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Science Books

November 15, 2007

Proust Was A Neuroscientist
Jonah Lehrer (2007)

As science and technology increasingly engulf our lives, we have grown accustomed to shunning what we consider wobbly thinking, and have sought out and embraced certainty above all else in the pursuit of truth. But as Jonah Lehrer, editor for SEED magazine, argues, we could learn a thing or two from history's great artists to assist in our pursuit of knowledge. Aged only 25, Lehrer, a Rhodes Scholar, shows wisdom beyond his years in this vibrant account of how a handful of the world's greatest artists discovered crucial characteristics regarding the human mind, which science is only now revisiting. Lehrer explains how novelist and critic Marcel Proust was the first to understand the brain's limitations in regard to memory (which everyone seemed to promptly forget). The brain's capacity for plasticity, or neuroplasticity - which relates to how otherwise fixed centers of brain function can be relocated after injury - has also been a hot topic around university water coolers of late. But as Lehrer again explains, it was actually the English novelist George Eliot who first identified the pliability of the human brain. Also appearing on the menu of arty neurologists is French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, who discovered the fifth taste we know as umami - the "meaty" or "savory" flavor that certain taste buds detect. In all, Lehrer showcases the contributions that a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a bunch of novelists have all made to the complex discipline of neuroscience. Lehrer's exceptional writing ability, coupled with what neurologist Oliver Sacks refers to as "amazing" illustrations, makes Proust Was a Neuroscientist essential reading.

Love And Sex With Robots: The Evolution Of Human-Robot Relationships
David Levy (2007)
ISBN: 0061359750

Married couples may go through the motions when it comes to sex, but in Love And Sex With Robots, David Levy takes the concept of mechanical sex to a whole new level. Levy, a renowned expert on artificial intelligence (AI), claims that the day humans start having sex with robots is rapidly approaching (forever changing the meaning of lube job). But Levy's marvelously written book deserves more than just titillating double entendres, and is in fact a serious look at how human-robotic sexual relations may be conducted. Considerations include not only sexual encounters, but also whether or not a human could have an emotional relationship with a robot. For instance, can having sex with a robot outside of your marriage be considered cheating? "I did not have sexual relations with that robot!" Or utopian paradise, where lonely hearts would never have to worry about being alone ever again - a case of someone (or something) for everyone? It gives a whole new meaning to "we were made for each other", or "I was made for loving you, baby". Of course, musings on human intimacies with robots and other man-made abominations are nothing new, as evidenced by Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, and the works of authors such as Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick. But unlike his literary predecessors, Levy is himself involved in cutting-edge robotics and AI research, as well as having the honor of presenting the very first papers on humans having intimate relationships with robotic partners. In Love And Sex With Robots, Levy recounts the history of human-machine relations over the years, and shows the changes that have occurred in our relationship with technology. He also explores why humans fall in love in the first place, and how we humans are capable of projecting feelings of attachment onto fellow humans, and even machines. If people can become attached to simple toys like Tamagotchis, reasons Levy, imagine what will happen when the android of our dreams stands before us.

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