THE LARGE, THE SMALL AND THE HUMAN MIND

Lectures by a renowned mathematician and physicist on the connections of relativity and quantum theory (the science of the very large and the very small), with an eye to understanding the nature of the mind. Penrose has been over this ground before (in The Emperor's New Mind, not reviewed, and Shadows of the Mind, 1994), and his contention that artificial intelligence is an impossibility has generated a good deal of controversy. Here he reiterates and extends his essential arguments and invites refutation from a trio of critics in related disciplines: Abner Shimony, Nancy Cartwright, and Stephen Hawking. One central point of debate has to do with the relation between mathematics and the ``real universe''—or, as Penrose puts it, between the physical and the platonic worlds. A popular view of how science works is that the scientist, looking to explain a series of observations, finds a mathematical relationship that accounts for the data. Penrose argues that this view has things backwards: The mathematical relationship is the reality, and the data merely an expression of it. Einstein conceived his equations before data were available to verify them; when data became available, his calculations checked out exactly. Penrose goes on to consider the paradoxes of quantum mechanics, but readers without sophisticated mathematics are likely to find this section tough going. Finally, Penrose attempts to apply these issues to the question of whether the activities of mind can ever be duplicated by a computational device, a possibility he denies. His three critics then point to what they feel are weaknesses in his arguments, and finally Penrose counters their rebuttals. Penrose pushes the available analytical tools to the limit, and the result is far from light reading, but those willing to think hard about fundamental questions of mind and matter will find this discussion provocative and rewarding.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-521-56330-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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