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Science Books

April 13, 2006

Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos
Seth Lloyd (2006)
ISBN: 1400040922

Programming the Universe is at the cutting edge of information theory as it promulgates the idea that the universe is a quantum computer, and everything contained in the universe - including you - is a quantum computer program. Seth Lloyd, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and designer of the first feasible quantum computer, claims that fundamental particles exchange information as well as energy when they collide, which implies that information is no more or less quantifiable than mass or motion. It's a curly one to get your head around, as it means that the universe and everything it contains is being created by… well, the universe. "As the computation proceeds, reality unfolds," says Lloyd. Lucky for us, Lloyd also happens to be exceptionally good at explaining complex notions clearly, beginning with a thorough run down of the history of the universe and how its development relates to information theory. Lloyd fearlessly dives straight into the big questions, such as how all the information in the universe came to be and how it has developed since the Big Bang. According to Lloyd, the universe itself is a product of information processing that randomly produced the matter, stars and planets of the universe. Lloyd also muses about whether or not scientists could recreate the conditions that led to the formation of our own reality using a quantum computer. Lloyd's way of viewing the universe is being taken up by other scientists and looks like it may inform a future theory of everything. Programming the Universe has plenty of fans in the scientific community. "This is an entirely new way of tackling some of the deepest scientific mysteries of our time, engagingly explained by one of the world's most creative scientists and leading thinkers," said Paul Davies of the Australian Center for Astrobiology.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Michael Pollan (2006)
ISBN: 1594200823

Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley and winner of the Reuters/World Conservation Union Global Award in Environmental Journalism, puts a modern slant on the age-old question of "what should we have for dinner?" Known as the omnivore's dilemma, the question relates to how our ancestors decided what to eat from the world's vast array of delicious, healthy or potentially poisonous, foods. With the rise of fast food and food processing, Pollan believes that modern humans are now facing the old dilemma all over again. Omnivore's Dilemma has been broken up into a number of parts that cover the entire production processes of industrialized food, so called organic foods, and food acquired through individual means, such as hunting, gathering or small scale farming. One of the most notable facts in Pollan's book in regard to industrialized foods is the reliance that we have on corn and oil throughout the entire life of a food product. We discover that oil is used in the fertilizers and pesticides that feed and protect crops, our food is also packaged in products made from oil, and of course food products have to be transported from farm to table somehow. Corn, in one form or another, is also used in just about every food you can find on a supermarket shelf. Pollan goes out into the field to eat a meal at McDonalds and an organic restaurant; and reveals the often disturbing transformation that the food has undergone before it finally gets to you.

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