An admirably innovative reflection on the evolution of human consciousness.

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RETHINKING WHAT IT MEANS WE EVOLVED

NEW FRAMEWORK FOR UNIVERSAL MORAL VALUES

A reconsideration of evolution proposes an alternative to both Darwinism and creationism. 

Johnston (Alternative to Darwinism and Creationism Based on Free Will, 2011, etc.) was fascinated by science as a young child, and the theory of evolution in particular after he read Darwin’s The Origin of the Species in his teens. But he eventually became dissatisfied with its limitations, especially its inability to fully account for human consciousness, creativity, and free will. In order to communicate the crux of his consternation—and eventual conversion from enthusiastic Darwinian—the author conjures three possible worlds. The first is an irreducibly physical one filled with bodies but bereft of mind or free will—he calls this the “PhysicsCosmos.” Another is a realm that permits the existence of the supernatural, including angels, demons, and God, called “SpiritCosmos.” Finally, there is “MindCosmos,” which makes a place for consciousness and its effects, but without recourse to a religious metaphysics. This is the world Johnston finds most consistent with human experience, and seeks a new evolutionary theory that explains the emergence of intelligent creativity. The fulcrum of that account is the genome, so marvelously packed with complex information that it essentially thinks into existence a new species endowed with volition: “That colossal capacity for information, plus its evident ability to manage all that information, taken together persuade me that the genome could function as a brain.” The author explores the superiority of his model to competing candidates and also discusses its implications for fields like economics and education. While there’s no shortage of recent monographs, scholarly and popular, on the shortcomings of both evolutionary theory and creationism, Johnston’s contribution to the field is an astonishingly original one. In a way, his version is deeply Cartesian, haunted by the interaction between mind and matter, but also grounded in the ordinary experience of human action. He thoughtfully understands that the quest for an origin story is not merely a matter of genetic mechanics, but also tied to the existence of the human self and the values and purposes that propel that self through a finite life. The commentary is supplemented by short stories, quirkily constructed around the nature of human consciousness and agency; for example, one centers on the famous Turing test. Problematically, the work’s brevity is both a boon and a burden. While the author’s concision, as well as lucid writing style, makes for accessibility, it also necessitates arguments so condensed they raise as many questions as they aim to answer. For example, it’s never clear whether the self is autonomously constructed—the product of willful choice—or the sum result of historical forces; he seems to suggest both. In addition, much of the discussion regarding the genome as the seat of intelligence is unspecific and metaphorical, and so seems like a prelude to a much more detailed examination. Nonetheless, this is a valuably fresh take on an important debate, and an excellent introduction to some of Darwinism’s philosophical flaws (an appendix is dedicated to cataloging them).

An admirably innovative reflection on the evolution of human consciousness. 

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9779470-8-9

Page Count: 177

Publisher: Evolved Self Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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