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Science Books

March 23, 2006

The Three-Pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock Its Mysteries
Shannon Moffett (2006)
ISBN: 1565124235

While most of us use it constantly, the human brain continues to remain one of science's biggest mysteries. How, for instance, can something comprised mostly of water and weighing only 3 pounds be responsible for human consciousness? Yes, scientists can tell us how neurons are connected and what chemicals trigger what response, but explanations become vague when they try and define human consciousness. Despite painstaking testing and analysis of the brain, scientists still can't replicate the incredible computational power of the human brain and artificial intelligence remotely resembling human intelligence remains a pipe-dream. In this her first book, Shannon Moffett traces the life of the brain from embryo to death, in the hope of discovering new insights into the human mind. Moffett doesn't take on this massive challenge alone, and during her quest she draws on some of today's greatest scientific and philosophic minds. Like neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, author of Phantoms in the Brain; Moffett examines cases where patients have suffered psychological trauma, or where the brain has been damaged physically. We hear from neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Glick, who gives us a candid understanding of surgery techniques and physical brain trauma, as he removes a bullet lodged in a patient's skull. And neuroscientist Dr. Christof Koch, a colleague of the late Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, tells us he can solve the consciousness question by cellular analysis of how we see. Moffett carefully and diligently explores all angles, and regardless of whether or not you think she has offered new insights into the mind, her outstanding explanations of how the brain develops are alone worthy of praise. Considered "vivid and immensely enjoyable, both inspiring and entertaining," by Ramachandran, The Three-Pound Enigma comes highly recommended.

The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite
Ann Finkbeiner (2006)
ISBN: 0670034894

The idea of a secret society of military scientists sounds like it came straight from the pages of one of those airport spy-thriller novels, or perhaps from the mouth of a gibbering tinfoil-hatter; but the Jasons actually do exist. Ann Finkbeiner, a freelance science writer, who has momentarily put aside her favored topic of cosmology for something a bit spicier, says that the Jason group evolved from the Manhattan Project during the Cold War. Far from being full of kooks whacking each other on the buttocks as part of a hazing ritual, the Jason group has had many a distinguished scientist pass through its corridors of clandestine power. Freeman Dyson, Murray Gell-Mann, Edward Teller and Hans Bethe are just some of those who have solved problems for the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, and advised governments on how best to apply pure science to military ends. Finkbeiner's mesmerizing account of the Jasons describes them as being devoted patriots whose unshakable independence has resulted in many groundbreaking discoveries, such as the electronic battlefield, the Star Wars missile defense technology, and a national system for predicting global climate change. The Jason group's unfettered scientific explorations conducted in complete secrecy have often been the source of moral predicaments, political skirmishes and general suspicion. But to show that they are all really just nice guys, and not the wild-eyed mad scientists of popular fiction, Finkbeiner manages to raise the cone of silence and fully explore the colorful personalities that comprise the Jason team.

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