Friday, January 26, 2007

Current Books on Stem Cells Part 2 (January 2007)

Three more books on stem cells from the 'Evolution Research - Amazon Book Shop/Store' (links at the end of the post):

Embryonic Stem Cells: A Practical Approach

Edited by Elena Notarianni and Martin J. Evans

Book Description

The groundbreaking isolation of embryonic stem cells (or 'ES cells') of the mouse in the early 1980s triggered a sustained expansion of global research into their exploitation. This led to the routine genetic engineering of the mouse and revolutionised our understanding of biological processes in the context of the whole animal. ES cell biology remains a crucial and growing area of research with far-reaching implications for developmental and comparative biology as well as for human health.

This book serves as a primer to ES cells, their derivation and experimental manipulation. It contains a broad compendium of methods of direct relevance to both graduate students and specialist researchers. An introductory chapter by the principle originator of ES cell research outlines the fundamentals and charts the development of the field. This is followed by comprehensive coverage of state-of-the art techniques for ES cell manipulation, with the mouse as the experimental paradigm, and by recent innovations with ES cells from human and non-human primates. ES cell-based therapies for otherwise intractable diseases are now being developed with the present challenge to control ES cell growth and differentiation for application such as cell transplantation - a recurrent theme in this book. As a volume in the Practical Approach Series (Oxford University Press), the emphasis is on current methods from recognised experts.

About the Author

Dr. Elena Notarianni graduated in Biochemistry from Oxford University, and gained a PhD in Virology from Glasgow University. She then joined Professor Evans's laboratory in Cambridge University, and derived ES cells from ungulate species. This work lead to the recognition that ES cells from ungulates differ from those of the mouse in their growth and morphology, as was shown subsequently also for human ES cells. Elena Notarianni continues to work on techniques for ES cell isolation, and on mechanisms of differentiation.


The Stem Cell Divide: The Facts, the Fiction, And the Fear Driving the Greatest Scientific, Political And Religious Debate of Our Time

By Michael Bellomo

Book Description

There has been much recent debate about the merits, dangers, and nature of stem cell research. Some see in it the answer to every debilitating disease known to man, while others see it as a step away from human cloning.

While the battle has raged, research is moving ahead, and California has already passed a measure that will give $3 billion in support to stem cell research. But as politics, religion, and the media weigh in on this complex issue, more and more of the scientific reality of stem cell research is getting lost. In the search for the truth about stem cell science, the author has interviewed the scientists whose cutting-edge research is at the very heart of this hot-button issue. The book explains what they have accomplished so far, what they're currently doing, and what they see on the horizon.

The Stem Cell Divide does not take sides, and the author debunks the distortions and exaggerations that come from every camp. This book does not tell readers what to think, but gives them the facts necessary to form their own opinions about one of the most divisive, complex, and potentially life-changing developments in history.

About the Author

Michael Bellomo (Los Angeles, CA) works in biopharmaceuticals for Baxter Bioscience, a 4,000-person company dedicated to the creation of new medical and cellular-based technologies. He is the coauthor of Microbe: Are We Ready for the Next Plague?

See "Authors fight misinformation on stem cell science" from the Harvard University Gazette


Tissue Stem Cells

Edited by Christopher S. Potten, Robert B. Clarke, James Wilson, Andrew G. Renehan

Book Description

Tissue stem cells and their medical applications have become a major focus of research over the past decade. With 16 full-color illustrations, this reference provides a thorough and up-to-date overview of the current and emerging technologies for stem cell research and transplantation. Divided into three sections covering general issues, adult stem cells within specific tissues, and clinical applications, this source studies advances in bone marrow transplantation, cancer development modeling, tumor analysis, and gene therapy.


Related posts:
"Current Books on Stem Cells Part 1 (January 2007)"
"Stem Cell Wars: Inside Stories from the Frontline (Review /Video)"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Current Books on Astronomy Part 1 (January 2007)

A first selection of books on Astronomy available from the 'Evolution Research - Amazon Book Shop/Store' (links at the end of the post):

State of the Universe 2007: New Images, Discoveries, and Events
By Martin Ratcliffe

Fascinating developments in the understanding of our origins, of the early beginnings of the Universe, of how planets are formed, and how stars live out their lives and die occur every month. Each new result adds a tiny piece to the jigsaw puzzle, leading the way to a fuller and more complete understanding of the Universe around us. Rarely are such details offered in one place - until now. State of the Universe 2007 fills the gap between research and everyday news.

State of the Universe 2007 by Martin Ratcliffe provides an astronomy review suitable for the popular science level reader. The first annual in a new series, this book covers all major astronomical news on topics beyond the Solar System and places them in the context of the longer term goals of astronomers and astrophysicists. The aim is to capture the excitement and vibrancy of modern astronomical research.

Ratcliffe presents a complete list of the major announcements, discoveries and news items from each year. The January meeting of the American Astronomical Society each year will be the major source of astronomical news for the following year's volume. The regular features include an annual chronological list of the latest discoveries announced during the previous twelve months, a review of the major news stories of the year with the main characters, a list of launches of major astronomical observatories/satellites during the past year, and much more. The latest from the BadAstronomy website by Dr. Phil Plait is also included.

Martin Ratcliffe is a regular contributor to Astronomy Now and Astronomy magazine and is the author of Night Sky Deck, a kit for stargazers. He has served as Planetarium Director of Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh, USA and is currently director of the Boeing CyberDome Theater in Wichita, USA. He writes and produces planetarium shows for general public. He has worked as a consultant for various TV series, filmed two total eclipses of the Sun, and maintains an extensive contact network with public information and press officers of all US national observatories and NASA astronomical centers. [Source: Springer Press Release]
Astronomy Today (5th Edition)
By Eric Chaisson, Steve McMillan

Book Description

Chaisson/McMillan's writing style and pedagogically driven art program are recognized as being scientifically accurate yet accessible to non-science majors. The integrated media program contains the market's only E-book. It provides readers with innovative and interactive tools to learn and test their understanding of astronomy concepts. Topics covered include Astronomy and the Universe, Our Planetay System, Stars and Stellar Evolution, Galaxies and Cosmology, Compare Life Insurance and more. For one or two-semester introductory astronomy course.

Content changes from the 4th Edition (Source: Prentice Hall):

Thoroughly updated Chapter 5 - Reflects recent discoveries and innovations, such as Telescope Design in Section 5.1

Introduction to solar system formation added to Chapter 6 - Sets the stage for the planetary chapters (p. 144-45).

Reorganized Chapter 22 - Expands the historical development of Special Relativity and General Relativity.

More contemporary coverage in Chapters 24 and 25 - Reorganizes material to emphasize the connection between normal and active galaxies, and expands the discussion of black holes in galactic nuclei.

Updates include new discoveries and data, including:

New material in Chapter 7 on the Ozone Hole and Global Warming.
Expanded coverage in Chapters 6 and 10 of the most recent missions to Mars.
Updates in Chapter 10 on Martian oppositions, gullies, oceans, and ice.
Final update on the Galileo/GEM mission in Chapter 11.
Updated discussion of solar system formation in Chapter 15; expanded coverage of competing theories, planet migration, planetesimal ejection, plutinos, and the angular momentum problem.
Latest results in Chapter 23 on Sgr A* and the Galaxy's central black hole. This chapter also includes a new discussion of the Shapley-Curtis debate giving historical context to the "Measuring the Milky Way" section.
Extensive revision of Chapters 26 and 27 to include the most recent observations of cosmic acceleration and discussion of "dark energy"
Revised discussions of the cosmological constant and the age of the universe; results from the CBI and WMAP experiments suggesting a flat universe.
Updated coverage of Europa, Mars, interstellar organic molecules, extra solar planets, and SETI in Chapter 28.
A related post:

"The Astrobiology Primer: An Outline of General Knowledge (Open Access/Free)"

Books on Astronomy from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Telescopes ('Scopes') can be found in the Electronics section of the Shop/Store

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Current Books on Stem Cells Part 1 (January 2007)

A first selection of books on stem cells available from the 'Evolution Research - Amazon Book Shop/Store' (links at the end of the post):

Essentials of Stem Cell Biology
By Robert Lanza, E. Donnall Thomas, James Thomson, and Roger Pedersen

Book Description

This abridged version of the bestselling reference Handbook of Stem Cells, Two-Volume Set (see below) attempts to incorporate all the essential subject matter of the original two-volume edition in a single volume. The material has been reworked in an accessible format suitable for students and general readers interested in following the latest advances in stem cells, including full color presentation throughout. Although some extra language and chapters have been deleted, rigorous effort has been made to retain from the original two-volume set the material pertinent to the understanding of this exciting area of biology.

The organization of the book remains largely unchanged, combining the prerequisites for a general understanding of adult and embryonic stem cells; the tools, methods, and experimental protocols needed to study and characterize stem cells and progenitor populations; as well as a presentation by the world's experts of what is currently known about each specific organ system.

* Full-color presentation througout
* Each chapter begins with 3-5 defined glossary terms, and all of the terms are collected in a comprehensive list within the book
* References have been eliminated - now there are about 10 bibliographic entries per chapter


Handbook of Stem Cells, Two-Volume Set with CD-ROM, Volume 1-2: Volume 1-Embryonic Stem Cells; Volume 2-Adult and Fetal Stem Cells

Book Description

New discoveries in the field of stem cell research have frequently appeared in the news and in scientific literature. Research in this area promises to lead to new therapies for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a wide variety of other diseases.

The editors of the Handbook of Stem Cells include: Robert Lanza, Helen Blau, John Gearhart, Brigid Hogan, Douglas Melton, Malcolm Moore, Roger Pedersen, E. Donnall Thomas, James Thomson, Catherine Verfaillie, Irving Weissman, and Michael West. The Editorial Board includes: W. French Anderson, Peter Andrews, Anthony Atala, Jose Cibelli, Giulio Cossu, Robert Edwards, Martin Evans, Elaine Fuchs, Margaret Fuller, Fred Gage, Richard Gardner, Margaret Goodell, Ronald Green, William Haseltine, Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor, Rudolf Jaenisch, Ihor Lemischka, Dame Anne McLaren, Richard Mulligan, Stuart Orkin, Martin Pera, Benjamin Reubinoff, Janet Rossant, Hans Scholer, Austin Smith, Evan Snyder, Davor Solter, Alan Trounson, and Leonard Zon.

This comprehensive set should be a much-needed addition to the library of students and researchers alike.

* Provides comprehensive coverage on this highly topical subject
* Contains contributions by the foremost authorities and premiere names in the field of stem cell research
* The accompanying CD-ROM includes over 250 color figures

Amazon quote the following reviews:

"The Handbook of Stem Cells, edited by Robert Lanza and colleagues, is an ambitious new text that achieves extraordinary completeness and inclusiveness...the editors have succeeded in putting together a reference that is broad enough in scope, but sufficiently detailed and rigorous, to be of real interest to both new and seasoned investigators in the field." Steve Goldman, University of Rochester Medical Center, in Nature Cell Biology (April 2005, Volume 7, No. 4)

"I am firmly convinced this is a set every biologist and physician, whatsoever his specialty, must have on his desk." Carlo Alberto Redi, Book review editor for the European Journal Of Histochemistry (49/1)

"...a collection of definitive articles by the world's experts... the research outlined in this volume is equally certain to contribute to cures for cancer and for a large number of other less famous diseases - many of mysterious origin - that presently represent terrible afflictions for humanity." Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences (from the Foreword to Volume 1)

"These books make an invaluable contribution to the education of researchers and clinicians both of the present day and of the future. They should be available in libraries of all biology and medical schools as well as those of companies and research institutions." Ian Wilmut in Times Higher Education Supplement

"...the Handbook of Stem Cells is highly recommended primarily as a reference for scientists in the field of animal development...Academic medical libraries and other academic or special libraries serving researchers in cell and developmental biology will particularly benefit from having this handbook available." Susan Kendall, Health Sciences Librarian, Michigan State University Library in E-Streams (February 2005)


A recent post:

"Stem Cell Wars: Inside Stories from the Frontline (Review /Video)"

Books on Stem Cells from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
By Jared M. Diamond - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Amazon Astore UK | US

Book Review

Life isn't fair - here's why: Since 1500, Europeans have, for better and worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains the reasons why things worked out that way. It is an elemental question, and Diamond is certainly not the first to ask it. However, he performs a singular service by relying on scientific fact rather than specious theories of European genetic superiority. Diamond, a professor of physiology at UCLA, suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals and the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government and communication--and increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China did not. (For example, the Europeans used the Chinese invention of gunpowder to create guns and subjugate the New World.) Diamond's book is complex and a bit overwhelming. But the thesis he methodically puts forth - examining the "positive feedback loop" of farming, then domestication, then population density, then innovation, and on and on - makes sense. Written without bias, Guns, Germs, and Steel is good global history.


Extract of an interview with Jared Diamond from the PBS Guns, Germs and Steel website:

Question: When you set out to write Guns, Germs and Steel what was it you actually wanted to prove?

Jared Diamond: When I set out to write Guns, Germs and Steel I wasn't trying to prove anything, but I was trying to answer a question; the biggest question of history - why history unfolded differently on the different continents over the last 13 thousand years and the usual answer to this question is the answer that racists come up with; they say its because some people are superior to other people. What we found is that the answer doesn't have anything to do with people and it has everything to do with people's environments.

Q: In what sense?

JD: The answer has to do with peoples' environments especially in the first place because of the differences in the availability of wild plants and animals suitable for domestication, lots of them in a few areas like the fertile crescent in China and virtually none of them in other areas like the western United States or sub equatorial Africa. Another difference had to do with the shapes and orientations of the continents - those are perhaps the two biggest factors contributing to the explanation.

Q: So we're in Africa at moment and it's basically known as the world's basket case, it has the world's worst poverty rate and all the rest of it... Is there anything in the book that can actually help Africa?

JD: Is there anything in my book that can help Africa? I think so yes; I'd say the message of my book is that understanding can help us. There are things in this story that can make a difference to the lives of Africans. We've seen that the economic relative underdevelopment of Africa has nothing to do with African people but it has to do with some very specific factors; tropical agriculture; the history of tropical crops; the tropical disease burden and the history of colonialism - and once you understand these things you can do something about them. For example, one of the messages is, a high priority is to invest in public health; there are other tropical parts of the world like Africa that recognise the public health burden and they invested massively in public health and they are the countries that have grown the most rapidly economically in the last forty years. That's a hopeful message.


Extracts/Excerpt from Chapter 11 of Guns, Germs and Steel:

The major killers of humanity throughout our recent history - smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera - are infectious diseases that evolved from diseases of animals, even though most of the microbes responsible for our own epidemic illnesses are paradoxically now almost confined to humans.
Questions of the animal origins of human disease lie behind the broadest pattern of human history, and behind some of the most important issues in human health today. (Think of AIDS, an explosively spreading human disease that appears to have evolved from a virus resident in wild African monkeys.)

Microbes have evolved diverse ways of spreading from one person to another, and from animals to people ... Some microbes ... hitchhike [a ride] in the saliva of an insect that bites the host and flies off to find a new host. The free ride may be provided by mosquitoes, fleas, lice, or tsetse flies [or ticks] that spread malaria, plague, typhus, or sleeping sickness [or Lyme disease], respectively.

To sustain themselves [acute infectious diseases] need a human population that is sufficiently numerous, and sufficiently densely packed, that a numerous new crop of susceptible children is available for infection by the time the disease would otherwise be waning. Hence measles and similar diseases are also known as crowd diseases.

Crowd diseases could not sustain themselves in small bands of hunter-gatherers and slash-and-burn farmers ... [but] could have arisen only with the build-up of large, dense human populations. That build-up began with the rise of agriculture starting about 10,000 years ago and then accelerated with the rise of cities starting several thousand years ago. Among animals, too, epidemic diseases require large, dense populations and don’t afflict just any animal: they’re confined mainly to social animals providing the necessary large populations. Hence when we domesticated social animals, such as cows and pigs, they were already afflicted by epidemic diseases just waiting to be transferred to us. ... The close similarity of the measles virus to the rinderpest virus suggests that the latter transferred from cattle to humans and then evolved into the measles virus by changing its properties to adapt to us. ... Our intimacy with cattle has been going on for the 9,000 years since we domesticated them - ample time for the rinderpest virus to discover us nearby.


Jared Diamond on The Paula Gordon Show (Audio Excerpt):

"Dr. Diamond believes that the biggest question facing us in the world today is the explosion of human population. He tells us why we have 40 years to solve the problems associated with this explosion. He describes the alternative to getting the population explosion and destructive technology under control - our own children and grandchildren inhabiting a world not worth living in. He takes hope in humans' ability to learn from mistakes, to communicate what we know, and to act. He gives examples. He describes powerful, practical implications of China's early unification versus Europe's inability to consolidate, suggesting that all levels of human endeavor profit when more than one solution is available in the face of complicated challenges."


More book reviews by The New York Times (may require free registration), J. Bradford DeLong (Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley), and Michael Levin (Department of Philosophy of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York).

See "The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (P.S. (Paperback))" in the post "Evolution Books for Christmas (UK) [1]"

Stem Cell Wars: Inside Stories from the Frontline (Review /Video)

Stem Cell Wars: Inside Stories from the Frontline
By Eve Herold*

According to stem cell research expert Eve Herold, the general public have become the victims of misinformation about this essential science. Over the last few years, the stem cell debate has been intensely political, religious, global, and confusing to many people. Now, Herold explains to a general audience what this science is all about, who is for and against it, and why it must go forward. In this startling book, Herold pulls together fascinating stories to highlight every aspect of this multifaceted field. She exposes the politics of stem cell research and demonstrates how these forces will intimately affect everyone. Packed with real-life stories of the people caught up in this groundbreaking struggle, Stem Cell Wars is a call to arms that will provoke debate and discussion for years to come.

Watch Eve Herold on Comedy Central's "The Today Show with John Stewart": Part 1 | Part 2

Amazon Review info:

"Comprehensive and concise, Stem Cell Wars provides an indispensable primer for anyone interested in what promises to be the most significant medical science breakthrough in our lifetime. It should also serve as a timely antidote to the politically inspired misinformation surrounding this important issue." Ron Reagan

"Eve Herold is a latter-day Edward R. Murrow. She's everywhere at once: behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, beside the scientists and the suffering patients they hope to save, even to South Korea where a fraud of historic proportions threatened to end the great promise of regenerative medicine. Her sympathies are unwaveringly with the patients - whose stories are the warm heart of this timely and disturbing book." Daniel Perry, Past President, Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, and Executive Director, Alliance for Aging Research

"Herold is an eyewitness to history. She chronicles the battle of patients and researchers to advance the greatest medical breakthrough of our lifetimes in this highly readable account of the rancorous public policy debate that has become the #1 wedge issue in American politics. As part of the chronicle of the world stem cell debate, Herold presents the inside story of Woo Suk Hwang and the Korean cloning scandal, and supplies the shocking details about the misconduct that rocked all of medical science." Bernard Siegel, Executive Director, Genetics Policy Institute

"Herold's reporter-like style is effective as she shifts through various layers of the science and the social and religious controversies and provides an easily followed time frame of the major discoveries and events over the past decade in stem cell research, including the most recent revelation of scientific fraud in producing patient-specific embryonic stem cells. The issues with stem cell research are complex and Eve Herold is successful in presenting them in an easily understood fashion." John Gearhart, Johns Hopkins Medicine (see Institute for NanoBioTechnology)

"An outstanding science writer, Herold makes the issues clear in a fascinatingly readable style. Engaging and clearly written, a must-have book..." Don C. Reed, Chairman, Californians for Cures

Stem Cell Wars is available from Amazon Astore UK | US)


See "Religious Right Falsehoods Slammed in Eve Herold's 'Stem Cell Wars: Inside Stories from the Frontlines'":

Stem Cell Wars reveals a number of untold stories about the stem cell policy wars, including:

The inside story of the Bush Administration and the religious right's attempt to ban stem cell research (nuclear transfer) worldwide by global treaty in the United Nations and how they almost pulled it off, but for the surprising fight waged by determined grassroots stem cell activists.

A minority of religious organizations have created the illusion that being anti-research is the only view of the religious community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

How social-conservative organizations are turning the U.S. into a second-tier nation in scientific research.

What the anti-stem cell research activists don't want you to know: that embryonic stem cell research could go forward full steam ahead without there ever being another abortion.


Read a review of Stem Cell Wars:

"Over the eight year history of human embryonic stem cell research, many have come to realize the potential, many understand the impact, but nobody has offered a broadly based, comprehensive assembly of information, critical to patients and their families. That is until now."


*Eve Herold is Director of Public Policy Research and Education at the Genetics Policy Institute:

"Leading the global cause of stem cell research"

The Genetics Policy Institute (GPI) is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a positive legal framework to advance stem cell research. GPI maintains science and legal advisory boards comprised of leading stem cell researchers, disease experts, ethicists and legal experts and a dedicated full-time staff of policy experts that are available to educate the public and media on stem cell issues.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide suffer from diseases, injuries and birth defects that could potentially be cured through stem cell treatments. These conditions include cancer, heart disease, ALS, spinal cord injury, osteoarthritis, diabetes, blindness, AIDS, brain injury, severe burns, autoimmune disease, kidney, liver and lung disease, and many others. In fact, any disease that involves the degeneration or death of some type of specialized cell could possibly benefit from stem cell transplants.

Funding restrictions in the United States and proposals to ban and criminalize aspects of the research have created major roadblocks to the advancement of potentially lifesaving treatments. GPI leads the charge to defend the rights of patients and for the preservation of scientific freedom against well-funded opposition groups.

GPI is the catalyst of the "Pro-Cures Movement," a global coalition of pro-research stakeholders. Through GPI's meetings, publications, press relations, web site, speaker's bureau and teaching initiatives, GPI educates the public, media and key decision-makers on critical issues. We analyze the law and regulations relating to all aspects of regenerative medicine with an eye to removing bottlenecks, while maintaining rigorous ethical oversight.

The Genetics Policy Institute was the principal global organizer of a coalition that successfully defended vital stem cell research against an anti-research United Nations treaty, which sought to impose a worldwide ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer. GPI convened the world's preeminent scientists for a conference at the UN to educate the delegations about stem cell issues. We organized landmark summits of scientists, bioethicists and advocacy groups at Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford University where we formulated strategies to promote the cause.

GPI's special educational project is the Student Society for Stem Cell Research (SSSCR), which started with a single university student in 2003 and has grown into a network of more than 1,500 students in 15 countries, 35 states and 20 chapters at colleges and universities. Each chapter of SSSCR creates educational programming on the promise of stem cell research.


Recent posts on Stem Cells:
"Scientists discover stage at which an embryonic cell is fated to become a stem cell"
"How does a zebrafish grow a new tail?"


Books on Stem Cells from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Edward O. Wilson and Robert Wright on Video (66 mins)

Robert Wright (Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny* Amazon Astore UK | US) talks to Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth UK | US) in this video from and discuss topics such as 'Being good without God', Consciousness, Death, Emergence, Free will, Intelligent Design, Passion, Science and Religion and The biology of religion:

Excerts from the transcript (not proof-read):

1) Wright: Speaking of God, you've just finished a book that I think has religion and science in the subtitle, an aliance of religion and science or something like that?

Edward O. Wilson: Well I'm just finishing it now and it's about to go off to the publisher and I'll talk a little bit about it because I think that it addresses an important issue. Actually the title of it is would be, as I have it now, "Ascending to Nature," subtitle: "An aliance of science and religion"... which may sound kind of strange coming from a scientist whose often pointed out to be an atheistic materialist secular humanist of the worst kind ... in that category I can always say I'm to the right of Richard Dawkins... anyway, how can I be talking about alliance of science and religion? Well, I do it in falling on the religious community and one long essay to join the scientist to save the creation. I point out at the beginning that here is an area where we can differ absolutely in how we think the world works and the meaning of humanity, the meaning of life...which is what the cultural war is all about. And we do differ drastically and, I think, insoluably... that is, it is not soluable... so you can take that for what it's worth and I'm not going to be one of these scientists who keep wafling and saying "oh well, science has it's role, religion has it's role... science has it's own kind or truth and religion has it's own kind of truth... somehow, as we work more and more they will somehow come together." I don't believe that for a minute. I don't think that Darwin would have believed it and...

Wright: You know, I think you used to make noises kind of like that, didn't you? Correct me if I'm wrong but this has two parts to it... first of all, I think you're among those who think that the evolution of human intelligence is not all inprobable... nuts and bolts natural selection encourages - through competetve dynamics - the growth of intelligence and so on... I thought I recall you saying in principle you can imagine a kind of deism or something... that natural selection was set in motion, is the unfolding of divine plan even though it's a surely materialistic system... did you not say that?

Edward O. Wilson: The first part of what you said was correct... Whenever I'm cornered ... ok I'll call myself a provisional deist. A provisional deist I'll strictly define as someone considers at least the possibility that the ultimate laws of the universe were set by some kind of intelligence whether it was Satanic, benevolently, Judeo-Christian or some unseen meta-intelligence... the point is that it's premature to say that becuase we can define the laws of the universe we also can define their origin. I won't go that far but I would leave open, I consider this a problem in astrophysics, but I would leave this open to the astrophysicists mainly... deism or not... but I absolutely believe that the evidence shows, I think now conclusively, that it's unrealistic, it's false reasoning to believe in a biological God... meaning a God that oversaw and directed the creation and evolution of life.

2) Wright: The theory of intelligent design... I don't really understand the sense in which it's a theory ... what is the intelligent design movement as far as you can tell?

Edward O. Wilson: That's a difficult arguement. All is says is that biologists haven't explained some of the most complex phenomenon in terms of evolution... they can't understand how evolution could create it and therefore there must be somebody who put it together. If it can't come autonomously from mutation and natural selection - which is the heart of Darwinian or modern biological thinking let's say - then there must be something else and that has to be an intelligent designer. That's it.

Wright: So it's not a testable alternative theory.

Edward O. Wilson: No, it's default argument. Default arguments are sometimes stimulating in real science for getting research started....that works as a strategy in creative science but it never becomes a theory to say that we don't understand that yet therefore God must be doing it or somebody outside and also I want to point out two things to the intelligent designers or those who have hopes of this approach. It's not science, there's not a shred of evidence for it, that's no way, no mechanism, no way it could happen that we could ever understand.. it depends almost entirely pointing to the areas that the proponents claimining to be insoluable but that is very dangerous. First of all, from their point of view, particularly from the fundamentalist point of view, and particularly the literalist point of view, one: it conceeds that evolution occurs. That's a big concession. Two: it depends, for it's authentication, on the continued existence of unsolved problems in evolution. But if you look at the history of evolutionary biology and molecular biology ... they're like shooting balloons at a state fair... if creationists state everything and make it pivotal on the default argument, then they're going to find themselves in a very poor position. Therefore, the whole religious approach... there's another issue here that needs to be dispelled.... a claim on the side of the defenders of religious orthodox in explaining or explaining away evolution and that is there is some kind of conspiracy about scientists... evolution is a religions of it's own, it's an ideology... there has to be some kind of conspiracy that calls virtually all statured biologists - people who've established themselves, who are important, influential, peer-reviewed ... some sort of conspiracy among these people... not a one of which incidentally accepts intelligent design, of my knowledge. There are no statured scientists who accepts this or takes it seriously but is there a conspiracy? Can there be a conspiracy in science, among scientists? No way and I'll tell you why ... which you personally I know you would understand it ... the entire culture of science is based on verifiable discovery. Making an original discovery is the gold and silver of science. You make an important discovery and then you are an important scientist. You can be any kind of a jerk otherwise and never make another discovery and you've made it as an important scientist. You're going into the textbooks and, if it's important enough, into the history books. You are richly rewarded with prizes with presige with all sorts of other Roman values that give you small triumph... it's what every young scientist wants. Any young scientist... any scientist any age who could be a first to demonstrate intelligent design or even show how to test it and prove it, would immediately become one of the greatest scientists in the world, you would make history. You'd get the Nobel. You'd get the Templeton prize, which is set up to encourage the getting together of religion and science and there's nothing that a young scientist would want to do more than to achieve something like that... science, it's value system is totally different from that of most processes or organizations or institutions, activities of Western civilzation...
See the earlier post "Science And Salvation: E.O. Wilson's 'The Creation'" and read an excerpt from The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth:

"Some have suggested that scientists have formed a conspiracy to halt the search for Intelligent Design. There is no such conspiracy. There is only agreement among experts that the hypothesis has none of the defining qualities of science. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the culture of science. Discoveries and the testing of discoveries are the currency of science, its irreplaceable silver and gold. Challenges to prevailing theory on the basis of new evidence are the hallmark of science. If positive and repeatable evidence were adduced for a supernatural intelligent force that created and guided the evolution of life, it would deservedly rank as the greatest scientific discovery of all time. It would transform philosophy and change the course of history. Scientists dream of making a discovery of this magnitude!"
*Book Description/Review of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Hardcover):

One of the main layman's objections to the supposedly random process of evolution is that for all its inherent pointlessness, evolution seems to have a goal, a narrative, a conscious direction. And that direction is towards complexity. Germs become animals. Apes become humans. Blood-caked Aztec savages become liberal-minded East Coast essayists. Now Robert Wright, author of the much-praised The Moral Animal, has come along with a contentious new book to tell us that the layman has been on to something all along. Evolution does have a goal.

The title of Wright's book comes from games theory, which divides human interactions into "zero sum games", where for every winner there's a loser, and "non-zero sum games", where everyone gains. Wright's aim is to knit together this theory with anthropology, zoology, biology, and history, plus a dash of chaos theory, and thus attest that "non-zero sum altruism" is the natural inclination of humankind. To prove this he cites such disparate phenomena as the sago-swapping natives of the US Northwest, the global government-in-waiting that is the European Union, and the anarchically generous ethos that rules the Net-all of which apparently go to show that we are, deep down, caring, sharing nice guys. Wright's second aim is to show this niceness is no accident: evolution helps to make us that way.

The author's learning is lightly worn. Sometimes too lightly. After a while his chatty, hey-let's-have-a-beer style starts to grate: "When was the last time you invented a boomerang?"; "Ah, Tahiti!". There are also some minor errors, like his claiming that Britain fought the Hundred Years War (it was England), or his perception that milkmen are a thing of the past, that make you wonder whether he has finessed some of the more intractable scientific arguments. Certainly his book has already attracted some brickbats from the atheistic hardnuts of evolutionary psychology. But the case that he advocates remains as exciting as it is unsettling. Because, if evolution does have a point, if human history has a deliberate, conscious, "narrative drive", who had the idea? Who's the scriptwriter of Man, the Movie?

Also see Robert Wright's "Planet with a Purpose" in which he talks about Daniel Dennett
A recent post on Intelligent Design: "Intelligent Design Video: 'Unlocking the Mystery of Life'"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mind Over Matter - Review Of "The Emotion Machine"

"The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind" is a book by cognitive scientist Marvin Lee Minsky.

The book is a sequel to Minsky's earlier book "Society of Mind".

Minsky argues that emotions are different ways to think that our mind uses to increase our intelligence. He challenges the distinction between emotions and other kinds of thinking. His main argument is that emotions are "ways to think" for different "problem types" that exist in the world. The brain has rule-based mechanism (selectors) that turns on emotions to deal with various problems.

The book reviews the accomplishments of AI, what and why is complicated to accomplish in terms of modeling how human beings behave, how they think, how they experience struggles and pleasures.

Outline of "The Emotion Machine"

Minsky outlines the book as follows:
  1. "We are born with many mental resources."
  2. "We learn from interacting with others."
  3. "Emotions are different Ways to Think."
  4. "We learn to think about our recent thoughts."
  5. "We learn to think on multiple levels."
  6. "We accumulate huge stores of commonsense knowledge."
  7. "We switch among different Ways to Think."
  8. "We find multiple ways to represent things."
  9. "We build multiple models of ourselves."