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Other titles in the Vintage series:
What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Scienceby Max Brockman
Synopses & Reviews
Will climate change force a massive human migration to the Northern Rim?
How does our sense of morality arise from the structure of the brain?
What does the latest research in language acquisition tells us about the role of culture in the way we think?
What does current neurological research tell us about the nature of time?
This wide-ranging collection of never-before-published essays offers the very latest insights into the daunting scientific questions of our time. Its contributors—some of the most brilliant young scientists working today—provide not only an introduction to their cutting-edge research, but discuss the social, ethical, and philosophical ramifications of their work. With essays covering fields as diverse as astrophysics, paleoanthropology, climatology, and neuroscience, What's Next? is a lucid and informed guide to the new frontiers of science.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
This collection of essays by 18 top young scientists introduces readers to the work of the next generation in fields such as astrophysics, evolutionary psychology, paleoanthropology, neuroscience, genetic engineering, and climatology.
About the Author
Max Brockman is an agent at Brockman, Inc. a literary and software agency. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
Max Brockman: Preface
Laurence C. Smith: Will We Decamp for the Northern Rim?
At stake is no less than the global pattern of human settlement in the twenty-first century.
Christian Keysers: Mirror Neurons: Are We Ethical by Nature?
Evolution has equipped our brains with circuits that enable us to experience what other individuals do and feel.
Nick Bostrom: How to Enhance Human Beings
Given our rudimentary understanding of the human organism, particularly the brain, how can we hope to enhance such a system? It would amount to outdoing evolution. . . .
Sean Carroll: Our Place in an Unnatural Universe
The early universe is hot and dense; the late universe is cold and dilute. Well . . . why is it like that? The truth is, we have no idea.
Stephon H. S. Alexander: Just What Is Dark Energy?
Dark energy, itself directly unobservable, is the most bewildering substance known, the only “stuff” that acts both on subatomic scales and across the largest distances in the cosmos.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: Development of the Social Brain in Adolescence
Using modern brain-imaging techniques, scientists are discovering that the human brain does indeed change well beyond early childhood.
Jason P. Mitchell:Watching Minds Interact
Perhaps the least anticipated contribution of brain imaging to psychological science has been a sudden appreciation for the centrality of social thought to the human mental repertoire.
Matthew D. Lieberman: What Makes Big Ideas Sticky?
Big Ideas sometimes match the structure and function of the human brain such that the brain causes us to see the world in ways that make it virtually impossible not to believe them.
Joshua D. Greene: Fruit Flies of the Moral Mind
People often speak of a “moral faculty” or a “moral sense,” suggesting that moral judgment is a unified phenomenon, but recent advances in the scientific study of moral judgment paint a very different picture.
Lera Boroditsky: How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?
Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.
Sam Cooke: Memory Enhancement, Memory Erasure: The Future of Our Past
Once we come to understand how our memories are formed, stored, and recalled within the brain, we may be able to manipulate them—to shape our own stories. Our past—or at least our recollection of our past—may become a matter of choice.
Deena Skolnick Weisberg: The Vital Importance of Imagination
One of the main ways in which both adults and children learn about the world around them is by asking “What if?” using their imagination to think about what might have happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Far from being used only for childhood games or daydreams, this ability to get outside of reality can have profound effects on our interactions with reality.
David M. Eagleman: Brain Time
The days of thinking of time as a river—evenly flowing, always advancing—are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally.
Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare: Out of Our Minds: How Did Homo sapiens Come Down from the Trees, and Why Did No One Follow?
In the six million years since hominids split from the evolutionary ancestor we share with chimpanzees and bonobos, something happened to our brains that allowed us to become master cooperators, accumulate knowledge at a rapid rate, and manipulate tools to colonize almost every corner of the planet.
Nathan Wolfe: The Aliens Among Us
While viruses have to infect cellular forms of life in order to complete their life cycles, this does not mean that causing devastation is their destiny. The existing equilibrium of our planet is dependent on the actions of the viral world, and its elimination would have profound consequences.
Seirian Sumner: How Did the Social Insects Become Social?
We would like to know what the conditions and selection pressures were that tipped the ancestors of the eusocial insects over the ledge and down toward eusociality.
Katerina Harvati: Extinction and the Evolution of Humankind
It is now clear that humans (whether fossil or living) are not immune from biological forces and that extinction was (and, indeed, is) a distinct possibility.
Gavin Schmidt: Why Hasnt Specialization Led to the Balkanization of Science?
Even as scientific output has increased exponentially, concerns have been raised that growing specialization will end by making it impossible for scientists in different fields to communicate, let alone collaborate.
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