Reviews

Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 May 2015

Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg's classic account explains the central ideas of the quantum revolution, and his celebrated Uncertainty Principle. The theme of Heisenberg's exposition is that words and concepts familiar in daily life can lose their meaning in the world of relativity and quantum physics. This in turn has profound philosophical implications for the nature of reality and for our total world view.

Heisenberg cites the famous trial of Galileo and his views on the Copernican system as marking the beginning of a struggle that went for more than a century.  In this…Read

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 28 May 2015

In his classic work, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, David Bohm develops a theory of quantum physics which treats the totality of existence, including matter and consciousness, as an unbroken whole.

The notion that reality is to be understood as a process is an ancient one, going back at least to Heraclitus, (535 – 475 BCE) who said that everything flows.  

"I regard the essence of the notion of process as given by the statement: not only is everything changing, but all is flux.  That is to say, what is, is the process…Read

Erwin-Schrodinger-and-the-Quantum-Revolution

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 20 May 2015

This book tells the story of Schrödinger's colorful life during one of the most fertile and creative moments in the history of science, 1887 - 1961.

John Gribbin the author, is an accomplished and prolific writer of science-oriented books for the general public, and is therefore the ideal biographer for Schrodinger's life. Mr. Gribbin writes about Schrödinger's public, private and intellectual lives and also includes details about a short book of 1944, provocatively titled "What Is Life?" In this chapter Schrodinger introduces the idea…Read

A Separation

reviewed by Rob Mason on 15 May 2015

A Separation focuses on an Iranian middle-class couple who separate, and the conflicts that arise when the husband hires a lower-class care giver for his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

The film really has two main sections; the first is that the two principal characters are deciding on a separation. This sets the stage for the second part which is where another family becomes involved because of an accident that happens. This then leads to the involvement of a local magistrate to decide who is right and who is wrong.

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The Nature of Life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 May 2015

The nature of life: classical and contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science

Mark A Bedau and Carol E Cleland (eds) 

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2010 |440pp ISBN 9780521517751

1. Facts and puzzles about the phenomena of life.

Life is amazing. It is all around us in a diversity of forms, ranging from microscopic bacteria to ancient towering trees, from almost inert lichen to transient insect blooms, from birds flocking in the sky to thriving colonies of tube worms at inky deep-sea vents. The first forms of life on earth spontaneously arose out…Read

What is Life - Mind and Matter

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 2 May 2015

Life is built on Chemistry - Vital Processes of Life are Chemical Reactions: Antoine Lavoisier

One point that Schrödinger makes in What is Life? is about the absence of the human personality: "It is difficult for us to take stock of the fact that the localization of the personality, of the conscious mind, inside the body is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use. Let us, with all the knowledge we have about it, follow such a 'tender look' inside the body.  We do hit there on a supremely…Read

The Dominant Animal

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 18 April 2015

In the Dominant Animal Paul and Anne Ehrlich offer a vivid and unique exploration of our origins, our evolution, and our future.

Belief Systems – edited extract from ‘The Dominant Animal’

Clearly there isn’t a one-for-one correspondence between “what’s out there” and what we perceive because our perceptions are an interaction between the external world and the evolved characteristics of the human nervous system; we miss a great deal that is detectable by other organisms.  Our brains are also programmed to let us see what we…Read

The Language Instinct

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 13 April 2015

In this classic, the world's expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved.

The opening paragraph: As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world.  For you and I belong to a species with remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other's brains with exquisite precision.  I am not referring to telepathy or mind control or…Read

What is Life

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 4 April 2015

What is Life? is a book by Ed Regis: an American philosopher, educator and author who specializes in books and articles about science, philosophy and intelligence.  

What is life?: the question remains unanswered and the more technological telescoping we do, the more difficult it is to find a unifying theory for life. Ed Regis emphasizes the work of Erwin Schrödinger who proposed in a 1944 paper that life’s spark is not a mystery but rather a knowable, even reproducible, phenomenon involving physics and chemistry.  The Austrian physicist helped spread the now-commonly…Read

Chance and Necessity

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 25 March 2015

Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology is a 1970 book by Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod, interpreting the processes of evolution to show that life is only the result of natural processes by "pure chance". The basic tenet of this book is that systems in nature with molecular biology, such as enzymatic biofeedback loops can be explained without having to invoke final causality.

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What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 22 March 2015

Background Detail. All living beings are made up of cells. Some of them are made up of only one cell and others have many cells. The adult human body is estimated to contain from between 35 to 75 trillion cells. Cells are too small to be seen without magnification and range in size from 1 to 100 micrometers  (0.0001 centimetre)  The study of cells, also called cell biology, would not have been possible without the invention of the microscope. Cells contain DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid), the genetic information necessary for directing cellular activities. Some cells carry oxygen to parts…Read

The Double Helix

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 14 March 2015

DNA is the molecule of heredity, and to know its structure and method of reproduction enables science to know how generic directions are written and transmitted, how the forms of life are ordered from one generation to the next. The search for this molecular structure is the story told by James D. Watson in this book, published in 1968.  The public announcement of the discovery was made in April 1953.  In 1962 the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Francis H.C. Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice H. F. Wilkins the three men…Read

The Secret of Life

reviewed by Rob Mason on 7 March 2015

Specifically, it was a race between two teams of young scientists working in Britain, as well as the esteemed chemist Linus Pauling, based in California. Already a Nobel laureate, Pauling may have been the favorite, but the discovery would ultimately be made by his British counterparts. Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins were trying to identify the structure by studying X-ray diffractions of the DNA molecule. But Jim Watson and Francis Crick studied a little bit of everything -- including, to the consternation of some, the work of their competitors. 

Produced/directed by David Glover, edited by…Read

A Little History of Science

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 31 January 2015

This book consists of 40 short chapters (around 6 pages each) taking us from the beginnings of science to the present time. The first chapter entitled In the Beginning opens with the following words: "Science is special. It's the best way we have of finding out about the world and everything in it - and that includes us." The book is written by: William Bynum, professor emeritus in the history of medicine at the University College London.

Bynum shows how science, philosophy and religion often went together in the past.…Read

Science Matters

Book reviewed by Karla D. Passalacqua on 26 January 2015

One of my favorite undergraduate microbiology teachers used to remind us that the study of biology was important because “we are all biological citizens in a biological world.” Authors James Trefil and Robert Hazen would probably modify that statement, and say that studying science is important because “we are all physical citizens in a physical universe.” In the book Science Matters, the authors undertake the grand task of conveying “Science,” with a capital “S,” from atoms to ecosystems and from the scientific method to the very latest advances in…Read

Happiness

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 3 December 2014

Can we ever be happy?  It does seem as though people are at least temporarily happy in some instances, they may have arranged to move to new accommodation or they’ve just met somebody they like and that person in turn, likes them.  Perhaps they’ve been accepted for a job they applied for.  The only problem is that these are really only passing fancies and any joy we experience can be relatively short lived.  Arthur Schopenhauer the German philosopher believed that our natural condition is one of suffering because our desires are…Read

The Music of the Primes

reviewed by Rob Mason on 29 November 2014

Regardless of your background, if you have any curiosity about what the world of mathematics is really about (as opposed to how it seemed at school), this DVD may be the introduction for you. Some of the maths are difficult but the history and storytelling paints a convincing (and appealing) picture of the world of professional mathematics. The film which is introduced by Marcus du Sautoy, includes details of the  Riemann hypothesis which implies results about the distribution of prime numbers.

A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number…Read

The Mystery of Happiness

reviewed by Rob Mason on 15 November 2014

The Mystery of Happiness a new film by Argentine film director Daniel Burman that attempts to elucidate that enjoyable and mysterious feeling called happiness. The film features Inés Estévez: Argentine glamour star of the ‘90s, who makes a big-screen comeback playing a lead role in the film and Guillermo Francella an Argentine actor and comedian. In the movie, Santiago (Guillermo Francella) and Eugene (Fabián Arenillas) are portrayed as long-time business partners who operate an electronics store. Their interrelationship underlies the whole story in many ways; Eugene is portrayed as the stronger of…Read

New Grub Street

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 8 November 2014

Pierre Coustillas has devoted himself to Gissing for more than half a century and concluded that George Gissing’s “life and professional career had been heroic. A scrupulous, original artist who cared more for the quality and sincerity of his work than for the demands of the public 

“New Grub Street is by general consent his masterpiece, in this novel he was writing about a world he knew thoroughly, and in which he had suffered. There is a painful bitterness in the book, yet it is fair even to the characters who, unlike…Read

Schopenhauer : a biography

Book reviewed by Rob Mason on 16 August 2014

David E. Cartwright, Schopenhauer: A Biography, Cambridge University Press

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was one of the most original and provocative thinkers of the nineteenth century. He spent a lifetime striving to understand the meaning of living in a world where suffering and death are ubiquitous. In his quest to solve "the ever-disquieting riddle of existence," Schopenhauer explored almost every dimension of human life, developing a darkly compelling worldview that found deep resonance in contemporary literature, music, philosophy, and psychology. This is the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer written in English. Placing him in his historical…Read

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