments suffuse our culture and constitute the bedrock of modern medicine and biology. Unlike his intellectual competitor, Alfred Wallace, Darwin was a close student of domestication, gardening and animal breeding and frequently compared natural selection with artificial selection even if the breeders did not consciously set out to create a new species. Remarkably, the theory was conceived in the absence of any knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying inheritance.
When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, nearly in the same way as when we look at any great mechanical invention as the summing up of the labor, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, will the study of natural history become!
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. Eminently readable scholarly book. It is a careful reasoned search for causes of the extinction of Neanderthals, who lived in Europe as north as Wales, as south as Israel and as far east as the Caucasus from roughly , to 30, BCE. Their disappearance overlaps with the emergence of modern humans from Africa between 40, and 32, BCE who settled in the area as Neanderthal.
Yet there is no or only scant direct evidence of Neanderthal killings by modern men but genetic evidence for interbreeding and raised the offspring of homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Shipman is very deliberate, analyzing the climate, comparing diets, caloric needs the Neanderthal had higher ones due to their more muscular frame , studying bone fragments archeological sites. She concludes that homo sapiens was most likely a more efficient hunter as witnessed by Mammoth graveyards due to two factors — firstly, the invention of long-distance projectile weapons, such as lances — secondly, the domestication of wolfs around 40, years ago.
She offers the tantalizing hypothesis that two apex predators, rather than directly competing with each other, learned to cooperate, to the lasting benefits of both.
Shipman hypothesizes that the ability of these carnivores to infer the direction of gaze of both con-specifics facilitated by their white iris as well as the gaze of humans enabled them to silently and swiftly communicate when hunting in large packs. Shipman concludes that Neanderthal, under severe stress due to a climate that became colder and drier, was outcompeted by teams of humans and their wolf-dogs. A great read. The third book I consumed while in Peru on extinction, this one on mass extinction and their scientific discovery by George Cuvier in the first half of the Century in opposition to the gradualism advocated by the geologist Lyell and Darwin.
Modern biology and geology is, of course, a combination of imperceptible changes over ten and hundreds of millions of years punctuated by abrupt catastrophes. This popular account by a journalist focuses on the contemporary human-triggered sixth extinction that will wipe out large swath of species by the end of this century with unknown consequences for the planet and ourselves.
Reasonable overview of alcoholism without trying to push any one therapy unlike the vast majority of books in this field. Although it often alludes to AA, it doesn't really discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Nutt is a professor of neuro-psychopharmacology at Imperial College in London and is famed for being the scientists who was sacked in by the British Home Secretary because he publicly compared the overall harm and mortality of horse-riding comparatively high with taking ecstasy comparatively low.
They used various objective measures e. Most notably, there is zero correlation between the legal status of these drugs and their overall harm. A psychology professor and his daughter consider some classic novels from the point of view of evolutionary psychology. Think of it as "crit lit" in the light of Darwin. What justifies Othello's jealousy in the eponymous play?
Why do Mr. Everything else is gravy. The tome's style is set by the opening quote by one Rene Leriche. Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray - a place of bitterness and regret, where he must look for an explanation for his failures. Given the very delicate nature of operating with very razor-sharp instruments in a dark place with only millimeters of room to maneuver, these procedures are risky. Among the funniest books ever written, it recounts a two week boating trip in a rowing boat along the river Thames in England and the various mishaps that ensue to the author and his two buddies.
The humor has aged remarkable well. There is something so beautifully calm and restful about his method. It is so free from that fretful haste, that vehement striving, that is every day becoming more and more the bane of nineteenth-century life. We are in the midst of a revolution in machine intelligence, the art and engineering practices that let computers do tasks that, until recently, could only be done by people. Examples include software that identifies faces at border-crossings and matches it against passports or that labels people and objects in images posted to social media, algorithms that can teach themselves to play Atari video games or a camera and chip embedded into the front view-mirror of top-of-the-line sedans that let it drive autonomously on the open road.
Such machine learning, if done over trillions of machine cycles yes, it is very compute intensely , can lead to systems that match or, in some cases, exceed human performance metrics. The torrid pace of these advances will put severe stress on society to peacefully deal with the attendant problems of un-employment the US trucking industry alone employees several million drivers and growing inequality.
Obscured by this razzle-dazzle progress is how far away we remain from strong or general AI, comparable to the intelligence of the proverbial person in the street who can navigate a car, hurtle on skis down a mountain slope, carries on a conversation about pretty much any topic — often in two or more languages - plays a variety of games, serves on a jury and plans for retirement decades in the future. This makes any predictions of when we will achieve strong AI fraught with uncertainty although, for the record, the majority of experts believe this will happen before the century is over, assuming current trends continue.
Its author, Nick Bostrom, is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University with a background in physics and neuroscience. He is concerned with understanding and mitigating emerging risks that affect the very survival of the human species — full-blown nuclear warfare, massive climate change, synthetic biology, nano-technology or runaway machine intelligence. The distribution of intelligence across any representative population is bell-shaped, with dumb jocks at one end and geniuses at the other. It is even possible that over the last millennia or two, the average level of intelligence has increased, given the improved access to good nutrition and stimulating environments early on in childhood when the brain is maturing.
But there is no natural law that stipulates that humans are as intelligent as possible. And what is true of the biological variety should also be true of its artificial counterpart. There is no discernible principle that would prevent emergence of an artificial super intelligence. Indeed, given competition among national states or among private corporations, organizations engaged in AI research will seek ever smarter machines that out-perform the opposition and maximize their own gain. This is likely to involve the ability of machines to self-improve by trial-and-error and by reprogramming their own code.
What might happen then was first pointed out by the mathematician I. Good in a memorable passage in Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. What motivates such a machine does not depend on how smart it is, but on its final goals. There are obvious dangers here — an AI designed to maximize return-on-investments at all costs could well trigger war or some other calamity and thereby rake in untold billions by hedging stocks in the affected industries while a military AI connected to our network of nuclear-tipped missiles could unleash a devastating preemptive first-strike on the principle that waiting longer would maximize the number of its own citizen dying in nuclear hellfire.
More insidious are goals that the AI achieves in ways never intended by the original programmers. But do we really want to end up as wire-heads? Or what about the innocent paper-clip-maximizing-AI that turns the entire planet and everything on its surface into gigantic, paper-clip making factories? Fulfilling the dictum of some holy book so you end up in heaven? Settling the galaxy?
Things turn out no easier when considering how to control such entities. The best-known rules do not come from roboticists, computer scientists or philosophers but from the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. Should a superintelligence therefore forestall all armed conflict? Should this AI shut down pollution-producing industries to counter global warming at the cost of a decade-long world-wide depression?
Does the first law apply to unborn fetuses and to patients in coma? Traditionally, that is the job of the political systems and the courts, designing and enforcing the written and unwritten code that govern society. And as history shows, people have difficulties agreeing on any one system — should the AI follow the US constitution, rules laid down by the Chinese communist party, or those of an advanced welfare state such as Sweden?
For that we need to study people and their brains — what makes a person intelligent, able to deal with a complex world that is in a constant change of flux? How does intelligence develop throughout infancy, childhood and adolescent? How much does intelligence depend on being embedded in social groups?
What is the relationship between intelligence and emotion, and intelligence and motivation. And what about consciousness? How did intelligence evolve? What is the brain basis of intelligence? But in a field delimited by science fiction novels and movies — and thereby brought to public attention - Nick Bostrom is among the first philosophers who has taken on these questions that humanity will sooner or later have to answer. The culminating event is, of course, the announcement on July 4.
It is a triumph of human ingenuity and organization, involving more than 6, physicists and engineers, billions of Euros, the construction of the largest and most complex machine ever built — and all of it done voluntarily, without the hope of making a quick buck or generating a big bang. The measurement at the LHC confirms the Standard Model of physics, that unifies the three fundamental forces using 24 matter-particles of which only the proton, the neutron and the electron are familiar from high school science , 12 force-particles including the well-known photon and the Higgs boson.
Physics has no certainty of what to expect at the even higher proton-proton collision energies that the LHC is generating now. To me, this is poetry, but not natural science. His uniform, still smelling of gasoline, is a reminder of his fiery suicide in April Now, inexplicably, he is resurrected, as hell-bent as ever in saving the German people from Jews, foreign influences and Anglo-American capitalism and restoring Aryan purity.
Written entirely as an deadpan inner monologue, with no irony, filled with his hilarious encounters with the peculiarities of modern life — from multiple TV cooking shows to dog-walkers that pick up the poop of their charges — and existing politicians, the book portraits his rise to reality-show cum performance artist media darling. DNA analysis has confirmed that they are not ancestral to the tetrapod and thus to us. That honor belongs to the lungfish. Humans beings must appear mere parvenus in the ledgers of coelacanth history. It is comforting to imagine the coelacanth swimming quietly around, watching all of the crazy things that take place, surviving far greater holocausts than those we have known, and continuing to exist after this extraordinary duration of time.
The second book is mainly a photographic book of this fascinating creature, much of it captures by underwater submersible. This frame story never makes it clear, keeping the tension high. Really extraordinary writing conveyed in few words. The middle one is in demotic, the standard script at the time for day-to-day affairs in Egypt and from which later on Coptic would evolve.
The lower script was in Greek. A number of these stone statues were placed in Egyptian temples throughout the land. By the end of the 4. It is only with the modern decipherment of hieroglyphs by the French child prodigy and philologist Jean-Francois Champollion in the s that this vast treasure house of knowledge became available to mankind again.
This singular act also marks the birth of modern Egyptology. The author vividly describes the historical context of the stone and its inscription, how this mixture of phonetic and idiographic signs language was deciphered and some of the most important or interesting documents that have been subsequently discovered and translated.
We asked participants in the control group to indicate their favorite cartoon character, which would serve as their familiar animated character condition see Supplementary Material. The mean duration the controls considered the cartoon character their favorite was 7.
Ramachandran’s excellent phrase
The groups were matched on sex, age, education, and body plasticity. All subjects gave written informed consent for this study according to the institutional guidelines set forth by the local ethics committee Commissie Mensgebonden Onderzoek, region Arnhem-Nijmegen , prior to the experiment. Subjects either received 25 euros or study credits for their participation. Two players and one control participant were excluded from the fMRI data analysis due to technical issues or excessive head motions.
Prior to scanning, all 43 participants completed questionnaires assessing demographics, handedness, psychological and physical health, body plasticity, autism, and the names of their best friend and familiar animated character. For players, the familiar animated character corresponded to their main avatar in WoW, and for controls, the familiar animated character was their favorite cartoon character. Participants also indicated, in years and months, play duration with their avatar players , how long they had considered the cartoon as their favorite controls and how long they had considered their designated close other as their best friend.
Referential processing paradigms are widely used in social psychology to assess differences between cognitive processing of self-related and other-related information. Rogers et al. These paradigms have recently been adapted to neuroimaging experiments Damasio et al. In our study, we employed a mixed blocked event-related fMRI design for the referential processing task.
The referential processing task also served as the implicit encoding task for the subsequent post-scanning recognition memory task see below. We controlled for perceptual and motor effects by including the control condition of counting syllables range: 1—5 [ Supplementary Material ]. Furthermore, matched nongaming controls did not have an avatar condition but rated the applicability of traits describing a familiar animated character whose actions they did not control, that is, their favorite cartoon character Supplementary Material. While lying in the scanner, participants completed a fixed set of practice trials to become familiar with the custom-made 5-button mouse and the task.
Each trait judgment block consisted of 5 trait trials related to one person condition only. Trait judgment blocks were alternated by a baseline block, comprising 5 baseline trials, which each consisted of a low contrast gray fixation cross. We included these baseline blocks to allow participants to return to a psychological baseline state where they did not actively think about the person in the previous condition. Each trait judgment block began with a prompt screen, indicating the name of the person to judge self, avatar, close other, and familiar distant other.
The prompt screen preceding syllable blocks indicated that the next block involved counting syllables. In case of baseline blocks, low-contrast text on the prompt screen informed participants that the ensuing block would be a relax block in which they only needed to keep their eyes focused on the fixation cross. Stimulus presentation lasted 3 s, during which a trait adjective appeared on the center of the screen, the cue appeared above the trait and the 5-point Likert scale occurred below the trait Fig.
Trait trials, baseline trials, and prompt screens were pulse locked and had a fixed duration of ms or 2 time repetition [TR]. The interstimulus interval time interval between stimulus offset and subsequent stimulus onset within a block varied between and ms, with an average of ms. Text screens were presented in off-white Arial font and centered on a black background. Participants viewed the trait adjectives previously presented during the referential processing task randomized along with novel trait adjectives that had not been presented during scanning.
Words appeared individually in the center of the computer screen and were followed by the next word immediately after the participant had responded. Using left- and right-handed key presses, participants indicated for each word whether they had seen the word in the scanner or not. The order of response buttons for Yes and No was counterbalanced across subjects, so that half of the players and controls had to respond with Yes by pressing the right key.
An LCD projector presented the stimuli onto a rear projection screen mounted at the head end of the scanner bore. Participants viewed the stimuli through a custom made mirror positioned on the head coil. All stimuli were delivered using Presentation software version These contrast images were subsequently entered into random-effects analyses.
- The Inquisition And Early Protestantism In Spain.
- Aneurin Bevan: A Biography: Volume 1: 1897-1945.
- Ajlek: The Ajnastazzi of Weyland.
Moreover, in line with previous research demonstrating brain areas preferentially related to self-referential processing Damasio et al. We then used MarsBaR v0. We conducted the fMRI analyses in 4 steps. In the first step, we sought to replicate findings from previous literature Damasio et al.
We performed both conjunction tests on a whole-brain analysis by testing against the conjunction null hypothesis that there is no effect of condition A e. In addition to these comparisons, we compared avatar-referencing in players with cartoon-referencing in controls to confirm that the predicted greater inferior lobe activation for avatar was indeed related to avatar-referencing and could not be explained by a mere familiarity effect of familiar animated characters in general. In these 2 contrasts, we expected to find no significance. The fourth and final step in the fMRI analysis concerned the hypothesis that avatar-referencing involves greater emotional self-involvement than other-referencing, such as close and familiar distant others.
In these 3 contrasts, we expected to find greater avatar-referential rACG activity, as an indication of greater emotional self-involvement of players with their avatar. To investigate our main hypothesis that avatar-referencing compared with self- and other-referencing would rely mostly on a 3PP and thus generate more activity in the angular gyrus, we compared avatar-referencing to self-referencing and other-referencing in 2 whole-brain analyses. Strikingly, results revealed greater activity for avatar in the left angular gyrus of the inferior parietal lobe Fig. Additional control comparisons ruled out a mere familiarity effect see supporting online text in Supplementary Material and Supplementary Table S3.
Self-identification with avatars from a third-person perspective. Bar graphs display mean blood oxygen level—dependent signal change relative to the syllable condition and standard errors. See Supplementary Table S3 for overview of all comparisons. This well established clinical questionnaire indicates the ease with which individuals incorporate and self-identify with body enhancements and adornments.
By rating the applicability of presented trait words to the presented person condition e. In the post-scanning task, we investigated this association by a surprise recognition task one player did not complete the post-scanning recognition memory task. Analysis of recognition memory data included the remaining 21 players. Post-scanning surprise recognition memory performance in players. Error bars represent standard errors. By coordinated use of functional neuroimaging, a behavioral encoding-memory paradigm and self-reports, we addressed the neurocognitive basis of human self-identification with avatars from a third-person perspective.
Results confirm our hypotheses regarding brain activity and behavior pertaining to 3 features of self-identification with avatars: 1 the third-person perspective, 2 emotional self-involvement, and 3 avatar-related memory. Relating to the third-person perspective 3PP , our results confirm the predicted functional role of the left angular gyrus in self-identification with external virtual bodies that are perceived and controlled from a 3PP.
Present findings indicate that avatar-processing in gamers recruited more left angular gyrus activity than processing of self and others Fig. Control comparisons for this region ruled out a mere familiarity effect, that is, the alternative explanation that gamers perceive their avatar as a familiar animated character Supplementary Table S3. Interestingly, positive correlations of the magnitude of avatar-referential activity in the left angular gyrus with individual body plasticity levels underscore the pivotal role of this brain region in plasticity to incorporate external body enhancements and external items e.
Since only avatar-referential and not other-referential angular gyrus activity significantly covaried with body plasticity, one possibility in line with previous studies Decety and Grezes ; Gazzaniga is that this form of self-identification, supported by the left angular gyrus, is related to the experience of agency and control over the observed body. The current findings corroborate the possible involvement of the left angular gyrus in processes of self-identification and distinguishing self from others Decety and Chaminade ; Decety and Grezes ; Lamm et al.
One important question concerns how involvement of the left angular gyrus in self-identification with avatars from a 3PP relates to the phenomena of illusory own-body perceptions, such as OBEs Blanke and Metzinger Whereas OBEs have been found in association with transient lesions in the right inferior parietal lobe Blanke et al. These findings correspond to theories assigning a specialized role of the left hemisphere in retrieval of self-knowledge as well as 3PP own-body recognition Decety and Grezes ; Gazzaniga On a phenomenal level, the gamer—avatar dyad may be a mixture between OBEs and a related, yet less well-known illusory body perception called heautoscopy Blanke et al.
In heautoscopy, a condition that is associated with impairments in the left inferior parietal regions, self-location can be either in the physical body or in the illusory second body or in both. This may also be the case in 3PP-gaming, which additionally shares with OBEs the elevated visuospatial perspective from where the physical body is perceived. The greater activity in this region for avatar relative to familiar distant other, but not relative to close other Fig. We propose that the experience of acting through an avatar that represents the self Pearce and Artemesia ; Ravaja et al.
Avatar-related memory significantly surpasses memory for familiar distant others Fig. This raises the tantalizing possibility that acting through an artificial agent in a virtual world yields more advantageous memory strategies than familiarity with a real human distant other. Recognition memory findings also indicate that the longer gamers play through their avatar, the better their avatar-related memory performance Fig. Interestingly, memory for avatar did not differ from memory for close other, even though they had known their close other almost twice as long as their avatar.
These findings indicate that playing experience with an avatar may yield memory advantages that outweigh the memory strategies associated with real-life interactions with human close others. Together, the present study illuminates how online virtual worlds may have provided humans with a new mode of self-identification, namely self-identification with avatars that represent the self from a third-person perspective. Considering the growing numbers of people that engage in online role-playing, acting through somebody may become an important element of mainstream embodied human social behavior.
Learning, socializing, and developing of new cognitive and affective skills in future human societies may increasingly take place through role-playing with avatars Gorini et al. In conclusion, our study considerably extends scientific studies of the human experience of self and others by providing a neural window onto the new phenomenon of self-identification with virtual agents from a third-person perspective—a phenomenon that may profoundly change human social experience Turkle ; Bainbridge The current study also underscores the value of using online virtual reality technologies in addition to immersive virtual reality laboratories to investigate the neural and functional processes underlying different forms of self-identification Ehrsson ; Lenggenhager et al.
The way is now open for future research to make use of these new technologies to advance the neuroscience of the self in the fast changing and increasingly virtual societies of today and tomorrow. Authors also thank members of the philosophy and neuroscience reading group at the University of Toronto, Canada for their invaluable feedback. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.
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Google Scholar. Hein T. Floris P. Evan Thompson. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract Millions of people worldwide engage in online role-playing with their avatar, a virtual agent that represents the self. Open in new tab Download slide. Search ADS. Google Preview. Linking the out-of-body experience to self processing at the temporo-parietal junction.
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