"I think, therefore I am."
~ René Descartes (1596-1650), French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist
The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change... by Stephen BuchmannDid you know that flowers blush when they're pollinated? Although the phenomenon is due to a change in pH rather than emotion, it underscores the complexity of flowering plants. In this compendium of all things floral, biologist Stephen Buchmann visits a variety of topics, providing insight into flower origins and evolution (floral mutualism, or the match between flowers and their pollinators); anatomy (all are hermaphrodites); and reproductive habits (they prefer outcrossing to self-pollination and utilize double fertilization). Buchmann examines their representation in art and literature, as well as their role in science and medicine.
Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military... by Michael HiltzikIn this engaging biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik introduces Berkeley researcher Ernest Orlando Lawrence, whose 1930 invention of the cyclotron (a type of particle accelerator) revolutionized the nascent field of nuclear physics. The invention launched industrial-scale scientific research that would result in innovations such as the atomic bomb, the space program, and the Large Hadron Collider. It also inextricably linked scientific research to the military-industrial complex. In addition to placing Lawrence in his scientific and historical contexts, Hiltzik discusses the impact of the shift from pure to applied research, wherein big investments must increasingly yield big returns.
The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick LaneIn the 350 years since we identified cells, we have yet to discover exactly how they came to be and why they do what they do. And it is this "evolutionary black hole" that biochemist Nick Lane attempts to explain in this thought-provoking book. Since eukaryotic cells -- distinguished by their membrane-bound organelles -- otherwise share many structural and functional similarities with their prokaryotic counterparts (bacteria and archaea), it's logical to conclude that both had a common ancestor. Going further, Lane asserts that all complex life stems from a single endosymbiotic event in which one unicellular organism entered another and created the mighty mitochondrion.
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl SafinaThere's much to be learned from "simply seeing what animals do, and asking why they do it," according to conservationist Carl Safina. Observing elephants in Kenya, wolves in Yellowstone National Park, and orcas in the Pacific Northwest, Safina also surveys current research to explore manifestations of higher-level intelligence -- thinking and feeling, memory and recognition, joy and grief -- in a variety of nonhuman animal species and concludes that animals have rich inner lives, as evidenced by their behavior and relationships with others of their kind.
Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen ScalesDeep in the basement of London's Natural History museum lurks what the curators call the "cabinet of horrors," containing (among other items) garish decorations made of seashells -- the sort that beachgoers might purchase as souvenirs. Not only are such objects tacky, maintains author and marine biologist Helen Scales, they also represent an incredible waste of some extraordinary creatures. From microscopic plankton to giant mollusks (which have survived multiple mass extinction events over millions of years), many marine organisms make and use shells. Considering both the shells and the creatures within, Scales reflects on their ecological roles as well as their contributions to art, medicine, and industry.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David EaglemanComprised of three pounds of neurons and glia (that's hundreds of billions of individual cells!), the human brain is one of the most complex systems in existence. And when it changes, so do we -- whether we realize it or not. In fact, as author and neuroscientist David Eagleman explains, consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg; we have no access to or control over what happens in the innermost recesses of our own minds. Thought-provoking yet accessible, Incognito will, says Kirkus Reviews, "will leave you looking at yourself -- and the world -- differently."
The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science... by Clark ElliottA music prodigy turned researcher in artificial intelligence, Clark Elliott lived a life of the mind until traumatic brain injury changed everything. In addition to causing pain, nausea, and seizures, Elliott's condition affected his motor skills, muscle control, memory, sensory perception, and decision-making abilities. Working with Donalee Markus, a specialist in cognitive restructuring, and Deborah Zelinsky, an expert in neuro-optometric rehabilitation, Elliott embarked upon a long and arduous journey of recovery that would change his entire worldview.
Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are by Jennifer M. GrohThe next time you automatically sip from your coffee cup and not your cat, thank your brain for being able to distinguish between the two. Not only do we generally know where things are, we also know what they are -- and what they're not. Although we're almost never aware of it, our brains perform extraordinary feats of perception and proprioception. In this scholarly, yet accessible, guide to human spatial processing abilities, author Jennifer Groh draws upon her expertise in neurobiology, computational neuroscience, and psychology to reveal the complex inner workings of our minds.
The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and... by Michio KakuThe author of the popular Physics of the Impossible and Physics of the Future, theoretical physicist and well-known futurist Michio Kaku's work can sometimes read like science fiction. In The Future of the Mind, Kaku turns his attention to the possibilities of neuroscience, combining analyses of current research and tantalizing speculations -- including telepathy, telekinesis, artificial memories, mind control, and more -- for an accessible, highly entertaining look at how science might one day make possible the seemingly impossible.
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. LevitinMultitasking is a myth. Moreover, daydreaming may be the brain's most productive state. These revelations and more can be found in neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin's book, which assesses the ways in which humans have adapted (or not) to an age of information overload. Focusing on attention, working memory, categorization, and decision-making, Levitan offers practical strategies that work with -- rather than against -- our mental processes, allowing us to organize our lives and prevail over distraction. Forget everything you thought you knew about thinking and check out this book.
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