How Things Are : A Science Tool-Kit for the Mind by John Brockman & Katinka Matson (Editors)

How Things Are : A Science Tool-Kit for the Mind

An eclectic survey of contemporary scientific thought and attitudes. Brockman and Matson liken reading this collection of essays to being in a room full of scientists and posing one question to each of them. Forget asking questions, these thinkers are out to tell you the issues that are resonant in their lives.

Thirty-four essays elucidate some important scientific concepts like evolution and quantum theory. But more significantly, these writings show us how scientists think: how their methodology tackles both the grandiose and the particular and how following the side streets of traditional theory can lead to unexpected conclusions.

This work is authored by British and American academics. While some authors demonstrate the scientific community's inclination to speak to laypeople as if they were talking to children (Marian Stamp Dawkins writes that "understanding how things work, even your own brain, has a grandeur and a glory that no nonscientific explanation can come anywhere near"), most of the writers resist oversimplification.

Some works are notable for their clarity. Stephen Jay Gould's humbling explanation of evolutionary theory, which concludes that we are "a small, late-blooming, and ultimately transient twig on the copiously arborescent tree of life." Michael S. Gazzaniga discusses the misguided reliance on averages and statistical information in the effort to "find relationships in an otherwise noisy set of data." Others are strikingly original: Ann Fausto-Sterling describes same-sex couplings in animals, and David Gelernter brings together disparate arguments on computer science and reading the Talmud to support his lucid critique of multiculturalism.

This is a gathering of the most illuminating thinkers and scientists of our time, each with a piece of writing relevant to their field that will challenge our intelligence and provoke our curiosity. Every entry enlightens the thoughts of the reader on the "core" issues that govern the world of science.

Thinkers and scientists contribute writings relevant to their fields regarding challenges to intelligence and issues which concern the scientific world. Essays provide lively discourses on the natural world and its ironies and inconsistencies: while scholarly, they retain a level of accessibility essential in a title appealing to the general reader. Varied and invigorating, these essays are a light, but not insubstantial, read.

Table of Contents


Pt. 1. Thinking About Science
Nothing But or Anything But?
By Marian Stamp Dawkins
On the Naturalness of Things
By Mary Catherine Bateson
Good and Bad Reasons for Believing
By Richard Dawkins

Pt. 2. Origins
What Happened Before the Big Bang?
By Paul Davies
The Joy of Water
By P. W. Atkins
Where Do We Come From?
By Robert Shapiro
Who Do We Blame for What We Are?
By Jack Cohen
Triumph of the Embryo
By Lewis Wolpert
From Kefir to Death
By Lynn Margulis

Pt. 3. Evolution
Three Facets of Evolution
By Stephen Jay Gould
Our Gang
By Milford H. Wolpoff
What About Incest?
By Patrick Bateson
Why Are Some People Black?
By Steve Jones
Chance and the History of Life
By Peter Ward
Nobody Loves a Mutant
By Anne Fausto-Sterling

Pt. 4. Mind
How to Make Mistakes
By Daniel C. Dennett
Can Minds Do More Than Brains?
By Hao Wang
How to Think What No One Has Ever Thought Before
By William H. Calvin
The Puzzle of Averages
By Michael S. Gazzaniga
Ceteris Paribus (All Else Being Equal)
By Pascal Boyer
On Taking Another Look
By Nicholas Humphrey
What to Know, How to Learn It
By Roger C. Shank
How Do We Communicate?
By Dan Sperber
Minds, Brains, and Rosetta Stones
By Steven Rose
Study Talmud
By David Gelernter
Identity in the Internet
By Sherry Turkle

Pt. 5. Cosmos
What Is Time?
By Lee Smolin
Learning What Is, from What Doesn't
By Alan H. Guth
Symmetry: The Thread of Reality
By Ian Stewart
Special Relativity: Why Can't You Go Faster Than Light?
By W. Daniel Hillis

Pt. 6. The Future
How Long Will the Human Species Last? An Argument with Robert Malthus and Richard Gott
By Freeman Dyson
The Uniqueness of Present Human Population Growth
By Joel E. Cohen
Who Inherits the Earth? An Open Letter to My Sons
By Niles Eldredge
Can Science Answer Every Question?
By Martin Rees