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Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution [Paperback]

John Brockman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 7, 1996 0684823446 978-0684823447 1st Touchstone Ed
Thirty-five years ago, C. P. Snow, in a now famous essay, wrote about the polarization of the "two cultures" -- literary intellectuals on the one hand, and scientists on the other. Although he hoped for the emergence of a "third culture" that would bridge the gap, it is only recently that science has changed the intellectual landscape.
Brockman's thesis that science is emerging as the intellectual center of our society is brought to life vividly in The Third Culture, which weaves together the voices of some of today's most influential scientific figures, including:
Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins on the implications of evolution Steven Pinker, Marvin Minsky, Daniel C. Dennett, and Roger Penrose on how the mind works
Murray Gell-Mann and Stuart Kauffman on the new sciences of complexity
The Third Culture is an honest picture of science in action. It is at once stimulating, challenging, and riveting.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this treatise on the central role of science, John Brockman contends that science is becoming the predominant culture and scientists are taking the place of traditional intellectuals in answering the important questions facing humankind. Structured in interview format, The Third Culture consists of 23 noted scientists discussing their theories, the nature of scientific inquiry, and their common desire to be recognized as today's intellectual leaders.

From Publishers Weekly

This set of conversational essays, distilled from interviews with 23 leading scientists, presents an engaging, unparalleled road map to the frontiers of research and speculation in evolutionary biology, genetics, artificial intelligence, psychology and physics. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould argues provocatively that evolution harbors no inevitable drive toward increasing complexity or progress. Astrophysicist Martin Rees ponders the possibility of multiple universes as well as ways to locate "dark matter," the 90% of the universe that exerts gravitational force yet is invisible and unaccounted for. Psychologist Steven Pinker defines language as an instinctual, specialized skill that develops in the child spontaneously. Philosopher Daniel Dennett views consciousness as a "virtual machine," an abstract thinking center, while, at the opposite pole, biologist Francisco Varela melds Buddhist philosophy and neuroscience in his theory of the mind as an "emergent self" shaped by interactions with its environment. Contributors include biologists Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis, physicists Roger Penrose and Murray Gell-Mann, cosmologists Paul Davies and Alan Guth. New York literary agent Brockman is editor of About Bateson and Doing Science. Newbridge's Library of Science, Astronomy Book Club and Natural Science Book Club and Reader's Subscription special selections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (May 7, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684823446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684823447
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
(11)
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
100 of 110 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Third Rate May 28, 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The underlying premise of this book is that a new kind of scientist-popularizer now serves as the intellectual elite of our culture. Each chapter focuses on one such scientist-popularizer; first he or she explains his/her work and then peers comment on it. Broadly, the science focuses on about four themes: evolution, cognitive science/AI, cosmology, and complexity. The people interviewed include Steven Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Marvin Minsky, Roger Penrose, Murray Gellman, Steve Pinker, and others. My criticisms of the book are
1. It's exceedingly arrogant in its dismissal of literary and politcal intellectuals in the book's preface.
2. At least half of the peer discussion at the end of chapters is inane remarks like "So-and-so's work is very important. She's the smartest person I know." This, along with the tone of the preface, makes it seem as if the participants are insecure somehow. It also makes me suspect the book is merely a promotional vehicle for the participants books. (The editior of this book is a literary agent.)
3. In very few instances are the participants ideas adequately developed or critiqued. The spatial limitations are exacerbated by the inane praise and filler.
4. Much of the thinking covered is glitzy with little substance and this gives a false notion of how science is done. There's very little mention of experiment.
3 and 4 combine to create a book that includes both crackpot and mainstream scientific ideas and then doesn't not present the reader with enough information to distinguish between them.
The book does attempt to do some worthwhile things:
1. Lead one to some great authors.
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good Idea, Lousy Execution February 14, 2003
Format:Paperback
This book is a sad collage of weak efforts from a self-promoting literary agent. Brockman co-opts a pithy title with a specific meaning and then misapplies it intentionally, seeking to acquire the virtues of the label without providing the substance to back it up. If you want to read a group of highly respected scientists (and an occasional philosopher) speculating about their work's broader context -- socially, historically, aesthetically, morally, spiritually -- without the rigorous requirements of a peer reviewed journal or the space required to make a nuanced argument, this may be worth your time. However, be prepared to wade through piles of mutual admiration smugness and now-you're-an-insider prose.
Brockman positions the work as an "oral history of a dynamical emergent system," which is just a jargon-laden smokescreen for a half-assed effort. If only Brockman had the spine to take the transcripts of his interviews and synthesize them for the reader into a coherent, readable whole! Instead, we have edited transcripts, a power point version of a thoughtful book, the crucial synthetic element replaced with copyediting and cleverly labeled section titles. Good idea, lousy execution. This is a book edited by Brockman, not written by him; he apparently lacked the self-confidence or talent to write in his own voice, and he does a disservice to the thinkers whose verbal speculations he edits into pabulum, digestible by the massest of the mass public (e.g., "Chris Langton is the central guru of this artificial life stuff." Ack.).
Do yourself a favor and buy the original works of the thinkers included in this volume, or read their original academic publications. Yes, it may be putting money in Brockman's pocket as their agents, but at least he will be rewarded for the work that reflects his talent - leeching off others. The cover swims with the names of Nobel Prize winners and scientific luminaries - in a halo around his own.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Knowledge is power. But as Brockman successfully argues, the significance of the new knowledge born by scientific revolution will never be fully realized without communication. Enter the Third Culture. These individuals have successfully bridged the gap between ignorance and enlightenment by revealing the magic and power of science to the world.
In his book, Brockman has brought together the ideas of those who, in his opinion, are best representative of the Third Culture. Lynn Margulis' ideas on symbiosis and evolutionary change give a new twist to Darwinism; the idea of exaptation as explained by Stephen Jay Gould reveals the inherent randomness of natural selection; Alan Guth's comments on the Big Bang and the fate of the universe will force anyone to become a kid again and wonder. The reader will be exposed to a vast range of scientific thought in a way which is easily understood and enjoyable. In addition to getting exposed to ideas which are dominating science today, the reader also gets a flavor for the lives of those who are truly passionate and dedicated to their work.
Scholar or layman, the reader will enjoy this anthology of thought and walk away knowing that science is really as amazing as it's cracked up to be.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine. But don't exaggerate February 28, 2006
Format:Paperback
What John Brockman does here makes a lot of sense. He brings together a whole group of first- rank scientists and enables them to explain major aspects of their thought. These 'popularizations' of scientific work taken together, and dialogued about are however proposed by Brockman to be the basis of a 'Third Culture' a scientifically based higher or true culture.

Here we meet the recurrence of the well- known reality in which the person goes and asks various people in the town why X or Y happens to be the way they are. The barber says it is because they do not have a proper haircut, and the tailor says it is because their trousers have not been properly sewn, the mailman says its because their letters were not delivered. Etc Etc.

Brockman should understand that there are realms , respectable realms of cultural and human activity which Science has no significant place in. The drama of Shakespeare does not need an Isaac Asimov analysis of the number of its characters or pages to be what it is. The world of Music does not need a scientific explanation of what Music is in order to give pleasure and meaning to many.

A truly comprehensive Culture would have Science as a central part of it. But it would not be exclusively scientific.

I am personally a great fan of Brockman and the colloqiums he puts together in 'Edge'. But he should too understand that there are worlds outside the world of science, and that those worlds are real and meaningful in ways scientific work does not comprehend.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Some of it is ok
Love the premise. It falls apart at some points though.

I Love having the opposing viewpoints at the end of the chapter. Read more
Published on January 9, 2007 by Roman Bielski
5.0 out of 5 stars The third culture
Pretty good book, cuz it has comentaries from many important scientists. I like it very much.
Published on November 10, 2006 by E. S. Romero
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there a comprehensible and informative science book?
Yes, and it's called 'The Third Culture'. I am a final year high school student studying evolution and I read 'The Third Culture' expecting a dry and uninteresting outline of... Read more
Published on April 14, 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Survey of Latest Scientific Conceptual Worldviews
In this fine volume, editor and literary agent John Brockman has managed to assemble a majority of the key scientists who are developing the 'Third Culture' - a new scientific... Read more
Published on April 13, 1999 by Alex Burns (alex.burns@disinfo.net)
1.0 out of 5 stars Yet another attempt to justify scientific snobbery.
This book starts out with the oft-expressed complaint of C.P. Snow and others regarding the two cultures in academics and thought, positing the humanities against the sciences. Read more
Published on January 2, 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reader's Digest for Science
Why pour over stacks of technical journals when Brockman
has collected summary essays from leaders in their fields?
Published on January 7, 1997
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book, plus others with views of non-scientists.
This is a great book, yet because it so clearly shows the views of the best in science, it inadvertently demonstrates the limitations of scientific thought. Read more
Published on November 28, 1996
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