Big Ideas Reading Group Book Detail
This expanded version of our book list
includes a brief description of each.
- The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the 21st
Century, edited, by John Brockman
- Conversations on Consciousness, a collection of interviews
conducted by Susan Blackmore
- Decoding the Universe, by Charles Seife
- The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human
Intelligence, by Ray Kurzweil
- Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel
- Unweaving the Rainbow, by Richard Dawkins
- How We Believe, by Michael Shermer
- Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, by Ray
Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
- 12-12-2009 The Political Mind, by George Lakoff
- 01-16-2010 Descartes Error:Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio
- 02-13-2010 The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most
Contentious Brain Teaser, by Jason Rosenhouse
- 03-13-2010 Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes
- 04-10-2010 Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make
in Thinking, by Thomas Kida
- 05-08-2010 The Intelligent Universe, by James Gardner
- 06-12-2010 How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer
- 07-10-2010 The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution, by Richard Dawkins
- 08-14-2010 Quantum Evolution, by Johnjoe McFadden
- 09-11-2010 Introducing Evolutionary Psychology, by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate
- 10-09-2010 If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody?
Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial
Life, by Stephen Webb
- 11-13-2010 Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
- 12-11-2010 The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why It Endures, by
- 01-08-2011 Visions, by Michio Kaku
- 02-12-2011 Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch
- 03-12-2011 (no March meeting)
- 04-02-2011 Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
- 05-14-2011 Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
- 06-11-2011 The Grand Design, by Hawking and Mlodinow
- 07-09-2011 Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution, by Drexler, Peterson, and Pegamit.
First printed in 1991, there authors use futurist speculation to outline the future of nanotech.
A suggested supplemental read was "Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea."
by Mark and Daniel Ratner, Mark being the winner of the 2001 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology.
A fairly easy and short read of about 150 pages, it provides a good working vocabulary and overall picture of the nanotech world.
- 08-13-2011 Beyond AI, by J. Storrs Hall.
This is a must read for anyone interested in the future of the Human-Machine civilization.
- 09-10-2011 Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos,
by M. Mitchell Waldrop.
Scientific luminaries such as Nobel Laureates Mujrray Gell-Mann and Kenneth Arrow are studying complexity at a think tank called The Sante Fe Institute. Complexity reports their revolutionary research and discoveries.
- 10-08-2011 Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of A Cocktail Napkin, by Lawrence Weinstein.
An important skill of great use ... is the ability to derive an approximate result from insufficient data.
Guesstimation is a collection of [problems] gathered from everyday life and various fields.
Working out questions ... is both entertaining and enlightening.
It may also help foster your career ... because making correct guesses quickly establishes your reputation as an expert. -- Stephan Mertens, Science.
- 11-12-2011 Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime, by Aubrey de Gray.
"(Dr.) de Grey is hardly just another fountain-of-youth huckster. His it-might-work ideas are based on existing, published, peer-reviewed research. He thinks more like an engineer than a scientist. If even one of his proposals works, it could mean years of extended healthy living."
-- Paul Boutin, The Wall Street Journal
- 12-10-2011 Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee.
"Do you feel lucky? Well do ya?" asked Dirty Harry.
Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee think all of us should feel lucky. Their rare Earth hypothesis predicts that while simple, microbial life will be very widespread in the universe, complex animal or plant life will be extremely rare.
This book covers in detail similar material to the last 19 arguments from one of our previous books, "Where is Everybody?"
Quote from "Where is Everybody":
Recently, Peter Ward and Don Brownlee, scientists from the University of Washington, wrote a stimulating and thoughtful book called Rare Earth. They presented a coherent argument about why complex life may be an unusual phenomenon.
- 01-14-2012 Physics for Future Presidents, by Richard Muller.
Should be required reading for all informed citizens, as well as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. (Publishers Weekly )
A book so brilliant that I can't help feel (as a writer), "I wish I'd thought of that." (Brian Clegg - Popular Science)
- 02-11-2012 The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love,
Character, and Achievment, by David Brooks.
David Brooks is the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise.
This is the story of how success happens.
It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica -- how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed.
Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred -- we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand.
- 03-10-2012 The War of Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality,
by Leonard Mlodinow with Deepak Chopra.
Two bestselling authors first met in a televised Caltech debate on "the future of God", one an articulate advocate for spirituality, the other a prominent physicist. This remarkable book is the product of that serendipitous encounter and the contentious -- but respectful -- clash of worldviews that grew along with their friendship.
- 04-14-2012 The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. The ideas Behind the World's Slowest Computer, by Stewart Brand.
This is a book about the practical use of long time perspective: how to get it, how to use it, how to keep it
in and out of sight.
How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and
- 05-12-2012 The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, by David Deutsch.
The quest to improve explanations is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve.
- 06-16-2012 Note date change. Truth: A Guide, by Simon Blackburn.
Admirably sketching the battle lines currently staked out over the idea of objective truth, a Cambridge professor of philosophy makes his subject lively and accessible even as he parts some of its deepest waters, with absolutists-traditionalists-realists on the one side and relativists-postmodernists-idealists on the other.
- 07-14-2012 Do Not Go Gentle, Book One, Discovery [book one of three], by Mark Millstorm.
Mark Muhlestein, a member of our group,
is using the pen name of Mark Millstorm.
This is his new book that has just came out on Kindle.
You can download a free copy of Kindle and then
download the book at $0.99.
- 08-11-2012 Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room, by David Weinberger.
This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge -- from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts -- providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world.
- 09-08-2012 Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his seminal work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgment and decision making, is one of our most important thinkers. His ideas have had a profound and widely regarded impact on many fields -- including economics, medicine, and politics -- but until now, he has never brought together his many years of research and thinking in one book.
This will be our first meeting at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. The meeting is scheduled for our regular time at 3:30P. We will have a pre-meeting speaker at 2P in the Pavilion there, BIRG hosting a Monthly Gathering for San Francisco Regional Mensa. The speaker will be Marty Nemko and he will be covering his new book, "What's the Big Idea?"
- 10-13-2012 Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, by Lisa Randall.
The latest developments in physics have the potential to radically revise our understanding of the world: its makeup, its evolution, and the fundamental forces that drive its operation. Knocking on Heaven’s Door is an exhilarating and accessible overview of these developments and an impassioned argument for the significance of science.
- 11-10-2012 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Evolution of Cooperation (Revised Edition), by Robert Axelrod with forward by Richard Dawkins.
Robert Axelrod is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he is a leading expert on game theory, artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, mathematical modeling, and complexity theory.
He describes a novel round-robin tournament in which various game-theoretic strategies were pitted against one another in the game known as the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.
"The Evolution of Cooperation deserves to replace The Gideon Bible."--Richard Dawkins
- 12-08-2012 The Drunkard's Walk:How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow.
With the born storyteller's command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.
Mlodinow bases his ideas on Kahneman's ideas in our September book, Thinking Fast and Slow.
Other related books:
Subliminal by Mlodinow;
Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Paulos
- 01-12-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life, by Len Fisher. "Self-organization" reveals itself in the inanimate worlds of crystals and seashells, but as Len Fisher shows, it is also evident in living organisms, from fish to ants to human beings. Fisher shows how we can manage our complex social lives in an ever more chaotic world. His investigation encompasses topics ranging from "swarm intelligence" to the science of parties and the best ways to start a fad.
Other related books:
Emergence by Steven Johnson;
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold;
The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller;
The Self Organizing Economy by Paul Krugman.
- 02-09-2013 Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics, by Jim Al-Halili.
How can a cat be both dead and alive at the same time? Why will Achilles never beat a tortoise in a race, no matter how fast he runs? And how can a person be ten years older than his twin?Al-Khalili narrates the enduring fascination of these classic paradoxes, he reveals their underlying logic. In doing so, he brings to life a select group of the most exciting concepts in human knowledge. Paradox is mind-expanding fun.
- 03-09-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers, by John MacCormick.
Using vivid examples, John MacCormick explains the fundamental "tricks" behind nine types of computer algorithms, including artificial intelligence (where we learn about the "nearest neighbor trick" and "twenty questions trick"), Google's famous PageRank algorithm (which uses the "random surfer trick"), data compression, error correction, and much more.
- 04-13-2013 NOTE: The book originally scheduled has been set aside. The publisher has retracted it because of accusations of plagiarism etc.
In its place, we will discuss
Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain, by Michael Gazzaniga.
- 05-11-2013 Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life.
Emanuel Derman: Quants, physicists working on Wall Street as quantitative analysts, have been widely blamed for triggering financial crises with their complex mathematical models. Models.Behaving.Badly. exposes Wall Street's love affair with models, and shows us why nobody will ever be able to write a model that can encapsulate human behavior.
- 06-08-2013 The Mind: Leading Scientists Explore the Brain, Memory, Personality, and Happiness.
(Steve Pinker, V.S. Ramachandran, Alison Gopnik. Philip Zambardo, George Lakoff, Martin Seligman and others)
presented by The Edge.
Edited by John Brockman.
- 07-13-2013 The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction, by David Orrell, Ph.D.
For centuries, scientists have strived to
predict the future. But to what extent have they
succeeded? Can past events-Hurricane Katrina, the
Internet stock bubble, the SARS outbreak-help us
understand what will happen next? Will scientists ever
really be able to forecast catastrophes, or will we
always be at the mercy of Mother Nature, waiting for
the next storm, epidemic, or economic crash to thunder
through our lives? David Orrell looks back at
the history of forecasting, from the time of the
oracle at Delphi to the rise of astrology to the
advent of the TV weather report, showing us how
scientists (and some charlatans) predicted the future.
- 08-10-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books]
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, by Leonard Mlodinow.
Mlodinow gives us a startling and
eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind
shapes our experience of the world and how, for
instance, we often misperceive our relationships with
family, friends, and business associates,
misunderstand the reasons for our investment
decisions, and misremember important events.
- 09-14-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books]
The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene.
There was a time when "universe" meant all
there is. Everything. Yet, a number of theories are
converging on the possibility that our universe may be
but one among many parallel universes populating a
- 10-12-2013 The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible, by Lance Fortnow.
The Golden Ticket provides a
nontechnical introduction to P-NP, its rich history,
and its algorithmic implications for everything we do
with computers and beyond. Lance Fortnow gives
examples of the problem from a variety of disciplines,
including economics, physics, and biology. He explores
problems that capture the full difficulty of the P-NP
dilemma, from discovering the shortest route through
all the rides at Disney World to finding large groups
of friends on Facebook. But difficulty also has its
advantages. Hard problems allow us to safely conduct
electronic commerce and maintain privacy in our online
lives. The Golden Ticket explores what we truly can
and cannot achieve computationally, describing the
benefits and unexpected challenges of the P-NP
- 11-02-2013 date change and [4pm at Kepler's Books]: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.
As America descends deeper into
polarization and paralysis, social psychologist
Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly
impossible -- challenged conventional thinking about
morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks
to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his
twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral
psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not
from reason but from gut feelings.
- 12-14-2013 The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't, by Nate Silver.
Drawing on his own groundbreaking work,
Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating
how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe
of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great
cost to society, because most of us have a poor
understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both
experts and laypeople mistake more confident
predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence
is often the reason for failure.
- 01-11-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.
Ben Goldacre has made a point of exposing
quack doctors and nutritionists, bogus credentialing
programs, and biased scientific studies. He has also
taken the media to task for its willingness to throw
facts and proof out the window. But he's not here just
to tell you what's wrong. Goldacre is here to teach
you how to evaluate placebo effects, double-blind
studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize
bad science when you see it. You're about to feel a
whole lot better.
See also this article.
We followed the discussion with a holiday celebration, a Chinese dinner.
- 02-08-2014 Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.
Based on fifteen years of original research
Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary
historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan
city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin
America, England, Europe, the United States, and
Africa to build a new theory of political economy with
great relevance for the big questions of today.
- 03-15-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, by Richard Panek.
In recent years, a handful of scientists have been racing to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that
makes up you, me, our books, and every star and planet.
The rest is completely unknown.
Richard Panek tells the dramatic story of how scientists reached
this cosmos-shattering conclusion.
Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson.
There's good news in this dazzling book: Technology is not the enemy. Smarter Than You Think reports on how the digital world has helped individuals harness a powerful, collaborative intelligence—becoming better problem-solvers and more creative human beings. 353 pages.
- 05-10-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Naked Statitistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data, by Charles Wheelan.
Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called “sexy.” From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Wheelan strips away the arcane and technical details and focuses on the underlying intuition that drives statistical analysis.
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, by Ray Kurzweil.
Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization—reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines. He discusses how the brain functions, how the mind emerges from the brain, and the implications of vastly increasing the powers of our intelligence in addressing the world’s problems, thoughtfully examining emotional and moral intelligence and the origins of consciousness. 346 pages.
- 07-12-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Probably Approximately Correct: Nature Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World, by Leslie Valiant.
Leslie Valiant presents a masterful synthesis of learning and evolution to show how both individually and collectively we not only survive, but prosper in a world as complex as our own. The key is “probably approximately correct” algorithms, a concept Valiant developed to explain how effective behavior can be learned.Offering a powerful and elegant model that encompasses life’s complexity, Probably Approximately Correct has profound implications for how we think about behavior, cognition, biological evolution, and the possibilities and limits of human and machine intelligence. 208 pages.
Kinds of Minds:Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness, by Daniel C. Dennett.
Dennett explores how the human mind came into existence. Along the way, he investigates such questions as, How does the mind work? Can we know another's mind? Can a woman know what it's like to be a man (and vice versa)? What are nonhuman minds like? Could a robot ever be "conscious"? Philosopher that he is, Dennett continually raises and refines his questions about these and other subjects, attempting to tease us closer to understanding. By the end of the book, he confesses, he has not so much presented answers as found better questions to ask. 184 pages.
After the meeting, we met for dinner to celebrate 5 years of BIRG!
- 09-06-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, by Max Tegmark
Max Tegmark leads us on an astonishing journey through past, present and future, and through the physics, astronomy and mathematics that are the foundation of his work, most particularly his hypothesis that our physical reality is a mathematical structure and his theory of the ultimate multiverse. Fascinating from first to last—this is a book that has already prompted the attention and admiration of some of the most prominent scientists and mathematicians. 432 pages.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer. Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. 368 pages.
- 11-08-2014 Computing with Quantum Cats: From Colossus to Qubits, by John Gribbin.
This is an easier substitute for (or a warmup for) the book we originally chose,
Quantum Computing Since Democritus, by Scott Aaronson.
Written by noted quantum computing theorist Scott Aaronson, this book takes readers on a tour through some of the deepest ideas of maths, computer science and physics. Full of insights, arguments and philosophical perspectives, the book covers an amazing array of topics. Beginning in antiquity with Democritus, it progresses through logic and set theory, computability and complexity theory, quantum computing, cryptography, the information content of quantum states and the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Aaronson's informal style makes this fascinating book accessible to readers with scientific backgrounds, as well as students and researchers working in physics, computer science, mathematics and philosophy. 398 pages.
- 12-06-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, by Lee Smolin
What is time? This deceptively simple question is the single most important problem facing science as we probe more deeply into the fundamentals of the universe. Embracing time as real, Smolin asserts, will allow cosmologists to convert laws once regarded as timeless into the contingent data they need to develop testable new theories of galactic evolution. More immediately, Smolin anticipates that this paradigm shift will help climatologists understand global warming and economists to ameliorate financial turbulence. A thrilling intellectual ride! 357 pages.
- 01-10-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Map & The Territory, by Alan Greenspan.
The Map and the Territory is nothing less than an effort to update our forecasting conceptual grid. It integrates the history of economic prediction, the new work of behavioral economists, and the fruits of the author’s own remarkable career to offer a thrillingly lucid and empirically based grounding in what we can know about economic forecasting and what we can't. 400 pages.
- 02-14-2015 Will You Be Alive 10 Years From Now? And Numerous Other Curious Other Questions in Probability, by Paul J. Nahin.
Nahin brings probability to life with colorful and amusing historical anecdotes as well as an electrifying approach to solving puzzles that illustrates many of the techniques that mathematicians and scientists use to grapple with probability. He looks at classic puzzles from the past--from Galileo's dice-tossing problem to a disarming dice puzzle that would have astonished even Newton--and also includes a dozen challenge problems for you to tackle yourself, with complete solutions provided in the back of the book. 242 pages.
- 03-14-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, by David J. Hand.
An irresistible adventure into the laws behind “chance” moments and a trusty guide for understanding the world and universe we live in, The Improbability Principle will transform how you think about serendipity and luck, whether it’s in the world of business and finance or you’re merely sitting in your backyard, tossing a ball into the air and wondering where it will land. 288 pages.
- 04-11-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, by Daniel Dennett.
Dennett offers seventy-seven of his most successful "imagination-extenders and focus-holders" meant to guide you through some of life’s most treacherous subject matter: evolution, meaning, mind, and free will. With patience and wit, Dennett deftly deploys his thinking tools to gain traction on these thorny issues while offering readers insight into how and why each tool was built. “The best new book I’ve read.” - Richard Dawkins. 512 pages.
- 05-09-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, by Benedict Carey, 2014.
In How We Learn, award-winning science reporter Benedict Carey sifts through decades of education research and landmark studies to uncover the truth about how our brains absorb and retain information. Is a dedicated desk in a quiet room really the best way to study? Can altering your routine improve your recall? Are there times when distraction is good? Is repetition necessary? Carey’s search for answers to these questions yields a wealth of strategies that make learning more a part of our everyday lives -- and less of a chore. 272 pages.
- 06-13-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] A Skeptics Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, by Robert A. Burton, M.D.
Burton retraces the history of neuroscience and directing readers' attention to future discoveries. He takes an unbiased look at the fundamentals of the field, and posits that, no matter how much the field advances, notions of consciousness and moral decision-making will always allow for some amount of speculation. 272 pages.
- 07-11-2015 [3pm at Le Boulanger, followed by 6th anniversary dinner] Explaining the Computational Mind, by Marcin Milkowski.
In this book, Marcin Milkowski argues that the mind can be explained computationally because it is itself computational -- whether it engages in mental arithmetic, parses natural language, or processes the auditory signals that allow us to experience music. Defending the computational explanation against objections to it -- from John Searle and Hilary Putnam in particular -- Milkowski writes that computationalism is here to stay. 256 pages.
[Note: This book is generally unavailable from book stores and libraries, but is available on Amazon.]
- 08-08-2015 Entanglement: The Unlikely Story of How Scientists, Mathematicians, and Philosophers Proved Einstein’s Spookiest Theory, by Amir D. Aczel.
Can two particles become inextricably linked, so that a change in one is instantly reflected in its counterpart, even if a universe separates them? Albert Einstein's work suggested it was possible, but it was too bizarre, and too contrary to how we then understood space and time, for him to prove. No one could. Until now. Entanglement tells the astounding story of the scientists who set out to complete Einstein's work. 253 pages.
- 09-12-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] Quantum Computing Since Democritus, by Scott Aaronson.
Quantum Computing takes readers on a tour through some of the deepest ideas of math, computer science and physics. Beginning in antiquity with Democritus, it progresses through logic and set theory, computability and complexity theory, quantum computing, cryptography, the information content of quantum states and the interpretation of quantum mechanics.
- 10-10-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, by Marcelo Gleiser.
Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth? To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what’s “out there.” In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited.
- 11-14-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach.
With her wry humor and inextinguishable curiosity, Mary Roach has crafted her own quirky niche in the somewhat staid world of science writing, showing no fear (or shame) in the face of cadavers, ectoplasm, or sex. In Packing for Mars, Roach tackles the strange science of space travel, and the psychology, technology, and politics that go into sending a crew into orbit. Packing for Mars is a book for grownups who still secretly dream of being astronauts, and Roach lives it up on their behalf. 336 pages.
- 12-12-2015 Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, by Matthew D. Leiberman, Ph.D..
Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter. Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill. According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten. 384 pages.
- 01-09-2016 [3pm at Le Boulanger] Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion, by Jeremy Webb.
It turns out that almost nothing is as curious—or as enlightening—as, well, nothing. What is nothingness? Where can it be found? The writers of the world's top-selling science magazine investigate—from the big bang, dark energy, and the void to superconductors, vestigial organs, hypnosis, and the placebo effect—and discover that understanding nothing may be the key to understanding everything. One of Brain Pickings’ Best Science Books of 2014. 272 pages.
- 02-13-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] How-Nature-Works-Self-Organized Criticality, by Per Bak.
Self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state, is the first general theory of complex systems with a firm mathematical basis. This theory describes how many seemingly disperate aspects of the world, from stock market crashes to mass extinctions, avalanches to solar flares, all share a set of simple, easily described properties. 212 pages.
- 03-12-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity, by Prof. Pedro Ferreira.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity is possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. The expanding universe, the light-speed barrier, black holes, wormholes, time travel—general relativity has allowed scientists’ imaginations to take flight with new possibilities, revealing a universe that is much stranger than anyone ever expected. Just in time for the theory’s hundred-year anniversary, physicist Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory explains just how staggering an achievement general relativity was while bringing to life the infighting that it sparked in the field of physics over the past century. 320 pages.
- 04-09-2016 The Science of Interstellar, by Kip Thorne.
Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights -- many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar -- describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible. 336 pages.
- 05-15-2016 The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, by Murray Gell-Mann.
From one of the architects of the new science of simplicity and complexity comes an explanation of the connections between nature at its most basic level and natural selection, archaeology, linguistics, child development, computers, and other complex adaptive systems. Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann offers a uniquely personal and unifying vision of the relationship between the fundamental laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world. 392 pages.
- 06-11-2016 Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson, and Andrew McAfee.
Information technology is the foundation of the next industrial revolution. Its often unarticulated dark side has been the widening of the economic divide. In this book, McAfee and Brynjolfsson do a masterful job of exploring both the promise of computer technology and its profound societal impact. 320 pages.
- 07-09-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] What Philosophy Can Do, by Gary Gutting.
With this splendid book, Gary Gutting joins the great tradition of leading philosophers who venture from the ivory tower to speak with the public. Covering a range of topics―politics, science, religion (including atheism), art, and more―What Philosophy Can Do never condescends, never tries to evade the difficult. With wit and flair, Gutting shows how philosophical thinking permeates life’s decisions and can enrich our overall personal sense of worth and happiness. 320 pages.
- 08-13-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Climbing Mount Improbable, by Richard Dawkins.
The human eye is so complex and works so precisely that surely, one might believe, its current shape and function must be the product of design.
The metaphor of Mount Improbable represents the combination of perfection and improbability that is epitomized in the seemingly "designed" complexity of living things. Dawkins skillfully guides the reader on a breathtaking journey through the mountain's passes and up its many peaks to demonstrate that following the improbable path to perfection takes time. 352 pages.
- 09-10-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Spooky Action at a Distance, by George Musser.
If space isn't what we thought it was, then what is it? In Spooky Action at a Distance, George Musser sets out to answer that question, offering a provocative exploration of nonlocality and a celebration of the scientists who are trying to explain it. Musser guides us on an epic journey into the lives of experimental physicists observing particles acting in tandem, astronomers finding galaxies that look statistically identical, and cosmologists hoping to unravel the paradoxes surrounding the big bang. 304 pages.
- 10-08-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature, by Marcus du Sautoy.
Symmetry is all around us. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world, this unique, pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. Combining a rich historical narrative with his own personal journey as a mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy takes a unique look into the mathematical mind as he explores deep conjectures about symmetry and brings us face-to-face with the oddball mathematicians, both past and present, who have battled to understand symmetry's elusive qualities. 384 pages.
- 11-12-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.
A revelatory exploration of the hottest trend in technology and the dramatic impact it will have on the economy, science, and society at large. Which paint color is most likely to tell you that a used car is in good shape? How can officials identify the most dangerous New York City manholes before they explode? And how did Google searches predict the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak? In this brilliantly clear, often surprising work, two leading experts explain what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards. Big Data is the first big book about the next big thing. 257 pages.
- 12-10-2016 Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die, by Eric Siegel.
Eric Siegel, PhD, founder of the Predictive Analytics World conference series and executive editor of The Predictive Analytics Times, makes the how and why of predictive analytics understandable and captivating. In addition to being the author of "Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die," Eric is a former Columbia University professor--who used to sing educational songs to his students--and a renowned speaker, educator, and leader in the field. 356 pages.
- 01-14-2017 Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwande.
Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. 297 pages.
- 02-11-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Evolution of the Social Contract, by Brian Skyrms.
Brian Skyrms uses evolutionary game theory to analyze the genesis of social contracts and investigates social phenomena including justice, communication, altruism, and bargaining.. He discusses topics including how bargaining with neighbors promotes sharing of resources, the diversity of behavior in ultimatum bargaining in small societies, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and an investigation into signaling games and the spontaneous emergence of meaningful communication. His book will be of great interest to readers in philosophy of science, social science, evolutionary biology, game and decision theory, and political theory. 164 pages.
- 03-11-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, by Richard H. Thaler.
Richard Thaler's, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, is easily the best introduction to the subject available--for economists as well as for the general reader, largely because of the author's facility of explaining, in easy-to-grasp terms, the contribution that behavioral economics is making to problem solving. It is an often humorous account of the progress of Behavioural Economics by one of its most gifted practitioners. 432 pages.
- 04-08-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, by Robert Laughlin.
Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin argues that the scientific frontier is right under our fingers. Instead of looking for ultimate theories, Laughlin considers the world of emergent properties-meaning the properties, such as the hardness and shape of a crystal, that result from the organization of large numbers of atoms. Laughlin shows us how the most fundamental laws of physics are in fact emergent. A Different Universe is a truly mind-bending book that shows us why everything we think about fundamental physical laws needs to change. 274 pages.
- 05-13-2017 Dinner on the Deck Now: The Physics of Time, by Richard A. Muller, author of Physics for Future Presidents.
Our expanding universe is continuously creating not only new space but also new time. The front edge of this new time is what we call “now,” and this moment is truly unique―it is the only moment in which we can exercise our free will. Muller’s thought-provoking vision is a powerful counter to established theories in science and philosophy, and his arguments will spark major debate about the most fundamental assumptions of our universe. 352 pages.
- 06-10-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing (Foundational Questions in Science), by James Owen.
Isaac Newton thought of empty space as nothingness extended in all directions, a kind of theater in which physics could unfold. But both quantum theory and relativity tell us that Newton's picture can't be right. Nothing, it turns out, is an awful lot like something, with a structure and properties every bit as complex and mysterious as matter. In his signature lively prose, Weather explores the very nature of empty space--and solidfies his reputation as a science writer to watch. 224 pages.
- 07-15-2017 DATE CHANGE! and [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Big Picture: on the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself, by Sean Carroll.
Sean Carroll brings his extraordinary intellect to bear not only on Higgs bosons and extra dimensions but now also on our deepest personal questions: Where are we? Who are we? Are our emotions, our beliefs, and our hopes and dreams ultimately meaningless out there in the void? Do human purpose and meaning fit into a scientific worldview? Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. 434 pages.
- 08-12-2017 Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe, by Roger Penrose.
Acclaimed physicist and bestselling author Roger Penrose argues that researchers working at the extreme frontiers of physics are just as susceptible to fashion, faith and fantasy as anyone else. In this provocative book, he argues that fashion, faith, and fantasy, while sometimes productive and even essential in physics, may be leading today's researchers astray in three of the field's most important areas--string theory, quantum mechanics, and cosmology. 515 pages.
- 09-09-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books with celebratory dinner] How Not to be Wrong The Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenberg.
Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do—the whole world is shot through with it. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic. From Steve Pinker “...Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person—of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong.” 466 pages.
- 10-14-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] How the Mind Works, by Steve Pinker.
How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness? How the Mind Works synthesizes the most satisfying explanations of our mental life from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and other fields to explain what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and contemplate the mysteries of life. 565 pages.
- 11-11-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.
The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic. Each of us is error prone, sometimes irrational, and often ignorant. The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individually oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things. This book contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us. 304 pages.
- 12-09-2017 [3pm at Le Boulanger] Brainwashed: the Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, by Sally Satel, Scott O. Lilienfeld.
Since fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—was introduced in the early 1990s, brain scans have been used to help politicians understand and manipulate voters, determine guilt in court cases, and make sense of everything from musical aptitude to romantic love. The increasingly fashionable idea that they are the most important means of answering the enduring mysteries of psychology is misguided—and potentially dangerous. 256 pages.
- 01-13-2018 [3pm at Le Boulanger with Dinner on the Deck] Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Pikkety.
Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. 577 pages.
- 02-10-2018 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage, by Gordon Corera.
Corera’s compelling narrative takes us from the Second World War through the Cold War and the birth of the internet to the present era of hackers and surveillance. The book is rich with historical detail and characters, as well as astonishing revelations about espionage carried out in recent times by the UK, US, and China. 448 pages.
- 03-10-2018 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Language: The Cultural Tool, by Daniel L. Everett.
Combining anthropology, primatology, computer science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and his own pioneering—and adventurous—research with the Amazonian Pirahã, and using insights from many different languages and cultures, Everett gives us an unprecedented elucidation of this society-defined nature of language. In doing so, he also gives us a new understanding of how we think and who we are. 364 pages.
- 04-14-2018 at Kepler's Books] The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information? Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. 496 pages.
- 05-12-2018 at Kepler's Books] I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong.
A “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically reconceived picture of life on earth. Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. Published 2018. 368 pages.
- 06-09-2018 [3pm at Le Boulanger] Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Jerry Kaplan.
Over the coming decades, Artificial Intelligence will profoundly impact the way we live, work, wage war, play, seek a mate, educate our young, and care for our elderly. It is likely to greatly increase our aggregate wealth, but it will also upend our labor markets, reshuffle our social order, and strain our private and public institutions. Whether we regard them as conscious or unwitting, revere them as a new form of life or dismiss them as mere clever appliances, is beside the point. They are likely to play an increasingly critical and intimate role in many aspects of our lives. 192 pages Pub 2016
- 07-14-2018 [3pm at Le Boulanger with Dinner on the Deck] Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, by Johan Norberg.
The daily news cycle reports the deterioration: divisive politics across the Western world, racism, poverty, war, inequality, hunger. While politicians, journalists and activists from all sides talk about the damage done, Johan Norberg offers an illuminating and heartening analysis of just how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity. In the face of fear-mongering, darkness and division, the facts are unequivocal: the golden age is now. 288 pages Pub 2017
- 08-11-2018 at Kepler's Books] The Retreat of Western Liberalism, by Edward Luce.
Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. The West's faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different. Combining on-the-ground reporting with intelligent synthesis of the literature and economic analysis, Luce offers a detailed projection of the consequences of the Trump administration, the rise of European populism, and a forward-thinking analysis of what those who believe in enlightenment values must do to defend them from the multiple onslaughts they face in the coming years. 226 pages Pub 2017
- 09-15-2018 change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself, by Jamie A. Davies.
Based on the central principle of 'adaptive self-organization', Davies explains how the interactions of many cells, and of the tiny molecular machines that run them, can organize tissue structures vastly larger than themselves, correcting errors as they go along and creating new layers of complexity where there were none before. Life Unfolding tells the story of human development from egg to adult, from this perspective, showing how our whole understanding of how we come to be has been transformed in recent years. 311 pages Pub 2015
- 10-13-2018 at Kepler's Books] Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom.
Superintelligence asks the questions: What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Nick Bostrom lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. This profoundly ambitious and original book breaks down a vast track of difficult intellectual terrain. After an utterly engrossing journey that takes us to the frontiers of thinking about the human condition and the future of intelligent life, we find in Nick Bostrom's work nothing less than a reconceptualization of the essential task of our time.
390 pages Pub 2016
- 11-10-2018 at Kepler's Books] A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg.
The cheapest, simplest, most effective way of manipulating DNA ever known, CRISPR may well give us the cure to HIV, genetic diseases, and some cancers, and will help address the world’s hunger crisis. Yet even the tiniest changes to DNA could have myriad, unforeseeable consequences -- to say nothing of the ethical and societal repercussions of intentionally mutating embryos to create “better” humans. Writing with fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg, Doudna shares the thrilling story of her discovery, and passionately argues that enormous responsibility comes with the ability to rewrite the code of life. 304 pages Pub 2017
- 12-08-2018 [3pm at Le Boulanger with Dinner on the Deck] Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Max Tegmark.
How will Artificial Intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? The rise of AI has the potential to transform our future more than any other technology—and there’s nobody better qualified or situated to explore that future than Max Tegmark, an MIT professor who’s helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial. 384 pages Pub 2017
- 01-12-2019 [3pm at Le Boulanger with Dinner on the Deck] The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science, by Marcus Du Sautoy.
Marcus du Sautoy takes us into the minds of science's greatest innovators and reminds us that major breakthroughs were often ridiculed at the time of their discovery. Then he carries us on a whirlwind tour of seven "Edges" of knowledge - inviting us to consider the problems in quantum physics, cosmology, probability and neuroscience that continue to bedevil scientists who are at the front of their fields. He grounds his personal exploration of some of science's thorniest questions in simple concepts like the roll of dice, the notes of a cello, or how a clock measures time. 458 pages Pub 2017
- 02-09-2019 NOTE: [4pm at Kepler's Books] Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, by Martin Ford.
“Compelling and well-written.... In his conception, the answer is a combination of short-term policies and longer-term initiatives, one of which is a radical idea that may gain some purchase among gloomier techno-profits: a guaranteed income for all citizens. If that stirs up controversy, that's the point. The book is both lucid and bold, and certainly a starting point for robust debate about the future of all workers in an age of advancing robotics and looming artificial intelligence systems.” - ZDNet 354 pages Pub 2016