Audiobook Spotlight: THINKING
Thinking John Brockman
PBS has done a documentary on the documentary of the Civil War. What struck me is the quote that “Americans killed each other in great numbers, if only to struggle with the hope that they would never have to do it again.” Then they showed a wounded man waving the American flag, which replaced the rebel flag. Chilling, because we are still waving rebel flags and dividing up into clans and races, with the looming prospect that another Civil War may happen any time. (One author predicts 2016, at a new economic collapse: the have nots VS the haves. Another predicts a race war, with the rebel flag replacing the American flag.) If we see another Civil War, it may be more costly than the first one. But what it proves is that human nature is at fault. People love to defend their “rights,” but science shows, as in books like the recent THINKING (edited by John Brockman, narrated by Tom Perkins) that we don’t think (at least not consciously) about the effects of our choices. Instead, we make them automatically. There is a great bias, the authors say, regarding making value judgments regarding morality. Our culture imagines that morality must come from religion, and so we believe that there can be no moral choices outside of religion. But neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that science does favor moral choices: “Imagine there were only two people on Earth. Call them Adam and Eve if you like. Now it is very obvious that a positive vision of progress as human beings (the scientific method) would reject the idea that they should hit each other in the head with rocks. More people doesn’t negate this, just complicates it.” Developmental scientist Daniel Dennett next talks about babies, where experiments have shown that even toddlers know right from wrong, long before they have a chance to understand religion. Dan Kahneman discusses the pitfalls of trusting human intuition, which are influenced by social history, and how decision making should be a synthesis of evolutionary and biological thinking. Gerd Gigerenzer seconds this with a thumbs up for rational thinking, which admittedly takes work and isn’t “knee-jerk.” Then there is the “startling effects of testosterone on the brain,” noted by Vilayanur Ramachandran, another behavioral scientist, “most pronounced in teenagers into their early twenties.” This is why more violence is evident in this age group, before the frontal cortex (involved in decision making) is fully developed at age 25. Science is about creating explanations for things, achieving progress by gradual buildup of knowledge. So you CAN make moral choices about what you see based on science. It is not just Christianity that opposes radical Islam as practiced by ISIL, it is science. The book makes the point that we must come together on this (and things like global warming too) or we are going to repeat the same mistakes over and over—-which is something science does not encourage. Greed, rape, murder, war, cruelty: these are anti-science, anti-human, anti-civilization. Progress and survival requires cooperation and knowledge, not status quo ego ignorance and violence. Will we see a reboot of the Civil War? That’s up to us, and depends on our willingness to speak out on rational moral issues while finding solutions to overpopulation, oppression, and a culture gone mad. MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE by John Markoff (narrated by George Newbern) is new too, and subtitled “The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Robots.” Because unless we realize that babies are ironically better moral judges than we are in rewarding bad behavior, an A.I. may decide to help out our extinction instincts while seeing us as infantile intellects.

THE SECOND MACHINE AGE examines IT (information technology) and computer science, which is the new industrial revolution. The first revolution to change the world was advances in physical strength by machines doing the work of mankind. (Steam engine to gas engine.) Now it is brain power and efficiency of production using computers. The authors argue that this is a great plus for humanity, but that it favors those with skills, and increases income disparity between rich...and poor ISIS recruits. So the future may be like the movie Elysium. Education and adaptability to change are key. Quote from Authors: "The past is no guide to understanding what the world will become." Audiobook is an Audie Award winner this year as best science audiobook. 

Zoom Bob Berman