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Neuron

Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction audiobook addict.

Sweden | Member Since 2014

89
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 32 reviews
  • 34 ratings
  • 93 titles in library
  • 6 purchased in 2015
FOLLOWING
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FOLLOWERS
7

  • The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 35 mins)
    • By Neil Shubin
    • Narrated By Marc Cashman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (110)
    Performance
    (96)
    Story
    (94)

    In his last book, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human anatomy - our hands, our jaws - and the structures in the fish that first took over land 375 million years ago. Now, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, he takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we are the way we are. Starting once again with fossils, Shubin turns his gaze skyward. He shows how the entirety of the universe's 14-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies.

    Mark says: "Cosmic"
    "Broad science book lacking focus"
    Overall
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    From my list of book reviews it will be blatantly obvious that I like non-fiction, especially non-fiction science books. I therefore naturally thought that The universe within by Neil Shubin would be a perfect match. A little bit of geology mixed with astronomy and evolution combined with reportedly good writing. It felt like a safe bet for me. I was wrong.

    Shubin starts out by describing a geological expedition to Greenland. It was indeed interesting to learn about the hardships associated with finding stones that were formed during the time you are interested in. Shubin quickly moves on (it is a rather short book) to state that all living creatures on earth are related to one another and then he also takes it one step further, saying that we are also related to distant stars because had it not been for supernovas of massive stars the elements on which life depends, would not have formed. This, I suppose, is a profound fact, but I guess that a few paragraphs is not sufficient to convey a feeling of awe.

    The book proceeds on a wild journey through space and evolution. Shubin writes about the origin of life and about the formation of stars as well as the entire universe. He frequently diverts from the main story (if there is one) and discusses other things such as the circadian rhythm. The part I personally found most interesting was the one about earth’s climate on a geological timescale. Did you know that before the Himalayas formed 40 million years ago (due to the collision of the Indian and Chinese landmasses), earth was considerably larger than it has been since then. At some points there were not even any ice caps over Antarctica. The Himalayas, Shubin explains, drained carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which was flushed into the oceans which in turn reduced the greenhouse effect of our atmosphere which cooled earth. We should expect more such drastic changes of the earth’s climate in the future and we better hope that we humans are able to adapt to such changes.

    This is not a bad book but I feel that if suffers from trying to cover too broad an area in too few pages. It reminds me of when my supervisor was going to give a talk about “cognition and evolution”, which he felt was already stretching what you could cram into one talk. The arrangers however felt that this was too modest, can’t we change the title to cogntion, evolution, and the cosmos to raise interest? I don’t know how that episode ended but I can imagine that, like this book, the result would lack focus.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Dan Harris
    • Narrated By Dan Harris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1930)
    Performance
    (1702)
    Story
    (1694)

    After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. A lifelong nonbeliever, he found himself on a bizarre adventure, involving a disgraced pastor, a mysterious self-help guru, and a gaggle of brain scientists.

    Patrick says: "Mandatory read before trying any self-help books"
    "How Dan Harris found Buddhism"
    Overall
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    First of all, I agree with other reviewers who says that the ~first third of the book is not particularly interesting. Basically the reader learns that Harris early on desired a career on television, and eventually he ended up at abc. Readers who are not specifically interested in Dan Harris could skip this. However I was impressed by Harris frankness concerning own excessive egocentrism, which is a theme present throughout the book.

    The best part of the book starts after Harris suffered his panic attack on television. (Out of curiosity I actually went online to check out this panic attack and it did not seem nearly as bad as described in this book). This panic attack, caused in part by Harris use of cocaine, triggers a crisis following which this middle aged man, like so many others, starts to search for meaning. First he has a short flirt the famous gay/anti-gay pastor Ted Haggard, who Harris thinks is crazy but is still kind of impressed by. Even if Dan Harris never seems to seriously contemplate becoming an evangelical, this story about Ted is actually quite entertaining. Harris quickly moves on to self-help Guru’s meetings with, among other, Deepak Chopra. Harris is intrigued by their claims that they never succumb to their own feelings. Yet Harris also observes that for a man who claims to be so immensely “spiritual”, Deepak Chopra seems to care an awful lot about PR and selling stuff. I liked how Harris asks self-help guru’s and spiritual leaders the kind of questions I would ask them like for example “so it doesn’t bother you if you really need to go to the toilet and you can’t?”. Deepak, unlike some more sane people that we meet later, maintains that it doesn’t bother him (yeah right)...

    Harris eventually decides that self-help is terrible when it comes to practical advice and moves on. He then finds buddhism. To my surprise, Sam Harris, a renowned skeptic, is one of the people who encourages Dan Harris to learn mindfulness.

    The remainder of the book basically describes how Dan Harris gradually buys into meditation, mindfulness and other Buddhists practises. However up until the end Harris maintain at least some distance, and his mantra that he had become 10 percent happier, is sobering and makes the whole story much more believable (unlike say self help gurus who claim to always be at peace). Indeed this title was one of the reasons I even gave this book a chance.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 18 mins)
    • By Michael Lewis
    • Narrated By Dylan Baker
    Overall
    (2951)
    Performance
    (2603)
    Story
    (2623)

    Michael Lewis returns to the financial world to give listeners a ringside seat as the biggest news story in years prepares to hit Wall Street....

    Darwin8u says: "Making the system deliver on its promise."
    "Colorful of technology at wall street"
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    When I bought this book I expected an entertaining description of outlandish wall street traders "flashing" their wealth. While this is indeed one of the books ingredients I realized that I had completely misinterpreted the word "Flash". It refers not to flashing as in showing off, but to flash as in very fast.

    The book describes how so called high frequency traders earn money by instantly responding to changes in demand of stocks. Those with sufficiently speedy computers and internet connections can make a profit by essentially jumping ahead in the que, buying a certain stock and then selling it again to the guy who actually wanted it, at a premium. I was surprised to learn that such trades actually accounted for a huge majority of the trades on US stock markets.

    The book also have a hero called Brad Katsuyama, founder of the IEX stock exchange. Brad who appears to be a normal and humble, yet smart Canadian fellow noticed how the price of stocks increased whenever he placed an order. Following some detective work, Brad figured out how the high frequency traders profited by abusing the system and he set out to stop this by creating a new stock exchange, immune to the typical tricks employed by the high frequency traders.

    The book was thus more limited in scope than I had originally thought. Yet it was both interesting and funny, just as I have come to expect from Michael Lewis. The extent of the measures taken by Wall Street people to improve the speed of their internet by even a few nanoseconds (like paying to have a computer moved within a server facility), was particularly entertaining. The reader will encounter a number of colorful characters and despite the rather technical nature of its subject, the book rarely gets boring or dry

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Svante Pääbo
    • Narrated By Dennis Holland
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (47)
    Performance
    (43)
    Story
    (43)

    A preeminent geneticist hunts the Neanderthal genome to answer the biggest question of them all: what does it mean to be human? What can we learn from the genes of our closest evolutionary relatives? Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pbo’s mission to answer that question, beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in his sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2009.

    D. Littman says: "Excellent, human-scale, book about science"
    "Excellent science tale"
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    In this book the Swedish professor, Svante Päbo, who is currently running a lab at the Max Planck institute in Leipzig, tells his tale about how he ended up sequencing the Neanderthal genome. It is a well balanced tale which contains just the right mixture of personal details (including that he is bisexual and that he had a long affair with a woman married to a colleague), and science.

    To my relief Päbo skips over his early childhood and jumps straight to the time when he studied medicine in Uppsala. Having worked with DNA sequencing Päbo wondered whether DNA could be extracted from old samples. First he tried a cow liver that he had stored in the lab for some time. When he realised that this was no problem obtained tissue from an egyptian mummy (which he had been interested in for some time). Though it involved some difficulties (describes in much detail in the book), Päbo managed to extract DNA from the mummy as well. When he sent his manuscript to a professor at Berkeley, the professor, who did not realize that Päbo had not even earned his PhD, asked if he could not come and spend his sabbatical at Päbo’s laboratory. Since Päbo did not have a laboratory, he ended up going to Berkeley instead.

    What impressed me most about Päbo, is how he has managed to pursue one important goal (sequence the Neanderthal genome), for more than two decades. He has approached this goal in a methodical, stepwise manner, so that in retrospect, everything makes sense. Päbo also makes an effort to describe the often advanced methods used to attain his goal. For me (I have a PhD in neuroscience but only superficial knowledge about DNA), the level was just right, however, I think that even readers who have very little prior knowledge can learn a lot.

    In parallel with this scientific tale, Päbo describes the Neanderthals and the world they lived in before they went extinct 30.000 years ago. Indeed one of this book's thrills is learning what the discoveries in the laboratory says about the life of our ancestors. Fire example, it was long thought (and still believed by many), that Neanderthals were an inferior race who went entirely extinct. However Päbo's discoveries indicate that Neanderthals were dominant to us and that because of interbreeding between our race and Neanderthals, modern humans actually have some Neanderthal DNA in them (some more than others).This interplay between scientific theory and its implications, methodological developments and what it tells us about our ancestors also makes this one of the best books I have read when it comes to illustrating the scientific process. Despite his success, Päbo at least appears to maintain an all important skeptical attitude towards his own work and he is careful not to make categorical claims when they are not warranted.

    All in all the Neanderthal man is an impressive scientific story told by an impressive scientist. I would not be surprised if, in a few years, Päbo receives a well earned Nobel prize.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Michael Lewis
    • Narrated By Dylan Baker
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2001)
    Performance
    (1650)
    Story
    (1665)

    The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2008 was more than a simple financial phenomenon: it was temptation, offering entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a pinata stuffed with cash and allow as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.

    Andy says: "we may not be the most stupid kids on the planet"
    "Educational and entertaining"
    Overall
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    In Boomerang Michael Lewis tells a number of stories illustrating the folly that was all too common in and around 2008, when the financial crisis hit the world economy. The first scene is Texas, US, where the author meets Kyle Bass, who became famous when he got rich from betting that sub-prime mortgages would go bust, which of course they did in the most spectacular manner. Since then, Bass has moved on to other types of bets, namely bets that nations will go bust. Bas thinks it is an inevitability given the amount of debt nations have accumulated. Indeed, when private businesses such as AIG, and large banks needed bailouts worth hundreds of billions of dollars, nations basically took over the debt. In some countries these bailouts means that the nations, which in the end means the citizens of those nations, have enormous debts. It appears unrealistic that they will ever be able to pay it off, and Kyle Bas bet that they will not.

    Following this first encounter which sets the scene, Lewis travels to Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and Germany, before heading back to the state in the US which according to this book is in the most trouble… California. Lewis is a master when it comes to telling stories that are informal and amusing, and yet at the same time illustrates the economic events that lead to the 2008 meltdown of some economies. In Iceland for instance, Lewis meets with a fisherman who, before 2008, realized that he could make more money if they borrowed japanese yen at a 3% interest and used them to buy Icelandic kroner which rose by 16% a year. The resulting wealth of Iceland was insane considering that they only have 300.000 inhabitants. Iceland, via money trickery, became so rich that they were able to buy several of the UKs biggest banks meaning that Iceland had to pay when the bank was in trouble, which of course they could not…

    In the last chapter we meet (to my surprise), no other than Mr. Governator i.e., Arnold Schwarzenegger. In describing this encounter, Lewis manages to simultaneously write about Schwarzenegger's maniac style bike rides through intersections with heavy traffic, and California's fiscal policy and potential collapse. After having read this book I see both California and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a new light

    While I did learn new things this book did not fundamentally change me or the way I see the world. Still, it is not often you find a book which is as educational and at the same time entertaining, as Boomerang.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Carnivore's Manifesto: Eating Well, Eating Responsibly, and Eating Meat

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Patrick Martins, Mike Edison, Alice Waters (forward)
    • Narrated By Mike Edison
    Overall
    (6)
    Performance
    (5)
    Story
    (5)

    In fifty short chapters, Martins cuts through organized zealotry and the misleading jargon of food labeling to outline realistic steps everyone can take to be part of the sustainable-food movement. With wit, and insight, and no small amount of provocation, The Carnivore's Manifesto is both a revolutionary call to arms and a rollicking good read that will inspire, engage, and challenge anyone interested in the way we eat today.

    Neuron says: "Extremely biased book, unworthy of its title"
    "Extremely biased book, unworthy of its title"
    Overall
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    This is one of the worst books I have ever read. I bought it hoping that it would provide me with some good reasons for eating meat (which do exist, see for instance the intelligence squared debate called “Don’t eat anything with a face). However, this hope was brutally slayed, something that I realized quite early in the book. The basic argument that the authors try to convey, without any ambition whatsoever to be objective or factual, is that large global, industries in general, and the meat industry in particular, only care about making money and have no interest whatsoever in animal welfare or producing good meat. Small meat industries on the other hand respect their customers, and make sure that their animals live harmonious fulfilling lives meaning among other things that the animals are allowed to have sex before they are slaughtered. Coincidentally the authors are running a “small” old fashioned meat business, and therefore, according to their own logic, are God's gift to us meat consumers. No bias there... (irony). Seriously, it seems that the authors in this book have not progressed from the developmental stage where people are either good or evil.

    My hopes were temporarily raised when the authors raised the question why everyone cannot just be vegetarians. Finally, I thought, now they will provide me with the cannon fodder I need to thrash the next vegan that comes along proclaiming meat abstinence (although in the back of my head I knew that this was a very naive hope indeed). I cannot say that I was surprised that their only argument for eating meat is that we have evolved to do so... In other words, it is in our genes to eat meat and therefore it is silly to try and stop people from eating it. This is a silly argument because there are many things we have evolved inclinations towards such as violence, domination over others etc, but who would say that there is no point in trying to stop people from killing each other because we have evolved to do so. The percentage of people who are killed by other people has gone down drastically since humans first evolved and I have no doubt that we could make a society where meat consumption is reduced as well. That is, we do not have to, and often should not, follow our evolutionary instincts. The book says nothing about the nutritional value in meat (which is hard to replace) or maintaining ecological systems or any other rational argument for eating at least some meat. In other words, there are good arguments for eating meat, but you will not find them in this book.

    To be completely fair, some of the underlying points the authors are trying to make I think are basically sound. I agree that the meat industry at large have too little respect for animal welfare, and I also think that it is probably good to aim for more quality instead of quantity (though I realize that everyone might not so privileged that they can make this argument). However, the negatives associated with this book by far outweighs the positives. I would not recommend this book to anyone... not even at gunpoint

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights Into How You Think

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Stephen Kosslyn, G. Wayne Miller
    • Narrated By Christopher Hurt
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (62)
    Performance
    (52)
    Story
    (51)

    For the past 50 years, popular culture has led us to believe in the left brain vs. right brain theory of personality types. It would be an illuminating theory if it did not have one major drawback: It is simply not supported by science. In contrast, the Top Brain, Bottom Brain theory is based on solid research that has stayed within the confines of labs all over the world—until now.

    Neuron says: "Not convinced"
    "Not convinced"
    Overall
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    There are a ton of books out there exploring left/right brain dichotomy. Among them one finds decent science based books, as well as books filled with pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo. With this book I get the sense that the authors have observed that people like to be able to categorize people according to which part of the brain they appear to use the most, and then tried to come up with a novel divide. To their credit the authors do provide arguments for why the top/bottom brain perspective is better than the left/right brain perspective, but I am not convinced. Indeed I was a bit disappointed because when I bought the book I thought that the bottom brain referred to sub-cortical brain regions, such as the limbic system, brain stem, cerebellum etc, but no. One could read this book and not even realize that the brain consists of more than the cerebral cortex (full disclosure: I am a scientist studying the cerebellum).

    The story that Stephen Kosslyn is trying to sell is that the dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) part of the cerebral cortex (the top brain), are to some extent discrete systems performing different tasks, although he is also quick to point out that they constantly work together. There is definitely some truth to the top brain, bottom brain dichotomy. For instance, when we see something we typically use the dorsal stream to analyze movement whereas the ventral stream is used for identification. Still, this book goes way way beyond the evidence.

    For example, the authors claim that people rely more heavily on one or both of these systems and depending on which parts of the brain someone uses, he or she is categorized as a mover (top+bottom), stimulator (top), perceiver (bottom), or adapter (context dependent use). It is said that movers are good, both at making plans and observing and adapting to the consequences. Stimulators meanwhile make plans and execute them but are insensitive to the consequences of their plans. Perceivers don’t make much happen but are good at observing what happens around them. To be logically consistent I guess that adapters should be terrible at making plans and terrible at observing what happens around them, but instead it is argued that their top and bottom brain activity is contextually dependent, as if that is not true for all people. I do not know of any evidence to support this idea except that people are different which is hardly a revolutionary observation.

    I do not know of any evidence to support this idea except that people are different which is hardly a revolutionary observation. Readers of this book will almost certainly read about the different categories and think that they resemble one category more than the others, but this does not mean that the theory is accurate. People are experts when it comes to confirmation bias. Give people a general astrological description (e.g. in general you like being with people but sometimes you feel shy), and a high percentage will think that it is a good description of their personality. People generally do not seek to falsify such statements.

    In sum then, I think that there is a possibility that this book has hit upon an interesting brain dichotomy which we may want to explore further. However, the claims made in this book are very far distanced from the scientific foundation. For the reader who wants a good introduction to the brain I recommend going for Incognito instead.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By David Fitzgerald
    • Narrated By David Fitzgerald
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (200)
    Performance
    (186)
    Story
    (188)

    Nailed sheds light on ten beloved Christian myths, and, with evidence gathered from historians across the theological spectrum, shows how they point to a Jesus Christ created solely through allegorical alchemy of hope and imagination; a messiah transformed from a purely literary, theological construct into the familiar figure of Jesus - in short, a purely mythic Christ.

    skepticalDustin says: "If only I was willing to make my grandma cry..."
    "I Lost my faith in Jesus"
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    Even though I have been an atheist for as long as I can remember, I always assumed that a guy named Jesus existed around 0-30 AD in Judea. Of course I never believed that he was resurrected three days after his crucifixion or that he could perform miracles that contradicted the laws of nature. These are clearly just stories made up by those who wished to glorify Jesus. Still, I assumed that there was an actual person to begin with.

    David Fitzgerald, through this this relatively short book, changed my mind. It covers an awful lot of material showing the reader that none of the arguments that Christians use to convince others that Jesus was a real person holds up to scrutiny. For example, not a single alleged eyewitness testimony of Jesus was written by an actual confirmed eyewitness. The, gospels were written long after Jesus died, perhaps by as much as a 100 years. Moreover, the writings about Jesus contradict each other, not just on minor details such as what day Jesus died or whether there was or was not a rock in front of his tomb after his resurrection, but also what type of character he was. Was he a humble drawn back son of a carpenter who tried to stay out of the limelight or did he walk around proclaiming to all that he was the son of God?

    In addition, Fitzgerald gives many examples of things in the new testament that directly contradicts other more reliable and unbiased sources from the same time. For instance there were several trusted historians writing about events in Judea at the time of Jesus but none of them even mentions him even though according to the new testament he caused quite an uproar. Indeed, of the four gospels only Luke actually claims to be writing history. Astronomers also strangely failed to notice the three days of darkness that texts in the new testament claim happened.

    For being such a short book, it is very forceful. I doubt that any readers who believe in Jesus will walk away from this book unaffected.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Sum: Tales from the Afterlives

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By David Eagleman
    • Narrated By Gillian Anderson, Emily Blunt, Nick Cave, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (26)
    Performance
    (17)
    Story
    (17)

    In this astounding book, David Eagleman entertains forty fictional possibilities of life beyond death. With wit and humanity he asks the key questions about existence, hope, technology and love. These stories are full of big ideas and bold imagination.This audiobook assembles a stellar cast of readers who bring the scenarios of SUM brilliantly alive.

    Jamie Milton Freestone says: "Astonishing fiction from a brilliant scientist"
    "Thought provoking, imaginative and secular novels"
    Overall
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    If, before I actually read this book, someone said to me that I was going to read a collection of novels about the afterlife, and that I would like it, I would have laughed. I don’t believe God exists and I don’t believe in an afterlife (at least not the afterlife people usually have in mind). Moreover, I generally don’t read novels. I read books because I want to learn something about the universe, not merely for pleasure.

    So why did I read this book? Well, it was short, and more importantly, it was written by David Eagleman, the neuroscientist who wrote Incognito, which, in my opinion is one of the best popular neuroscience books I have read. Because I had read Incognito I also knew that Eagleman does not have a tendency to express strange beliefs. Rather, like myself, Eagleman at least appears to subscribe to philosophical materialism, i.e. he is not a dualist. In addition, Sum, has received rave reviews, so in the end I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a try… and I am very happy that I did.

    The ambition of this book is not to provide an accurate scientific account of the likely scenarios that will take place when we eventually die, rather it is a collection of entirely hypothetical stories about what could happen in the afterlife. Some of them appear more likely than others, but almost all of them are in some way entertaining and above all, they are very thought provoking. Indeed I might even go as far as to say that it has made me consider the thought of an afterlife. Again I don’t mean the kind of afterlife where the soul escapes the body and travels to a bright peaceful heaven (and I guess that I would more likely end up in hell anyway), but some other form of afterlife. For example, in one novel in this book, you live on in the sense that a computer terminal continues to produce letters from you, answer emails, send happy birthday wishes, to your kin and to others, long after you actually died. This type of afterlife is entirely possible and even with my limited skills I could probably make my own computer act as if I was alive when I am dead (whether one would want this is a different question).

    Another novel that is perhaps less plausible, but not as implausible as the biblical option, is that we actually live twice. The life that everyone live now is the first life which occurs when the universe is expanding. The second life comes when (or if), the universe contracts, causing time to go in the opposite direction. In your second life you are born out of the ground like an old man or woman and everyone will be crying and speaking about everything you are going to do in your life. The relationships in which you engage will often start with a fight and then gradually become more emotional and intense until it ends in an ecstatic sexual encounter, after which you will simply forget your partner and move on… I kind of doubt whether this will happen although according to some models of the universe a contraction phase is a possibility and since time is just a dimension of space it is not inconceivable that time will move in the opposite direction. In any case, just picturing your life in reverse is an interesting thought experiment.

    These are just two examples out of a total of 40 short novels describing different scenarios that play out when we die. Because they were short and thought provoking I rarely lost interest. One of my favorite novels, in this collection, describes a future where you will be able to upload an exact replica of your brain onto a computer. This computer can then run any simulation you choose. Want to live like James Bond, with fast cars, and beautiful women, and frequent near death experiences? Not a problem. You will be able to live in this matrix for as long as the computer will run. Although in this particular scenario, the scientists were wrong about the soul (they just assumed that it would tag along, but it didn’t).

    In short, this is a collection of fantastic, imaginative novels, that will make you giggle and make you think.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Selfish Gene

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Richard Dawkins
    • Narrated By Richard Dawkins, Lalla Ward
    Overall
    (1856)
    Performance
    (1416)
    Story
    (1398)

    Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands to rethink their beliefs about life.

    J. D. May says: "Better than print!"
    "A Masterpiece"
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    I can't remember how but when I was 16 I came across this book and it changed my life. The title of Dawkins biography is "An appetite for wonder", and this appetite is no where more apparent than in this book (I have read most of his books). It is a wonderful introduction to the theory of evolution by natural (and sexual) selection, behavioral ecology, and the wonders of nature. At the same time it serves as a terrific example of first rate scientific reasoning. The writing is clear and fluid and extremely elegant. In his autobiography Dawkins admits that every sentence has been rewritten multiple times. Those that have survived this selection process really deliver. Every sentence seem to fill a purpose and yet, rarely does one feel that information is in some way lacking. This book, when it came out in the late seventies, influenced the general public and academics alike. It changed how academics thought about genes and evolution, and it introduced the meme, which has subsequently entered our dictionaries.

    As I have said elsewhere, this book really is a literary masterpiece. The fact that it also teaches science to the reader is an added benefit that makes this book one of the best and most important ever written.

    The book has a very good structure. At no point does it feel as if new concepts are introduced inappropriately. Dawkins begins by slowly and carefully introducing the replicator concept. In the widest sense a replicator is, as the name implies, something that replicates itself. This can be a mineral shape, a computer virus or a molecule such as RNA or DNA. It is inevitable that a replicator that produce more copies or copies that are more durable will become more prominent in the population. And so it is with our genes. The genes that exist in humans that are alive today are descendents of a very long series of genes that outperformed other genes. To achieve this success the genes have used many different tricks. Primary among these is cooperation with other genes to construct vehicles such as a plant or an animal that can both protect the genes and pass them on. Humans are thus "merely" vehicles created by genes for the benefit of genes (though in another sense we are of course much more than that).

    Dawkins carefully builds from this starting point and reaches startling conclusions about many different aspects of nature and evolution. Why did sex evolve and why do the different sexes differ to a greater or a lesser extent in different species? Why are males in general more aggressive? Why do we cooperate? Does altruism exist? How did sterile ants evolve? Whatever he is discussing, Dawkins always provides illustrative examples from nature and when he use metaphors he is (unlike many others) always careful to translate those metaphors back into the language of replicators. The Selfish Gene also derives some of its fame from the fact that it introduced the meme concept. A meme, Dawkins suggested is like a gene in that it can replicate itself, typically via language or imitation. Successful memes (think viral youtube clips) will spread throughout population of less successful memes in the same way that successful genes spread, however, for memes the sexual reproduction of its host matters little. Rather, the success of a meme is determined by its ability to make its host share the idea with others. The meme concept is now in most dictionaries.

    Throughout the book Dawkins is careful to point out that even though we are products of evolution and as a result have many instincts that are not always very noble, that does not mean that it is in anyway good or moral to follow ones evolutionary inclinations. Indeed if we understand human instincts we may be better able to construct societies that combat our caveman instincts.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Letter to a Christian Nation

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 56 mins)
    • By Sam Harris
    • Narrated By Jordan Bridges
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (946)
    Performance
    (397)
    Story
    (401)

    "Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years," writes Sam Harris. "Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this...should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency."

    Stanley says: "the examined life"
    "Short, concise, straight to the point, hard hittin"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Letter to a Christian nation, as the title suggests, is written as a letter to a Christian nation i.e. the United States. The reader should not expect to find any original critique. What makes this book special is Sam Harris ability to deliver arguments in an extremely forceful and clear way.

    He begins the book with some important premises which many religious people simply do not think about or have repressed. For instance, either God exists or he doesn't. If the Christian God exists (as he is described in the bible) then the Muslims are wrong and the other way around. Indeed if the Christians and the bible is correct then all Muslims (and Hindu, Buddhists, pagans etc) will go to hell.

    If you believe that the bible is the word of God then you must believe the above and you must also advocate the stoning of people who work on Sundays etc. Ok, you say, but we shouldn't take it literally, fine, but then how do we interpret it, and how do we know which interpretation is the right one? Also if a divine being wrote the Bible is it too much to expect him to reveal a few secrets about the universe, like how to cure cancer or how electricity work or whatever. It seems that whoever wrote the bible did not know more than the average person at the time the bible was written. It would also have been nice if God or Jesus had said that slavery was wrong instead of letting us reach that interpretation two millennia (and many many slaves) later.

    This was just one example out of a dozen or so arguments that Harris brings up suggesting that God does not exist or that if he does he is not a very nice creature. Because it is short, clear and very accessible this ranks among the best books I have read in this category. Highly recommended.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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