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What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science: Original Essays from a New Generation of Scientists (Vintage) 0th Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307389312
ISBN-10: 0307389316
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Editor Brockman, an agent at a "literary and software agency," approached some of the world's rising science stars in a disciplines to explain how they're "tackling some of science's toughest questions and raising new ones." The 18 new essays that resulted evoke a fantastic cross-section of societal concerns, focusing largely on issues of ethics and the human mind. German neuroscientist Christian Keysers explains how mirror neurons, located in the brain's center of voluntary action and body-control, allow us to have vicarious experiences and use them to choose "good and not evil" when dealing with others. Psychologist Jason Mitchell expands this idea to "social thought," in which humans achieve sophisticated coordination with the actions of others in order to, for instance, "design, construct, and operate an airplane." Biologist Vanessa Woods and anthropologist Brian Hare team up to explain how dogs evolved an ability to read human minds superior to even our closest primate relatives. Other articles cover quantum field theory, climate change, the ecological niche of viruses, social insects and interdisciplinary science. This absorbing collection makes easy-to-read but thought-provoking material for even casual science buffs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Captivating. . . . Diverse. . . . While each essay is its own gem, together they form a remarkable dialogue about what it is to be human now, and what it will be in the future. . . . Fascinating.”
New Scientist
 
“Like reading a set of interesting blog posts, but on paper. And most of these folks don’t have blogs!”
Discover Magazine’s “Things Going On” blog
 
“Engrossing. . . . Offers a youthful spin on some of the most pressing scientific issues of today—and tomorrow. . . . Super smart and interesting.”
New York Observer’s “Very Short List”

“A fantastic cross-section of societal concerns, focusing largely on issues of ethics and the human mind. . . . This absorbing collection makes easy-to-read but thought-provoking material for even casual science buffs.”
Publishers Weekly
 
“Capaciously accessible, these writings project a curiosity to which followers of science news will gravitate.”
Booklist
 
“If these authors are the future of science, then the science of the future will be one exciting ride! Find out what the best minds of the new generation are thinking before the Nobel Committee does. A fascinating chronicle of the big, new ideas that are keeping young scientists up at night.”
—Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
 
“A preview of the ideas you're going to be reading about in ten years.”
—Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307389316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307389312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #974,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David M. Giltinan on July 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title of this book seriously overreaches. "Dispatches from the Future of neuroscience" would be more accurate, as 12 of the 18 essays deal with neuroscientific research. One article is about climate change, two are in the area of cosmology, two deal with evolutionary biology, and the final essay in the collection addresses the question "Why hasn't specialization resulted in the balkanization of science?"

In commenting on the neuroscience essays, I should acknowledge an upfront prejudice. I don't find it particularly surprising that more sophisticated imaging methods allow specific functions to be mapped precisely to particular regions of the brain, so I didn't find the three essays which do little more than report this kind of result particularly notable. Among the remaining essays, that by Deena Skolnick Weisberg, arguing that imagination is central to what makes us human, was little more than a statement of the obvious. Nick Bostrom's "How to Enhance Human Beings" was muddled, with no clear point, the essay by Sam Cooke on the process of memory formation was incoherent, made no mention of recent work related to the placement of "false memory", and had a Huxleyan focus on possible pharmaceutical enhancement that I found disturbing.

Essays by Joshua Greene on the organization of the brain along moral and cognitive dimensions and by David Eagleman on the way the brain perceives time were clear, but unexceptional.
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Format: Paperback
The editor asked prominent young scientists from a variety of fields to talk about the future of their disciplines and the result is a fascinating and diverse collection about future breakthroughs in and challenges facing scientists.

Subjects covered include neurology, climatology, paleoanthropology, biology, but what unifies them all is an interest in what impact future discoveries will have on humanity. For instance, How does recent research into the brain affect our understanding of morality?, or time?, language acquisition, or how we think about things like physical or temporal orientation? Will there be a huge human migration to the northern climes as global warming makes the earth's climate hotter? What would places like Northern Canada be like in that scenario? There's also a really interesting essay on mirror neurons, and how our minds develop ethics.

I highly recommend this book to people interested in a smart book on current, cutting-edge scientific trends.
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Format: Paperback
***1/2

If this collection of essays is representative of where science is headed in the next decade or two, we can look forward to better understanding of human cognition, social/behavorial psychology, evolutionary biology, and climate change, not to mention more overlap between these fields. But IS it a representative collection? -- I was a little disappointed that the book didn't address obvious hot topics in more technological areas, such as particle physics, green energy, nanotechnology, or artificial intelligence.

Regardless of their focus, though, I found the issues that these piece examine generally interesting. Does the language we speak affect how we think? How are viruses necessary? Why is that wolves and chimpanzees can't follow a pointing finger, but dogs can? (Because that sort of human social awareness has been bred into dogs.) Why is it that you can see another person's eyes flick, but not your own? How does the brain organize sense data arriving at different times?

Some of the authors are better writers than others, so the level of clarity and compellingness varies, but, together, they provide a good snapshot of some of science's advancing fronts. Even fields the book doesn't cover will probably be influenced by progress in the ones it does.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The main difference between this and other science anthologies that I have read is 1) the essays are original, written especially for this volume; and 2) the scientists are relatively young not yet at the pinnacle of their careers.

Max Brockman believes that "it's important to engage with the thinking of the next generation, to better understand not just what is going on in our own time but what issues society will face in the future. This exercise is especially valuable in science, where so many of the important discoveries are made by those in emerging generations." (p. xiii) Consequently he "approached some of today's leading scientists and asked them to name some of the rising stars in their respective disciplines: those who, in their research, are tackling some of science's toughest questions and raising new ones." (pp. xii-xiv) The result is this book with essays from 18 scientists in fields ranging from cosmology to microbiology.

In the first essay UCLA climatologist Laurence C. Smith asks "Will We Decamp for the Northern Rim?" His answer is that he does "not advise buying acreage in Labrador," but "maybe in Michigan." What is clear is that the north is warming up and making "land that is hardly livable [in]to land that is somewhat livable." He sees the US and Canada as the two countries "best positioned for expansion" into what has been known as the lands of the "minus-forty" degrees. Central to his piece is the prediction that north of the 45th parallel "temperatures will rise at nearly double the global average...and precipitation will increase sharply as well.
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