An eclectic survey of contemporary scientific thought and attitudes. Brockman (Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein and...


HOW THINGS ARE: A Science Tool-Kit for the Mind

An eclectic survey of contemporary scientific thought and attitudes. Brockman (Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein and Frankenstein, 1986, etc.) and Matson (Short Lives, 1980, etc.) 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. Authored by British and American academics, the collection is divided into six sections; Thinking About Science, Origins, Evolution, Mind, Cosmos, and the Future. 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 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. Varied and invigorating, these essays are a light, but not insubstantial, read.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995