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PUTTING OURSELVES BACK IN THE EQUATION

WHY PHYSICISTS ARE STUDYING HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND AI TO UNRAVEL THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE

Deep thoughts about deep issues—but not for the faint of heart.

Penetrating account of the connections among consciousness and artificial intelligence, cosmology, and quantum mechanics.

Musser, a contributing editor for Scientific American and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory and Spooky Action at a Distance, obviously has no fear of difficult subjects. This book should not serve as an introduction to human consciousness, but readers who pay attention will learn a great deal. The author begins by pointing out that “we are composed of matter, and we are conscious.” Therefore, he continues, “it must be possible to recognize these two facts.” Scientists specialize in taking things that seem different, such as matter and energy or electricity and magnetism, and showing that “they are essentially the same. Can they do that for matter and mind?” Not yet, notes the author, but they’re making progress, largely by paying close attention to neuroscience, which explores brain function, and computer science, which hit the jackpot last year when researchers demonstrated spectacular AI programs (ChatGPT and DALL-E) that are so creative and communicate so convincingly that experts have concluded only that they are “probably” not conscious. Encountering this conclusion less than halfway through the book, readers may look forward to more insights, and Musser does not disappoint. The difficulty is that consciousness is still an extremely complex problem. A skilled reporter, the author chronicles his travels around the world interviewing experts in many fields (Carlo Rovelli appears throughout the text), showing us how cosmologists muse about the universe; physicists explore information theory and neural networks; neuroscientists wonder how a physical brain produces a mind; and philosophers explore emergence, free will, and causality. Quantum effects are significant, but, like consciousness, no one completely understands them beyond theory. Many consider it possible, in both cases, that we never will.

Deep thoughts about deep issues—but not for the faint of heart.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780374238766

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CINEMA SPECULATION

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

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The acclaimed director displays his talents as a film critic.

Tarantino’s collection of essays about the important movies of his formative years is packed with everything needed for a powerful review: facts about the work, context about the creative decisions, and whether or not it was successful. The Oscar-winning director of classic films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs offers plenty of attitude with his thoughts on movies ranging from Animal House to Bullitt to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Big Chill. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, he provides the original reporting and insights only a veteran director would notice, and his engaging style makes it impossible to leave an essay without learning something. The concepts he smashes together in two sentences about Taxi Driver would take a semester of film theory class to unpack. Taxi Driver isn’t a “paraphrased remake” of The Searchers like Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? is a paraphrased remake of Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or De Palma’s Dressed To Kill is a paraphrased remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But it’s about as close as you can get to a paraphrased remake without actually being one. Robert De Niro’s taxi driving protagonist Travis Bickle is John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Like any good critic, Tarantino reveals bits of himself as he discusses the films that are important to him, recalling where he was when he first saw them and what the crowd was like. Perhaps not surprisingly, the author was raised by movie-loving parents who took him along to watch whatever they were watching, even if it included violent or sexual imagery. At the age of 8, he had seen the very adult MASH three times. Suddenly the dark humor of Kill Bill makes much more sense. With this collection, Tarantino offers well-researched love letters to his favorite movies of one of Hollywood’s most ambitious eras.

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311258-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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