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Science Books

October 19, 2006

Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge
Gerald M. Edelman (2006)
ISBN: 0300120397

Learning is considered an everyday activity, and the acquisition of new knowledge can easily be taken for granted. This is in part due to science knowing so little about human consciousness. But now that researchers are finally making some progress in brain science, new theories on knowledge are also beginning to emerge. In Second Nature, Gerald Edelman, director of The Neurosciences Institute and Nobel Prize winner, introduces his own theory of knowledge, which begins with a philosophical question. Based on available evidence, can all knowledge be reduced to scientific explanations? Edelman's treatise has important implications for questions regarding brain science that were once thought untouchable. How do we acquire, store and recall knowledge? What is creativity, and where does it come from? What makes a brain function abnormally, and what is "abnormal" anyway? Second Nature is a positive shift towards bringing together various scientific disciplines and the humanities under one umbrella. As renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, says: "It was William James's dream that physiology, psychology and philosophy be joined into a single discipline, and in Second Nature, the latest volume in Gerald M. Edelman's seminal series of books on Neural Darwinism, this dream of a brain-based epistemology is brought closer than ever to realization." Other predictions made by Edelman include the incredible idea of brain-based devices that are conscious. A fascinating read.

The Ghost Map
Steven Johnson (2006)
ISBN: 1594489254

Regrettably, sometimes it takes a major catastrophe before a huge shift in understanding emerges. Steven Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good for You, shows how this situation arose during the infamous cholera outbreak in Victorian London. The Ghost Ship is a historical exploration that follows how Dr. John Snow successfully tackled London's grizzly cholera outbreak in 1854, and changed the way that society would think about disease, urbanization and science forever. Like authors such as Jared Diamond and James Gleick, Johnson manages to successfully weave together a vast number of disciplines to provide a thoroughly enriching reading experience. As Dr. Snow contemplated the implications of 2 million people tightly packed into a city with a ten-mile radius, and how transitory many of these people were, it suddenly dawned upon him that the city's infrastructure was not up to the task. Something had to give. But The Ghost Ship is yet another tale of one lone voice of reason being drowned out and dismissed by a science community overly sure of itself. Johnson manages to convey the anxiety that Dr. Snow felt when, as he predicted, people in his neighborhood suddenly began dying, and the subsequent urgency that compelled him to at last act. Dr. Snow eventually managed to save the day by developing a map that could trace the outbreak back to its source. Snow's map laid the groundwork for the planning, strategies and methodologies used by town planners, public officials and emergency services right up until the present day. A gritty and compelling page-turner.

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