Posts tagged Science
How We Got to Now

By Steven Johnson

I worry a bit that this is becoming the Steven Johnson fan club, but I am really enjoying his books recently. This one takes a look at history through the lens of what was made possible through the development of some key technologies, like glass and sanitation. Besides providing a plethora of fun trivia, like the fact that in the mid nineteenth century it was more practical to raise the entire city 10 feet than to tunnel under it to install a sewer system, or that chlorinating water reduced infant mortality by ~40%, the book provides a fascinating reframe of how we normally process history. Instead of looking at decisions made by individuals or trends embodied in governments and cultures, it asks "what couldn't have happened without this technology that did happen after it was invented?" Maybe not as immediately useful as Where Good Ideas Come From, but it's possibly a more approachable and enjoyable introduction to Johnson's style. Definitely check it out.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

By Julian Jaynes

I just couldn't resist a book about where the voice in your head comes from when today's post is about imagining other people's voices. I have no idea at how well regarded this book is currently as a credible explanation of where consciousness came from, but it makes a fantastic tool for imagining what if the world really were that way? What would it mean? The book argues that "consciousness" - an almost unending voice in your head that narrates your thoughts and what's going on and is perceived as "yourself" is actually a rather recent phenomenon. Jaynes says that the Old Testament documents a culture going through the transition, and that you see similar evidence in Mesopotamian history as well. There's nothing immediately practical here, but it's enjoyably mind-blowing. Plus, season one of Westworld will make a lot more sense, so there's also that.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellScience, Psychology
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

By Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Neal Stephenson is probably my favorite living author, and so I buy anything with his name on it no questions asked. I tore through this on my recent flight to Beijing and rather enjoyed it. A shadowy government organization discovers that magic used to be real but doesn't work anymore, and then figures out a way to make it work again to send people back in time. A fun read that touches on all of the exciting possibilities of magic, time travel, and quantum physics. Not as many detailed asides as a pure Stephenson book, but that means that it keeps moving at a brisk pace the whole time. Give it a shot if the idea of mashing up fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction gets you all hot and bothered.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellFiction, Science, Magic