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Science Books

September 2, 2005

Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies - and What It Means to Be Human
Joel Garreau (2005)
ISBN: 0385509650

Washington Post writer Joel Garreau addresses the big questions in this book about humanity's possible futures. Garreau plots the course of human potential in four separate scenarios, where each shares the common thread of humanities exponential rate of technological change that he refers to as "the Curve." We are already witnessing the first signs of this change happening now. In Garreau's vision, the curve could lead our species either to "Heaven" or "Hell." Heaven is, as you'd expect, the utopian society that we have all been waiting our whole lives for. Genetic engineering and nanotechnology will provide us with efficient bodies capable of better metabolism and enhancements that improve our health, strength and longevity. Our intelligence and cumulative knowledge has increased so much by this stage that not only have we conquered disease and poverty, but also attained most of the things humanity has aspired to for eons. Peace, beauty, wisdom, love and truth have become all but innate. Predictably, Hell is just that, a living purgatory. Our worst fears are realized in many of the current technology controversies. GMO crops have damaged crop genomes beyond recovery, cyborg soldiers who never sleep, genetic medicine producing deformed children and predictions of escaped nanobots reeking havoc on Earth paint a gloomy apocalyptic picture. Those not happy with the contrived dichotomy of Heaven or Hell scenario may be more satisfied with Garreau's description of "Prevail." Most of us would probably even recognize our species in Prevail. Stumbling upon new technologies, trial and error and just making the best of every situation that crops up - just winging it and adapting. This middle-ground approach is perhaps a more realistic prophecy, as we see people being more selective and contemplative about the choices on offer. Garreau hits the reader with some pretty outlandish scenarios, but then predicting the path of human progress and how we deal with the consequences is never going to be easy. Recommended.

Unwinding the Clock: Ten Thoughts on Our Relationship to Time
Bodil Jonsson, Tiina Nunnally [Trans.] (2005)
ISBN: 0156007606

It seems that we never have enough time to do everything we want in life. There are many aphorisms that we nonchalantly roll of the tongue to those we feel are wasting their time. There are "only twenty-four hours in a day", "life's too short" and "you only go around once." So just what are we supposed to do with our time? Swedish physicist Bodil Jonsson, founding director of the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering Research at the Lund Institute of Technology, says that in this day and age of digital technologies and personal organizers chock-a-block full of appointments, we need to learn how to change our perceptions of time. New technologies, Jonsson claims, have increased the pace of life and the result is a society comprised of alienated individuals. In effect the book is a physicist's take on time management, which is no bad thing for those tired of ineffable, self-important self-help books that do nothing but take up valuable bookshelf space. Jonsson's science background provides a practical and pragmatic approach to life in the fast lane, where nostalgia and dwelling on the past is out. Instead Jonsson offers what is really a scientist's plea to society to gain knowledge and wisdom simply by not letting ourselves be bullied or ruled by encroaching technologies. In fact, Jonsson proposes cell-phone free train compartments, which is not at all a bad idea. She even offers the advice of withdrawing from the world on occasions in order to contemplate on some of our newly acquired knowledge. Like a true scientist, Jonsson says that taking this first step provides the opportunity to find "new standards for measuring new ideas." While there is always a time for action, mistakes are usually made in haste, opportunities are overlooked and life in general disappears without us even noticing. Unwinding the Clock may just be the answer to our frenetic fast-food fueled lives.

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