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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Visionary Science

Plants As Persons: A Philosophical Botany by Matthew Hall and Harold Coward (SUNY Series on Religion and the Environment: State University of New York, SUNY) Plants are people too? Not exactly, but in this work of philosophical botany Matthew Hall challenges readers to reconsider the moral standing of plants, arguing that they are other-than-human persons. Plants constitute the bulk of our visible biomass, underpin all natural ecosystems, and make life on Earth possible. Yet plants are considered passive and insensitive beings rightly placed outside moral consideration. As the human assault on nature continues, more ethical behavior toward plants is needed. Hall surveys Western, Eastern, Pagan, and Indigenous thought, as well as modern science and botanical history, for attitudes toward plants, noting the particular resources for plant personhood and those modes of thought which most exclude plants. The most hierarchical systems typically put plants at the bottom, but Hall finds much to support a more positive view of plants. Indeed, some Indigenous animisms actually recognize plants as relational, intelligent beings who are the appropriate recipients of care and respect. New scientific findings encourage this perspective, revealing that plants possess many of the capacities of sentience and mentality traditionally denied them. More

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything ~ Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell (Dutton) What if you could remember everything? Soon, if you choose, you will be able to conveniently and affordably record your whole life in minute detail. You would have Total Recall. Authors Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell draw on experience from their MyLifeBits project at Microsoft Research to explain the benefits to come from an earth-shaking and inevitable increase in electronic memories. In 1998 they began using Bell, a luminary in the computer world, as a test case, attempting to digitally record as much of his life as possible. Photos, letters, and memorabilia were scanned. Everything he did on his computer was captured. He wore an automatic camera, an arm-strap that logged his bio-metrics, and began recording telephone calls. This experiment, and the system created to support it, put them at the center of a movement studying the creation and enjoyment of e-memories.

Since then the three streams of technology feeding the Total Recall revolution-- digital recording, digital storage, and digital search, have become gushing torrents. We are capturing so much of our lives now, be it on the date--and location--stamped photos we take with our smart phones or in the continuous records we have of our emails, instant messages, and tweets--not to mention the GPS tracking of our movements many cars and smart phones do automatically. We are storing what we capture either out there in the "cloud" of services such as Facebook or on our very own increasingly massive and cheap hard drives. But the critical technology, and perhaps least understood, is our magical new ability to find the information we want in the mountain of data that is our past. And not just Google it, but data mine it so that, say, we can chart how much exercise we have been doing in the last four weeks in comparison with what we did four years ago. In health, education, work life, and our personal lives, the Total Recall revolution is going to change everything. As Bell and Gemmell show, it has already begun.

Total Recall provides a glimpse of the near future. Imagine heart monitors woven into your clothes and tiny wearable audio and visual recorders automatically capturing what you see and hear. Imagine being able to summon up the e-memories of your great grandfather and his avatar giving you advice about whether or not to go to college, accept that job offer, or get married. The range of potential insights is truly awesome. But Bell and Gemmell also show how you can begin to take better advantage of this new technology right now. From how to navigate the serious questions of privacy and serious problem of application compatibility to what kind of startups Bell is willing to invest in and which scanner he prefers, this is a book about a turning point in human knowledge as well as an immediate and practical guide.

Total Recall is a technological revolution that will accomplish nothing less than a transformation in the way humans think about the meaning of their lives. "What would happen if we could instantly access all the information we were exposed to throughout our lives?" -Bill Gates, from the Foreword

Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life by Richard Grossinger, with a preface by Harold B. Dowse, and a foreword by John E. Upledger (North Atlantic Books) As an embryo is differentiating into a being, what recruits unruly molecules out of the vast anonymous entropy of nature into the extraordinary cyclonic motifs known as life? What kindles mind inside sheets of matter?

Scientists claim that probabilistic sets of equations underlie DNA, organizing and evolving through random selective processes and expressing themselves as genes and proteins. But what motivated atoms to make genes in the first place? Why is the universe conscious?

These are questions that fundamentalist sciences and religions, each in their own ways, pretend to answer while never even asking.

The basis for biology is embryogenesis—a method of organizing the matter responsible for the creation of life. Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings brings attention to the gap between science’s description of life as random and mechanical, and the depth of human experience. Other sections discuss genetic determinism; embryonic models of healing; the Islamic critique of Western science; and theories of consciousness and language. Offering Buddhist, phenomenological, and indigenous systems of thought as alternatives to neo-Darwinism, Richard Grossinger, Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan and founding publisher of North Atlantic Books, explores the cultural, philosophical, political, and ecological ramifications of embryos, genes, and evolution.

Contents include:

  1. What is life?
  2. Is there a plan?
  3. Biogenesis and cosmogenesis
  4. The principles of biological design
  5. The dynamics of the biosphere
  6. The limits of genetic determinism
  7. The Wahhabi critique of Darwininan materialism
  8. Topokinesis
  9. Tissue motifs and body plans
  10. The primordial field
  11. Meaning and destiny

“I am not a cabbalist nor do I have second sight, but I predict we will hear from Grossinger. This man is as large as Mann or Joyce.” John Montgomery, author of The Keronac We Knew

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