Get out your credit card and get some...

Science Books

March 30, 2006

Chances Are… Adventures in Probability
Michael Kaplan, Ellen Kaplan (2006)
ISBN: 0670034878

You've gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Good advice, but just how do you know when to cash in your chips? In the 1660s, one gambler was so curious about that question that he stumbled upon a mathematical system that promised to give meaning and order to the randomness of life: probability. Michael and Ellen Kaplan, with backgrounds in a variety of fields, such as filmmaking, archaeology, math and history, explain how the development of probability altered the way people viewed the universe via religion, philosophy, science and everyday occurrences. It is science that has benefited most from statistics and probability, as without the predictive power of probability it seems unlikely that science would have come as far as it has. Pharmaceutical trials and medical diagnosis are just two examples where statistics and probability are important to patient health and survival. Throughout Chances Are… the authors add further examples, such as law, politics and war, where understanding probability often means the difference between success and failure. But the authors also note that while we have this predictive power at our very fingertips, we often ignore the odds and entrust our lives to intuition and hearsay. The odds of any of us being here at all are so slim that it's amazing people push their luck even further when it comes to smoking, car travel or investing in the stock market for the sake of a thrill or a quick buck. Whether it's defiance or denial of the bald faced facts, ignoring probability is perhaps just a part of being human. Chances Are… is an enjoyable and revealing read aimed at the general reader, and its surprising and ironic conclusions make it anything but predictable.

I Am a Strange Loop
Douglas R. Hofstadter (2006)
ISBN: 0465030785

This fascinating book tackles the weighty question of what we mean when we refer to "I." Douglas R. Hofstadter, College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Indiana University, poses controversial questions on consciousness that are liable to toss all your preconceived notions of self around your head like mismatched socks on a spin cycle. If you feel like you're falling down the rabbit-hole when you try and comprehend a concept of "I," it's probably due to what the Pulitzer Prize winning Professor calls the "strange loop." According to Hofstadter this term refers to a special feedback loop that incorporates several levels of cognition within the brain. He describes the brain as working on a hierarchy, with a lower, primordial mass of freewheeling particles all the way up to the higher levels dominated by abstract "symbols". Among the symbols, says Hofstadter, "I" is the most central and complex symbol of all and acts as a nexus between the different hierarchies. But, asks Hofstadter, do these symbols - or thoughts - defy physics? Is it a situation of mind over matter? This is one of the most interesting aspects of I am A Strange Loop, as it raises the question of whether thoughts push particles around and cause action and movement, or vice versa. Of course, this concept could raise all sorts of possibilities relating to souls, spirits and the like, but Hofstadter doesn't take this path. Instead, he takes a scientific approach in the hope of discovering the mechanisms behind consciousness. Are our thoughts derived from particles that follow deterministic physical laws, or are we missing something? In either case the question of what a thought actually is, and how it relates to a continual concept of "I," is sure to keep the strange loop working overtime.

[Back to the Main Books Page]

Top of page     Home page     Forums     About

The terms and conditions governing your use of this website.

© 1997 - 2016 McMurdo Media Pty Ltd and its licensors. All rights reserved.