Shop now Shop now Shop now Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now
Profile for Dennis Littrell > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Dennis Littrell
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,788
Helpful Votes: 6937

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui)

Page: 1-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-30
The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga
The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga
by P.J. Mazumdar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.48

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straddling two worlds, 17 Dec. 2009
Dr. Mazumdar comes from a long tradition in Hinduism. He is a champion of one of the six orthodox philosophies of India, that of Advaita, which can be seen as both a philosophy and a monistic religion. He is also a man of science, a surgeon with a clear understanding of the scientific method and a man who is aware of the latest advances in scientific knowledge in such diverse fields as medicine, physics and evolutionary biology. What he tries to do here in this most interesting book is justify Advaitic philosophy in light of modern science. I was impressed with his effort, but I am not sure he was entirely successful. It is difficult to straddle two worlds.

Note well the complete title of his book: "The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga." To justify a metaphysical position with the empirical findings of science is indeed a difficult task. What I think can be shown is that a philosophy or a religion or any metaphysical edifice is not in contradiction with science. In this sense I think Mazumdar is admirably successful. But he is not satisfied with that. What he wants to show--and this is something he insists upon--is that of all the philosophies of India, including not just the orthodox ones coming from the Vedas but the heterodox ones including Buddhism, Advaita is the one most in line with the findings of modern science.

The key idea in Advaita is that the phenomenal world is an illusion somehow resting upon the eternal truth of Brahman, Brahman being the Ineffable (God) of the Vedas about which nothing can be said. Furthermore in Advaita we are part of Brahman in the same sense that a molecule of water is part of the ocean. Mazumdar uses the image of a whirling firebrand that creates the circle of fire as a way of expressing what he sees as a metaphysical truth. The firebrand is real but the circle of fire (the phenomenal world) is an illusion created by the whirling firebrand. Today we might see a whirling battery-powered light instead of a burning piece of wood.

The strength of the book is in the clear, if a bit repetitious, delineation of the Advaita philosophy and how it differs from other philosophies such as Vedanta, Samkhya, Buddhism and others. Mazumdar does a good job of arguing that Advaita is in agreement with quantum mechanics in the sense that particles and energy have a kind of fuzzy existence that cannot be objectified in a definite sense (all is relative), contending that there must be an absolute truth beyond this shadow show similar to the Advaitic absolute which is Brahman. What he doesn't do is demonstrate this in any scientific sense. Of course no one else has either and it is doubtful that anyone ever will. Metaphysical "truths" can be in agreement with scientific discoveries but they are unlikely be proven through scientific methods anymore than science is likely to establish the God of Abraham.

It should be noted that this book is about yoga in the broadest sense of the word. Mazumdar spends most of his expression on the metaphysics of Advaita devoting only some of the latter parts of the book to the yogas presented in the Bhagavad Gita (Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana) and to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (usually understood as Raja Yoga). He makes it clear that the most important method employed by Advaitists is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of faith and devotion. He is comfortable with the various rites and rituals of the Advaitic practice believing that if nothing else they are psychologically efficacious.

This sort of straddling of two worlds by Mazumdar is also seen in this statement: "...the exact relationship between Brahman and the world in Advaita cannot be described in terms of human experience." (p. 113) In other words, although Mazumdar believes that Advaita is true and the best of all religious philosophies, it cannot be established!

I happen to agree with Mazumdar's concept of the absolute, although I usually just use the more secular term "the Ineffable" rather than "Brahman." And I certainly agree with this: "There is no way to describe the absolute. Brahman is 'that from which all words turn back.'" (p. 115)

Interesting is Mazumdar's semi-idealistic position on information. He posits that information "can be said to exist both dependently and independently of matter-energy...and would not exist if there was no other existence in the universe"; but "...can exist potentially with any form of existence that is manifested from the absolute." (p. 228) Incidentally, this is cognate with modern physics which sees the cosmos in terms of information.

Another nice observation is this about the so-called psychic powers achieved in the practice of Patanjali's yoga (invisibility, levitation, etc.). They are considered stages on the way to the final samadhi and to be refused. Mazumdar notes, "This is somewhat like the powers offered to Jesus by the devil." (p. 333)

Now for a quibble:
I was not able to appreciate how learning or our ability to learn establishes free will as Muzumdar asserts on page 75. It seems to me that any act or experience of learning is no different in terms of causation than other acts or experiences. Remember Hume's Fork: either our actions are determined, in which case we are not responsible for them, or they are the result of random events, in which case we are not responsible for them. This seems to do away with free will.

Additionally Mazumdar writes: "...our individuality comprises layer upon layer of relative and changeable personality traits, memories, thoughts, and feelings, but there is no absolute reality holding these things together." (p. 104) One wonders how such an entity could will anything and seems similar to the Buddhist "no-self" which to my mind negates free will.

For anyone interested in the philosophies of India and how they relate to the modern world, this is a book not to be missed.

Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism
Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism
by Howard Bloom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.95

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A passionate celebration of human nature and capitalism, 7 Dec. 2009
The real beast here needing a revision is not capitalism. The real beast (and the genius of that beast) is human nature. And what it needs is a rediscovery.

And the real hero of this book is the hero of every successful book: the reader (in the person of the author). Howard Bloom himself plays that role with zest and feeling as he repeats again and again "you and me." You and me against the elites of the media who look down on the masses; you and me against the stupid hypocrites who rail against the capitalist system even while they benefit from its largesse; you and me against the lies and exploitation of false capitalists who fail to serve the needs of those who would make them rich; you and me against the world of cliché mongers and top-down managers who never walk outside and never talk to their employees or the people who would buy their products.

In other words, the genius of the beast is empathy and truth, or as Bloom phrases it, "tuned empathy" and "the truth at any price including the price of your life." And, by the way, take a look right under your nose and see what's there in a new way, in a way that penetrates the very essence of what it is that you care about. If you do you might just set the world aflame with the power of your vision and understanding (and make a few bucks to boot).

In other words, this is at its heart a passionate book about Howard Bloom and his success, about the socially inept, science nerd Howard Bloom who learned how to make various businesses and people successful in spite of themselves, who turned failing enterprises around, who saw the talent and enchantment where others did not, who found the magic in various enterprises by caring more than anyone else and by working harder to identify with and deeply understand the dreams and fantasies of those he would serve. And then to fulfill those dreams and fantasies.

Along the way Bloom champions robber barons and P. T. Barnum, frivolous desire and cosmetic cravings, jewelry and status symbols, naked self-promotion, Martin Luther and Christopher Columbus and a myriad of other likely or unlikely superstars. He sees the creativity in a market crash, the bottom line potential in jealousy and vanity, riches in toxic waste and the power in the lust for novelty. In other words, Bloom is here to tell us as he did some years ago in his fascinating opus "The Lucifer Principle" that a lot of what we think is right and true ain't necessarily so.

His style is rhetorical and repetitive, succinct and long-winded by turns, eloquent and folksy, and filled with the kind of passion and energy most of us can only admire. Is six hundred pages too long? Couldn't he have achieved the same effect with half as many words? I'm pretty sure somebody told him that and I'm equally certain that he ignored them. I read every word, impatiently at times, wondering at times how far he might stretch the relevance, but at other times pleased to learn something I didn't know about the lives and eccentricities of famous men, about the secret lives of bees and bacteria and how their lives relate to ours, about why Marx got it wrong and how Kublai Khan got it right by turning a young Marco Polo into a tax collector and settler of disputes. (Yes.)

Here's really the essence of what Bloom has to say about capitalism:

"Capital is stored fantasy, stored daring, stored promotion, stored advertising, and stored social organization. Capital is stored ego. (Keep the ego hidden, but don't be ashamed of the fact that it's there.)
"Be true to yourself and you'll serve others. Be true to yourself but keep the people you want to reach deep in your heart." (p. 476)

Bloom shows how CBS, General Motors and other successful corporations began to implode when they lost sight of where their capital really was and what it really was. It was people and their knowledge, energy and passion. Too much of a top down management style that fails to understand the needs and desires of its customers and the creativity of its workers and staff can turn even the mighty into failures. He also shows how he performed various miracles with the music fan magazine "Circus," with pop stars like Stephanie Mills, REO Speedwagon, and Prince--see especially the "tale of the speech that saved Prince's Purple Rain," beginning on p. 163.

Here are a few of Bloom ideas and what I might call "Bloomisms":

Reason without emotion and passion is insane.

"Any good thing in excess is poisonous."

"...Capitalism of the soul..."

"...the evolutionary search engine" and "...the secular genesis machine..."

"Capitalism isn't about making yourself look good to the folks with offices on your floor and on the floors above you.... It's about the people you never see. It's about the people you serve. It's about the people who will save you if there's catastrophe." (p. 451)

By the way, the book is splendidly edited and proofed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2016 9:44 AM BST

Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England
Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England
by Professor Steve Jones
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updating Darwin and his scientific interests, 1 Dec. 2009
Steve Jones, who is a professor of genetics at University College London and a most engaging writer on evolutionary biology, wrote this book to coincide with the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." He calls his book "Darwin's Island" to emphasize the fact that the vast majority of Darwin's work was on the biota of the island of England following his return from the voyage of the Beagle and not on what he learned during the scant five weeks he spent in the Galapagos Islands as a young man.

Darwin wrote a four-volume work on barnacles (over a thousand pages); he wrote on "Orchids and Insects," on the "Expressions of Emotions," on the "Formation of Vegetable Mould by Earthworms," and of course on "The Descent of Man" and other works, comprising in total more than six million words. Jones' intent is to introduce the reader to the wider range of Darwin's work and by doing so demonstrate why Darwin is widely considered the greatest biologist who ever lived.

Jones' technique is to devote chapters to Darwin's many interests while bringing us up to date on the current understanding. Thus we read about what Darwin learned about worms, barnacles, insects, insectivore plants, sexual selection, our facial expressions, etc., and how that agrees with or differs from what modern science has discovered. What we find out is that Darwin was amazingly prescient in many areas mainly because he worked so diligently for so many years with the kind of enthusiasm few of us can muster. And it didn't hurt that he was a brilliant man.

Darwin could have been a man of leisure because of inherited wealth, but he was driven to discover as much as he could about the natural world. He immersed himself into scientific research, performing experiments as well as reading, and corresponding with other scientists and amateurs from around the world. He dug up the ground around Down House where he lived; he dissected specimens, he worried about the adaptive vigor of his children since he had married his cousin (hence his volume on "Cross and Self-Fertilisation"), he measured things, he explored the woods and streams and seashores of his English "archipelago"; he examined fossils, and all the while he pondered deeply on the nature of life and on how evolution works.

The effect of Jones' technique in showing both what Darwin knew in the 19th century and what we know today is to emphasize how the world has changed since Darwin's time. We learn how some species have circumnavigated the globe and caused other species to go extinct, especially how the "weediest" of all species, human beings, have altered and destroyed environments and brought about changes in our use of the natural world that would have probably appalled Darwin.

Being a geneticist, Jones knows very well what Darwin could only guess at, that is, how the traits of species are handed down, how "descent with modification" works. And that is another strength of this remarkable and very readable book, demonstrating as Jones does how much Darwin was able to understand and get right without any knowledge of the basic mechanism of inheritance as expressed in genetics. How he would have marveled at what we know today.

Jones closes by seeing a "triumphant of the average" as we and other weedy species scurry about the globe mating widely instead of closely as in Darwin's time when people and other creatures seldom encountered opportunities much distant from the place of their birth. He sees what I once called "the browning of society" as natural selection irons out the differences between equatorial humankind and those from northern climes, as Asians marry the English, as Russian tumble weeds spread across the American west. When once it was the rich who had the most children, today it is the poor. Jones notes that "The gulf has closed through restraint by the affluent rather than excess by the poor." He does not speculate on what this change will have on society, but posits that the opportunity for natural selection "is in steep decline," meaning I suppose that evolutionary change in humans will become increasingly static. Musing on how that will play out in the long run, Jones writes darkly: "For Homo sapiens, some nasty surprises no doubt lurk around the corner. Some day, evolution will take its revenge and we may fail in the struggle for existence against ourselves, the biggest ecological challenge of all." (p. 286)

The Vanishing of a Species? A Look at Modern Man's Predicament by a Geologist
The Vanishing of a Species? A Look at Modern Man's Predicament by a Geologist
by Peter Gretener
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Out of a time capsule: a warning from thirty years ago, 4 Nov. 2009
This book is unusual in that most of it was written prior to something like 1980 and put aside until its author passed away and then it was edited and published just this year by the author's son, Nick Gretener who is a lawyer.

The author Peter Gretener was a Professor of Geology at the University of Calgary, Canada. The species referred to in the title is human and Gretener's prognosis is a question mark. What I think is interesting is that much of what he worried about is the same today as was thirty years ago: pollution, war, ignorance of the masses, academics in ivory towers, rampant greed (especially corporate), too many people, energy shortages to come, etc.

He was also worried about the disconnect and lack of communication between what C.P. Snow famously called "the two cultures," identified by Gretener as the humanities/social sciences and the natural sciences. Gretener comes down hard on the social sciences, e.g.,

"Contrary to science, social science has been outright destructive and is largely responsible for the decline of the social fabric in all western countries. To expect social scientists to find solutions to basically scientific problems is ludicrous. Science to them is a strange world, and they are not prepared to come up with any viable solutions. Problems that have been created by scientists must be solved by scientists." (p. 216)

I tend to agree that the social sciences have been naÔve and arrogant while their academic leaders often lack interdisciplinary knowledge and awareness (one of Gretener's salient points). However I think he has gone too far here, and indeed such statement only furthers the divide between disciplines that Snow and Gretener himself deplore.

The central problem and the reason that we may "vanish" as a species according to Gretener is basically because we are living beyond our means. He saw that back in the 1970s when there were something like four billion people on the planet. Today as we close in on seven billion the situation has only grown more acute. His solution comes in the form of three commandments constituting what he calls "the human revolution." The commandments from pages 229-230 are:

1. Thou Shalt Use Your Head
2. Thou Shalt Give Your Fellow Man a Fair Shake
3. Thou Shalt Not Be a Waste Maker.

I have a problem with numbers 1 and 3. " Thou Shalt Use Your Head" is vague and I think people are using their heads. It's just that we are not looking far enough ahead to see the potential disaster to come, or perhaps we see it but don't really care.

"Thou Shalt Not Be a Waste Maker" is almost humorous in that we cannot help making waste (!). The problem is we need to clean up and recycle our wastes.

Number 2. "Thou Shalt Give Your Fellow Man a Fair Shake" is a variant on the Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and is indeed golden.

More to the point and part of Gretener's farsightedness is his concept of "effective population" by which he means there is an optimum number of people AND their use of resources that the planet can sustain. He sees westerners as consuming too many resources especially of the non-renewable kind. Clearly he anticipated the postmodern concept of "ecological footprint" which is defined as a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems.

Gretener rightly sees this overconsumption and pollution as a threat not to the planet itself but to human survival. He writes: "The planet is doing just fine, and the minor skin cancer it has developed will in no way affect the future existence of this planet. It is not the planet we wish to save but rather our personal and collective existence, which is quite a different matter." (p. 215)

On a deeper level Gretener feels that the imminent failure of our species (unless we change our ways) is not merely material but spiritual. He writes, "If the term Homo sapiens remains the designation of a mechanical genius and a spiritual imbecile, the fate of the species is, indeed, sealed." (p. 84)

Gretener's point of view was influenced as he acknowledges to some extent by the works of George Gaylord Simpson whom Gretener curiously calls "one of the most outstanding minds in the field of geology." (p. 232) I suspect Simpson was indeed (incidentally) a geologist but more significantly one of the authors of the modern evolutionary synthesis in biology and a world class paleontologist.

Gretener was also influenced by Vance Packard, whom I recall as the author the The Hidden Persuaders (1957) and other works of social criticism; Robert Ardrey, famous for African Genesis (1961); and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize winning author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) and other works. It was nostalgic for me to be reminded of these authors whom I also read and admired many years ago.

The strength of this book is in allowing the reader a perspective on how long ago the present predicament was identified. We are able to reflect on what has been done and not done (mostly the latter) and to see what technological and other developments have altered or not altered the situation. Kudos go to Nick Gretener who did an outstanding job of editing the manuscript and who made a number of illuminating comments.

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
by Nicholas Wade
Edition: Paperback

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How DNA analysis is illuminating the prehistory, 17 Oct. 2009
I thought the first part of the book which was actually about the prehistory as newly discovered through DNA analysis was very interesting. I was less thrilled with the chapters on Race, Language and History. The wrap up chapter on Evolution was good, if a bit repetitious.

Wade writes extremely well and does a good job of summarizing the latest (circa 2005) research, much of which has come from analyses of the descent of the Y chromosome (from men) and mitochondrial DNA handed down through the female line. The question of our relationship with the Neanderthal--long a thorny question--is more or less resolved with DNA extracted from Neanderthal fossil bones that has been compared to the sequences of human DNA. The conclusion is that H. neanderthalensis came from H. ergaster through H. heidelbergensis as H. sapiens did, and then broke off on its own. Furthermore there is no genetic evidence that human and Neanderthal produced viable offspring. The earlier idea than the Neanderthal was a modification of the very successful H. erectus has been discredited.

As to the question of our origins, northeast sub-Saharan Africa is further confirmed as the site. Wade has humans becoming behavioral human around 50,000 years ago after becoming anatomically human as early as perhaps 200,000 years ago. The great leap forward occurring 50,000 years ago is attributed to the acquisition of symbolic, syntactic language. This was also the time when humans made the exodus out of Africa and began to colonize the world. They went east across the Red Sea at the Gate of Grief during a glacial period when the sea level was two hundred feet lower than it is today. They followed the coast line of the present Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to India and eventually to Australia. I had previously though humans had gone north along the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and then east and then north to Europe. However, the evidence indicates that it was only later that humans migrated to Europe from India westward to replace the Neanderthal.

I had also always thought that agriculture came before settled communities, but it now appears that sedentism occurred first and was part of a behavioral and psychological change in humans that led to agriculture and eventually to cities and nation states. Just prior to or at about the same time as the first settlements appeared some 15,000 years ago occurred the domestication of the dog. Wade avers that living in settlements near a plentiful food source (wild grains, a bountiful river, etc.) was partially made possible by people using dogs as sentries against the ancient practice of dawn raids by neighboring tribes. Clearly the transition from the hunter-gatherer way of life to the settled way of life was a momentous one.

Perhaps the reason I wasn't so thrilled with the latter part of the book is that I read some of the studies Wade considers elsewhere. The experience of Brian Sykes in tracing the ancestry of people named "Sykes" and of Thomas Jefferson's second family with the slave Sally Hemings are examples of DNA derived stories that I had read before. Wade's account of the saga of the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe, although also a familiar story, is most interesting. He cites studies showing that Ashkenazi Jews have an average IQ of 115 while Sephardic and Oriental Jews have the usual average of 100. A couple of arguments are presented to account for this difference. The more plausible one is that because the Jews of Europe were forced by the Christian majority into becoming money lenders from about AD 1100 until around 1700. (Christianity at the time forbade usury.) That sort of intellectually demanding way of life, along with having to make a living amid persecution, selected for intelligence. By way of contrast, Sephardic and Oriental Jews during the same period "lived mostly under Muslim rulers who often forced them into menial jobs, not the intellect-demanding ones imposed on Ashkenazim." (p. 256)

More than any other book I have read, "Before the Dawn" insists on cultural change leading rapidly to genetic change. With the experience of the Ashkenazi Jews as a case in point, Wade argues more generally that "for social species the most important feature of the environment [which directs evolutionary change] is their own society." He concludes that "to the extent that people have shaped their own society, they have determined the conditions of their own evolution." (p. 267.

This might be termed "evolution by your own boot straps." I wonder however if it isn't a sort of fallacy. Biological evolution shapes human behavior which in turn leads to cultural change which leads to further biological evolution. I think it is better to speak of cultural evolution as a subset of biological evolution and not imply that somehow we have begun to direct the process. But this may be just a quibbling over semantics. Clearly the environment has changed us and we have changed the environment.

In the final chapter Wade speculates on where we are going. I always like such speculations but only really appreciate those that have us becoming post-human in some way. Wade posits one possibility that I have not thought about in years, that of humans splitting into two or more species. He notes: "Our previous reaction to kindred species was to exterminate them, but we have mellowed a lot in the last 50,000 years." (p. 279)

By the way, this idea that we "have mellowed a lot," and become less aggressive since we have domesticated ourselves is one that appears elsewhere in the book and is an idea that, for better or for worse, appears surprisingly to be true. The actually percentage of humans killed during warfare appears to have been much greater during the prehistory than it is today. The wars today are much bigger but the wars in the pre-history, according to the research presented here, were nearly constant.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2010 4:56 PM BST

What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science
What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science
by M Brockman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some younger scientists report on what they're doing., 13 Oct. 2009
The main difference between this and other science anthologies that I have read is 1) the essays are original, written especially for this volume; and 2) the scientists are relatively young not yet at the pinnacle of their careers.

Max Brockman believes that "it's important to engage with the thinking of the next generation, to better understand not just what is going on in our own time but what issues society will face in the future. This exercise is especially valuable in science, where so many of the important discoveries are made by those in emerging generations." (p. xiii) Consequently he "approached some of today's leading scientists and asked them to name some of the rising stars in their respective disciplines: those who, in their research, are tackling some of science's toughest questions and raising new ones." (pp. xii-xiv) The result is this book with essays from 18 scientists in fields ranging from cosmology to microbiology.

In the first essay UCLA climatologist Laurence C. Smith asks "Will We Decamp for the Northern Rim?" His answer is that he does "not advise buying acreage in Labrador," but "maybe in Michigan." What is clear is that the north is warming up and making "land that is hardly livable [in]to land that is somewhat livable." He sees the US and Canada as the two countries "best positioned for expansion" into what has been known as the lands of the "minus-forty" degrees. Central to his piece is the prediction that north of the 45th parallel "temperatures will rise at nearly double the global average...and precipitation will increase sharply as well."

In the second essay neuroscientist Christian Keysers argues that "mirror neurons" in our brain that enable us mimic and feel what other are doing and feeling merely by watching--something we do automatically--strongly suggests that humans are ethical by nature. He believes that our brain circuits "lay the foundation for an intuitive altruism."

Philosopher Nick Bostrom looks at enhancing human beings so that we might be better acclimated to the modern world instead of the savannahs of Africa on which we evolved.

Physicist Sean Carroll explores entropy and the arrow of time in the cosmos while physicist Stephon H.S. Alexander grapples with dark energy.

There are essays on the social development of the brain in adolescence by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore; on using brain imaging to explore social thought (Jason P. Mitchell); how language shapes the way we think (Lera Broditsky); on memory enhancement (Sam Cooke); and so on to whether specialization in science is making it impossible for scientists in different field to communicate (Gavin Schmidt, who says that the last person able to keep up with all the sciences lived in the eighteenth century).

Of particular interest to me are the essays by David M .Eagleman on "Brain Time," and by Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare on how humans came "down from the trees" and why no one followed. In the former, Eagleman addresses the familiar phenomenon that "time 'slows down' during brief, dangerous events such as car accidents and robberies." (p. 159) I've had that experience myself and have tried to account for it. What Eagleman discovered is that because of the emergency situation we take in much more information about what is happening than we usually do and this "higher density of data" makes the event appear to last longer." (p. 161) This is similar to the sense that for a child the day is long and for the old person the day is short. The day seems longer for the child because so much of what the child is experiencing is new and requires close attention, whereas for a person of senior years much of what happens has been seen before and requires only the most cursory attention.

In the latter essay, Woods and Hare explore the canine-human relationship and show how dogs are better able to read humans than are our closer relatives, chimpanzees. Dogs were able to find hidden objects in an experiment when humans would gaze at or point to the hiding place or even tap on the hiding place. But chimps have not the habit of paying that much attention to humans and would just miss the clues. Woods and Hare ask why this should be and answer: "One idea is that dogs live with us, so over thousands of hours of interacting with us, they learn to read our body language. Another idea is that the pack lifestyle and cooperative hunting of wolves, the canids from which all dogs evolved, made all canids, dogs included, more in tune with social cues." (p. 177)

Woods and Hare also report on an experiment by the Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev who raised some forty generations of foxes, selecting those most friendly to humans in each generation. The foxes "became incredibly friendly toward humans. Whenever they saw people, they barked, wagged their tails, sniffed the people, and licked their faces. But even stranger were the physical changes...." Their ears "became floppy" and their "tails turned curly." "In short, they looked and behaved remarkably like their close relative the domestic dog." (pp. 178-179)

Incidentally Max Brockman is the son of John Brockman who has edited a number of first class science anthologies. "What's Next" continues that excellent tradition.

Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud
Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud
by Robert Pinsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine collection with a bonus CD, 4 Oct. 2009
Most poems should in fact be read aloud. Part of the power of poetry is in the spoken word, the sound that reverberates around the head and through the heart and mind. Poetry is in fact a non-linear expression that engages more than the denotative sense of words. It is a way of achieving through various poetic devices: allusion, alliteration, consonance, rhythm, rhyme, sound and even typography, a depth of meaning and experience not possible from mere prose.

Still it is true that some poems sound better read aloud than others, and Robert Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate 1997-2000, has come up with a collection of some of the best ever written, designed to please both ear and mind.

The organization is in seven parts. Part I features "Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes," e.g., Gwendolyn Brooks, "We Real Cool"; Robert Frost, "Dust of Snow"; Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Spring and Fall"; Edgar Allan Poe, "Fairy-Land"; five by Emily Dickinson, and twenty-six more. Notice that for the most part the selected poems are not necessary the poet's best or best known. And perhaps the greatest accomplishment in English that might fall under the heading of "Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes," namely Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" doesn't appear perhaps because of its length. I would have liked to have seen included e e cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town."

Part II "Long Lines, Strophes, Parallelisms" features the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes; "When You're Lying Awake" from W.S. Gilbert; Allen Ginsberg's inspired musings on Walt Whitman, "A Supermarket in California"; a couple from Walt Whitman and fourteen others. In his introduction to this part, Pinsky presents some thoughts of how stanzas might break down, how lines might be divided and how the energy and sense of a poem might thereby be affected.

Part III is "Ballads, Repetitions, Refrains," an eclectic presentation including Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky'; Julia Ward Howe's "Battle-Hymn of the Republic"; Pinsky's own "Samurai Song"; Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy," etc., and this famous anonymous gem:

Western wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!

Part IV: "Love Poems" includes Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" with its beautiful turn to open the last stanza: "Ah, love, let us be true/To one another!..."; Robert Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes"; Andrew Marvell's famous "To His Coy Mistress"; something from Sappho, three sonnets from Shakespeare, and many more.

Part V gives us "Stories" of which my favorite is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot which Pinsky rightly sees as more of a story poem than a love poem; Robert Browning's chilling "My Last Duchess"; Shelley's cautionary tale, "Ozymandias"; Wilfred Owen's take on that old lie, "Dulce Et Decorum Est"; Ernest Lawrence Thayer's popular "Casey at the Bat"; and thirty-five more.

Part VI is entitled "Odes, Complaints, and Celebrations" and it features William Blake's "The Tyger"; which is a celebration of sorts; Coleridge's beautiful opium dream "Kubla Khan"; "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to a Nightingale," and "To Autumn" from Keats; and many others.

In Part VII Pinsky gives us "Parodies, ripostes, Jokes and Insults" including Eliot insulting himself in "How Unpleasant to Meet Mr. Eliot" while parodying Edward Lear's "How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear" (also included); and some thirty-five more. Here's Theodore Roethke's joke on the square entitled "Academic":

The stethoscope tells what everyone fears:
You're likely to go on living for years,
With a nurse-maid waddle and a shop-girl simper,
And the style of your prose growing limper and limper.

Pinksy provides an introduction to each part. There's a CD included with the book in which Pinsky reads twenty-one of the poems including "Ode to a Nightingale," and Milton's "Methought I saw my late espoused saint." I must observe that while Pinsky reads very well and it was a pleasure to hear him, he might want to redo his reading of Emily Dickinson's "The Soul selects her own Society" since he has the wrong meaning of "present" as evidenced by his pronunciation "prez'ent" instead of "pri-zent'" with the accent on the second syllable. The sense in the poem

The Soul selects her own Society--
Then--shuts the Door--
To her divine Majority--
Present no more--

Unmoved--she notes the Chariots--pausing--
At her low Gate--
Unmoved--an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat--

I've known her--from an ample nation--
Choose One--
Then--close the Values of her attention--
Like Stone--

is that it is no use to present to her anymore since she is "unmoved" and has closed the Values of her attention--/Like stone--." (NOT that her divine Majority is no longer present.) The sense is that of the Soul as a kind of exalted royalty that one might present before.

This quibbling aside, Pinsky has put together a most interesting and entertaining poetry experience, one that I highly recommend.

Stealth Germs in Your Body: How Hidden Infectious Organisms Can Jeopardize Your Health
Stealth Germs in Your Body: How Hidden Infectious Organisms Can Jeopardize Your Health
by Erno Daniel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars How germs can hide in your body waiting to cause disease, 2 Oct. 2009
This is an easy to read, rather thorough look at how some ailments are caused or triggered by microbes that reside hidden in our bodies, sometimes dormant for years. Dr. Daniel gives the symptoms, the causes, the possible treatments for dozens of infections. He emphasizes thorough diagnostic techniques combining the expertise of physicians with the most modern equipment. He tells the reader what can be discovered with body scans and what cannot; and part of what cannot are what he calls "stealth germs."

Stealth germs such as the various herpes viruses once acquired stay within our bodies for decades, something erupting to cause disease, and sometimes lying dormant waiting for a compromise in our immune system caused by stress or the invasion of other pathogens before becoming active. Daniel devotes over a hundred pages in Chapter 4: "Stealth Infections of Body Regions" detailing the symptoms, the diagnoses, the infective agents, tests to consider taking, and potential treatments for various ailments. He gives a descriptive analysis of each ailment under the heading "Case in point."

Perhaps the hallmark experience that taught physicians that undetected germs can be present in the body causing disease or waiting to cause disease involves the case of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers and gastritis. Prior to the discovery of H. pylori it was thought that stress caused stomach ulcers mainly because it was not realized that bacteria could live continuously in the digestive juices of the stomach. Subsequently, Daniel reports, we have discovered that such stealth germs as H. pylori may cause other complaints as well. In this case H. pylori may be indicated in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and as a trigger for cancer of the stomach.

I knew that viruses can cause or trigger cancer, especially cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus. But I was surprised to learn that schizophrenia or at least schizophrenic symptoms can be caused by the human endogenous retrovirus or the herpes simplex virus type 2 or cytomegalovirus (see p. 114). It may well be that other forms of cancer are caused or triggered by viruses and perhaps some chronic conditions as well. Daniel reports on a link between human adenoviruses and obesity on pages 174-175. He adds that "there is also some evidence that an imbalance of certain bacteria in the gut may be associated with weight gain."

Daniel notes that many microbes such as staph and Candida are resident in and on our bodies and usually cause no harm. However should our immune systems become compromised or should these germs somehow migrate to other regions of the body they can cause disease. He also points out that using antibiotics can kill not only the disease-causing bacteria but upset the usual balance of microbes in the body and allow dangerous microbes to proliferate. A possible treatment is with the use of probiotics which can be administered along with prebiotics (food ingredients that pass undigested to the colon "where they produce a beneficial effect by providing nutrients which promote the growth of some of the...resident 'beneficent' bowel bacteria..."). (p. 42)

The emphasis in the book is on accurate diagnosis and on working with your physician in order to get the best treatment. This is a patient-friendly book aimed at the general public. Daniel shows how patients can help their physicians and how physicians can be better doctors by listening to their patients and by careful diagnosis. The point of writing a book on stealth germs is to emphasize that the first impression diagnosis may be incorrect and to consider in difficult cases possibilities other than the obvious or the most common cause. For the patient this is also the point of reading such a book.

Morality Without God? (Philosophy In Action)
Morality Without God? (Philosophy In Action)
by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Argues that atheists and agnostics are just as moral as theists, 2 Oct. 2009
It has been assumed in most societies since the dawn of history that humans cannot be moral without God and religion. Sinnott-Armstrong, who is a Professor of Philosophy and Legal Studies at Dartmouth College, presents in this extended essay the modern view to the contrary.

More specifically he argues that a belief in God is not necessary for people to be good or for humans to realize that some acts are morally wrong. We do not need the fear of eternal damnation to behave in morally acceptable ways. This is then a treatise in moral philosophy in which Sinnott-Armstrong takes the side of atheists and agnostics against theists who think that being atheist or agnostic means per force that you are immoral.

He begins with the provocative question in Chapter One "Would You Marry an Atheist?" The answer is most people wouldn't. Furthermore, the prejudice against atheists and other non-believers is so great that an avowed atheist has no chance of being elected to high office in the United States. He notes that people in general fear atheists and discriminate against them simply because they are atheists, and that fear stems from the mistaken idea that atheists can't be moral. In the chapters that follow Sinnott-Armstrong argues with some force that religious people and theists in general may be more morally compromised than atheists. He cites studies that suggest as much.

Personally my experience with fundamentalist Christians and others who take the Bible literally is that their mental states are so compromised by the conflicting morality of the Bible that they practice a similar duplicity in their daily lives. If you've ever argued with a creationist you know what I mean. But Christians are not alone in their prejudices against non-believers. One finds the same antagonism in other religions, especially in Islam and indeed in the conservative expressions of most religions.

What Sinnot-Armstrong does not present here is the argument from psychology in which we see that people have neurological structures called "mirror neurons" that ape not just the behaviors of others but their mental states as well. Thus empathy and an identification with the plight of others is automatic and built into our nature in such a way that we are naturally moral animals who instinctively follow (most of us any way, for the most part) the edict of the Golden Rule which is to do unto others as you would have done unto you. We cannot help but feel that way unless of course we demonize others or make them our enemies or otherwise fear them.

Others have argued that our social nature as formed over the ages has molded us into moral beings who are capable of behaving in ways that reflect our understanding of what is right and wrong and guide us to behave in accordance with what is right. This surprisingly is a modern revelation and contrary to the spirit of the Bible in which humans are seen as fallen creatures who need God and the fear of punishment in order to behave morally. Supporting this belief in the news we constantly hear about people committing horrendous acts of hatred and violence, and of course nation states including our own have brought death and destruction on untold numbers of innocent people.

But these exceptions merely test the rule. Humans for the most part act morally because such behavior not only benefits them but other people as well, and is one of the reasons for the evolutionary success of the human race. For humans cooperation is what tames the jungle and molds the environment to our benefit, not blood thirsty competition.

Sinnott-Armstrong's tone is reasonable and reasoned and his argument thorough to the point of something like near exhaustion. He bends over backwards to be fair to both theists and atheists while insisting that these former antagonists can live in peace and harmony. I would say he is entirely convincing but I am part of the choir here, and so it would be better to hear what those skeptical of his thesis might think.

For those of you who are moderate in your religious views but not sure that you can trust non-believers this book might be an eye-opener.

Nothing But the Truth [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Nothing But the Truth [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Kate Beckinsale
Price: £5.91

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, engaging take on a journalist protecting her sources, 2 Oct. 2009
The men are real scum in this one. David Schwimmer gets to play a guy who basically gives up on his heroic wife while Matt Dillon gets to play a blood-thirsty prosecutor bent on furthering his career whatever the human cost. Even Alan Alda (minus a fine little speech before the Supreme Court) gets to basically fail in defending his client.

His client is Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) a journalist who finds herself in contempt of court for not revealing her source for a story on the outing of a CIA agent. (Shades of the Judith Miller/Valerie Plame Wilson case.) Here instead of the Iraq war we have an assignation attempt on the President supposedly by somebody in Venezuela after which the US takes some military action. Rachel ends up in jail and we get to see her suffer all the deprivations of being jail, getting beaten up, estranged from her son and her husband, who betrays her. She is doing all this to protect a source, and a kind of journalistic honor code. David Swimmer's character isn't interested in journalist honor codes. He is displeased that she cares more about protecting her source than in being with him and her son.

Clearly this is a Belt Way story told as a woman's POV flick. It is engaging and it moves right along. It is sharp, just a tad short of slick. We cannot help but identify with Kate Beckinsale's character. And when we find out at the very, very end whom she is protecting we understand. It is a nice twist, one of the cleverest I've seen in movies in quite a while. The end is just perfect.

I was about to write that "every soccer mom and indeed every mom will identify with Kate Beckinsale's character" but actually not all of them will. But when they see the ending they might change their mind.

See this for the clever twist, for the sharp direction and editing and for a fine performance by Kate Beckinsale.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2015 3:59 PM BST

Page: 1-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-30