A collection of essays by young scientists, describing the implications of their work for a general audience.
Literary agent Brockman (What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science, 2009) notes in an introduction that the various authors are at the stage in their academic careers when writing a popular book on their work would do nothing for their prospects for tenure or promotion. Thus this collection of essays, the majority of which focus on biological or social science. In “The Coming Age of Ocean Exploration,” Kevin P. Hand discusses the probability of finding life on several satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, which are believed to have oceans larger than Earth’s. At the other end of the scale of magnitude, William McEwan, working with synthetic DNA, explores the potential for creating molecular tools to combat viral infections. In several instances, two essayists take on similar topics: Daniel Haun and Joan Y. Chiao look at different aspects of human diversity, and Jennifer Jacquet and Naomi Eisenberger examine the biological roots of shame and rejection. Anthony Aguirre, in “Next Step: Infinity,” threads out the cosmological and philosophical implications to be drawn from the interplay of mathematics and physics, ending up with the probability that, in an infinite universe, there are infinite copies of Earth, with an infinite number of copies of every one of us. Other writers also explore the interplay of scientific research and philosophical issues. Joshua Knobe takes on the venerable mind-body problem and arrives at the conclusion that our tendency to ascribe complex mental processes to another is inversely related to our perception of their animal nature. Fiery Cushman, in “Should the Law Depend on Luck?” asks why our legal system differentiates between essentially identical actions by assigning different punishments to the drunken driver who hits a tree and the one who hits a child. While not all the essays are equally well written, the book offers a good overview of what’s happening in today’s laboratories.
If Scientific American is your idea of a good read, this should be right up your alley.