Tag Archives: Murray Gell-Mann

It’s all in the brain

Book Review: The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain by Zoltan Torey

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 026251284X
ISBN-13: 978-0262512848

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The scientific study of the mind, of human consciousness, is a recent development. Obviously it isn’t easy as the mind is both the instrument and object of study. For a long time scientists ruled consciousness “out of bounds”, as not open to such rational investigations. And mystical or religious interpretations exerted too much influence in this area. The explanations and models have inevitably been mythical or simplistic – because of the reliance more on subjective feelings than empirical evidence. Dualist models have usually predominated – even though their justification has been religious rather than empirical.

These models and ideas have not helped the study of the human mind. They have, if anything, been a diversion. Zoltan Torey, author of Crucible of Consciousness, stresses that we can only make progress in this area when we have an empirically based model to work with.

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Saving the planet with condoms

condoms-webA recent study suggests that condoms can help us combat anthropogenic climate change (see Condoms save the Planet). I guess it’s obvious really. Fewer people, fewer problems.

But I think this illustrates that many of the solutions to humanity’s problems come down to human rights issues. In particular the rights of women in many countries. If  women in these societies got the human rights they deserve, including reproductive choice, we would probably see a decline in excess population growth, terrorism and civil wars. Religious and cultural intolerance, which victimise many women, could be reduced. We could tackle problems of disease, water quality and standards of living with more chance of success. And the proliferation of human rights would no doubt improve the economies of these countries.

Nobel prize winner Murray Gell-Mann made these points in his excellent book, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. Perhaps I am showing my own bias here (after all I am not a woman) by drawing attention to another aspect of human rights Gell-Mann discussed. This is the rights of the aged. Particularly the provision of social security for the aged.

Social provision for income for the aged would take that responsibility away from their children. This would be another factor restricting the need for large families.

Download the report (pdf): Reducing Future Carbon Emission by Investing in Family Planning.


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Book recommendations?

Ever wondered about those short recommendations featured on the covers of books. Sometimes  I am shocked to see a recommendation from someone I respect for a book I know is rubbish.

Well, this exchange of letters (see But will they come when you do call for them?) over a “recommendation” of Murray Gell-Mann for a book by Stuart Pivar provides an insight. It seems that we can’t always believe what is written on book covers – let alone what’s between them.

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Quantum Gods

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Book Review: Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, by Victor Stenger
ISBN-10: 1591027136
Published May 12, 2009
Prometheus Books.

There’s something about modern physics, especially quantum mechanics, which attracts magical thinking. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. Someone once said that because quantum mechanics is so counter-intuitive, because no one really understands it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using it to “explain” anything else we don’t understand. Consciousness is a prime example.

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