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Archive for the 'Science' Category

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

An Evening with Herve This and Note-By-Note Cooking

Herve This and Adam Gopnik discuss

Hervé This is in town this week, so for those who couldn’t make it to his various events, here’s an account of his recent appearance at the Columbia Maison Française to discuss Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. And you can still catch him later today at the Institute of Culinary Education

“Molecular cooking is over—it’s for grandfathers!” Hervé This exclaimed on Monday night at the Maison Française on the Columbia University campus. This is in town this week to promote his new book, Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, published by Columbia University Press. The event was moderated by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, who started out the night by declaring that even the Cronut™ isn’t revolutionary in the face of note-by-note cooking.

Hervé This introduced his novel concept by describing a carrot as a sum of its constituent parts—water, cellulose, aminos, minerals—and asked that the audience begin to think of these components as similar to the notes of a song. He claims we can cook food just as a musician writes a melody on a synthesizer (the end result could fall anywhere between Jingle Bells and Rachmaninoff, a candy bar or a truffle sauce). Note-by-note cooking, therefore, is about building, not deconstructing food. This implored the audience to “forget about the word natural” as no cooked food is natural (think of a French fry in relation to a wild potato). Instead we must value the artificial for its inherent “art” and recognize that there will be both good art and bad art.

The audience was clearly entranced by the idea, but everyone wondered how to do it? Hervé answered by describing a typical weeknight dinner he cooks for his family: a tough cut of meat braised for many hours in a low oven with a few drops of truffle compound for a sauce. (He sometimes adds a drop or two of syrah compound to make a red wine reduction.) Even though the compounds have been highly processed, the terroir of the mushrooms and the grapes still comes through and “makes his family smile.” He described the note-by-note kitchen of the future as one full of beautiful lacquered boxes with maybe 10 aminos, 20 pungencies, 30 colors…in addition to bags of flour and jars of paprika.

(more…)

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Herve This Is Bringing Note-by-Note Cooking to the USA!

Herve This, Note-by-Note Cooking

After spending a week reading about Herve This’s Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, now’s your chance to see the dynamic chemist as he comes to New York and Boston for a series of great events, beginning this Friday!:

Friday, October 24 at 6:00 pm
Boston University Jacques Pepin Lecture Series in Gastronomy and Experiential Food Studies

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Boston Book Festival/Alliance Francaise de Boston

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Columbia University Maison Française
Columbia University’s Maison Française presents Herve This, Michael Laiskonis, and Adam Gopnik in conversation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Albertine Bookstore at the French Embassy
The discussion will be followed by a tasting prepared by Chef and Creative Director of the Institute of Culinary, Michael Laiskonis.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Institute for Culinary Education

Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm
Experimental Cuisine Collective at New York University

Friday, October 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Culinary Institute of America

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Video: Herve This takes us into His Lab to Show Us Note-By-Note Cooking

We conclude our week-long feature on Note-by-Note Cuisine: The Future of Food, by Hervé This, with this great video via the BBC. This takes us into his lab/kitchen to discuss and show us how to cook using the principles of note-by-note cooking and how to employ compounds into your dishes! Happy viewing and Bon Appétit!

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Herve This on Why Note-by-Note Cooking Is Good for the Future of Food

“Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.”—Hervé This

Herve This, Note-by-Note CookingThe following is a post by Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. (For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt or an interview with Hervé This):

Fittingly, Columbia University Press added “the future of food” on the cover of my new book since note-by-note cooking is truly the future of food and more and more chefs are exploring and employing its techniques in their cooking.

If you look to the current developments of culinary art, you don’t see much novelty except note-by-note cooking. Wild plants? The eminent French chef Michel Michel Bras has been cooking them for decades. Molecular cooking? Even if you call it “science-based cooking”, or “modernist cooking”, or “techno-emotional cooking” (what is this need to give more names when one was already given?), that was proposed as early as the 1980′s!

Yes, there is no newer proposal for culinary art than note-by-note cooking, and we are living a very exciting time. Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Interview with Herve This, author of “Note-by-Note Cooking”

Herve This, Note-By-Note CookingThe following is an interview with Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food:

“All food is ‘artificial’! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs ‘naturally’ on the trees of the wild forest?”—Hervé This

Question: How does note-by-note cooking differ from molecular gastronomy?

Herve This: Molecular gastronomy is a scientific activity, not to be confused with molecular cooking. Indeed, molecular gastronomy, being science, has nothing to do with cooking. In other words, science is not about making dishes. Science looks for the mechanism of phenomena. That’s all. And technology uses the results of science to improve technique. So, note-by-note cooking is a technique.

Another question could be, how is note-by-note cooking different from molecular cooking? And here the answer would be that the definition of molecular cooking is “to cook using modern tools” (such as siphons, liquid nitrogen, etc.). But you still use meat, vegetables, etc. However, with note-by-note cooking, the instruments are not important, and the big revolution is to cook with pure compounds, instead of meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.

Q: Where does the name Note-by-Note Cooking come from?

HT: In 1999, when I introduced the name “molecular cooking,” I was upset, because it was a bad choice, which had to be made for many complex reasons. Unfortunately, people now confuse molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. So, For note-by-note cooking, I wanted a name that could appeal to artists and it’s fair to say that note-by-note cooking is comparable to a term such as electro-acoustic music.

Q: Won’t not-by-note cooking produce artificial forms of food?

HT: Yes, but all food is “artificial”! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs “naturally” on the trees of the wild forest? Or that French fries appear suddenly from potatoes? No, you need a cook, to make them. In ordinary language, “natural” means “what was not transformed by human beings”, and “artificial” means that it was transformed, it was the result of human “art”.

Instead of “artificial,” it is better to think of “synthetic”, and again in this sense, note by note is synthetic in a similar way as electro-acoustic music. But just listen to the radio and synthesizers are everywhere, often with sometimes beautiful sounds. Moreover, in art, the scope of what is possibile increases with more choices. And more choice is better!

(more…)

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Note-by-Note Cooking” by Herve This

Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, Hervé ThisThis week our featured book is Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food by Hervé This.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Note-by-Note Cooking to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 17 at 1:00 pm.

Note-by-Note Cooking is a landmark in the annals of gastronomy, liberating cooks from the constraints of traditional ingredients and methods through the use of pure molecular compounds. Hervé This clearly explains the properties of naturally occurring and synthesized compounds, dispels a host of misconceptions about the place of chemistry in cooking, and shows why note-by-note cooking is an obvious—and inevitable—extension of his earlier pioneering work in molecular gastronomy.

Read an excerpt from the introduction, “Why the Need for Note-by-Note Cooking Should be Obvious”:

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

To the Point: A New E-book Series from Columbia University Press

To the Point

To the Point, Bruce HoffmanTo the Point, Julia KristevaTo the Point, Peter Piot                 To the Point, Joel SimonTo the Point, Evan Thompson

Columbia University Press is proud to announce the launch of To the Point an exciting new e-book series that extends the scholarship of our authors for a growing global and digital audience. We present standalone chapters from the press’s forthcoming fall season books, with original short-format works to come to the series in the future.

These works serve to introduce our authors’ provocative ideas to new readers in accessible, affordable formats. Featuring works by Bruce Hoffman, Julia Kristeva, Evan Thompson, and others in disciplines ranging from politics and philosophy to food science and social work.

To the Point titles are available for only $1.99 from your favorite e-book vendor.

The first five e-book shorts to be released for sale in the To the Point series are:

* The 7/7 London Underground Bombing: Not So Homegrown, by Bruce Hoffman
A selection from The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death

* Understanding Through Fiction, by Julia Kristeva
A selection from Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

* AIDS as an International Political Issue, by Peter Piot
A selection from AIDS Between Science and Politics

* Informing the Global Citizen, by Joel Simon
A Selection from The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom

* Dying: What Happens When We Die?, by Evan Thompson
A Selection from Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Flying Dinosaurs Challenge

Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

How much do YOU know about flying dinosaurs? John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds, has created a challenge which will help you gauge your current knowledge and will teach you some fascinating facts about the deep connections between dinosaurs and modern birds. Take the challenge below, and let us know how you did in the comment section!


Friday, September 19th, 2014

Test Your Flying Dinosaur Knowledge!

We’ve spent the past week featuring Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell and now’s your chance to see much your really know about dinosaurs, flying and otherwise.

CredSpark recently created a quiz specifically about the book with 10 questions ranging from why dinosaurs grew feathers to what scientists have recently discovered in the fossil record.

And, for more on the book, you can also read “A Whole New World,” the introduction to Flying Dinosaurs:

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

An Interview with John Pickrell, author of “Flying Dinosaurs”

Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

“Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history.”—John Pickrell

The following is our interview with John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds:

Question: Are dinosaurs still among us?

John Pickrell: Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history. This is because birds are dinosaurs; they evolved from within the speedy, bipedal group of predators called theropods, which includes such creatures as Velociraptor and T. rex. Birds are not only the descendants of the dinosaurs—they actually are living dinosaurs. They are simply a small, specialized flying form of theropod. Right now there are nearly ten thousand known living species, and perhaps as many as four hundred billion individuals flitting about on the planet.

Q: What did dinosaurs use feathers for?

JP: Since the first dinosaur fossil with feathers was discovered in China in 1996, around 40 species have been found with feather impressions or direct evidence of feathers of some kind. This has shown us that feathers existed in dinosaurs long before they had any purpose in flight. Feathers are so entwined in our minds with flight, this seems counter-intuitive, but flight feathers are highly specialized structures and can’t have appeared fully formed. We now know feathers had an entirely different purpose initially. The earliest feathers we see on dinosaur fossils are simple, fluffy filaments, like the down of a chick, and they were used for insulation. Only later were feathers co-opted for display purposes and eventually for flight.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Video: John Pickrell Talks Flying Dinosaurs with ABC News

In the following video, John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds talks with Australian TV about recent discoveries about dinosaurs. Calling it a “Golden Age” in dinosaur research, Pickrell discusses the likelihood of feathered dinosaurs, recent research comparing dinosaurs and chickens, the new Jurassic Park movie, and much more:

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Flying Dinosaurs in Action!

Needless to say, one can hardly think about flying dinosaurs without wondering what they looked like. Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell includes several illustrations of flying dinosaurs based on scientific evidence. Here are few of examples from the book:

Flying Dinosaurs
Four-winged flier: Discovered in 2009, 161 million-year-old Anchiornis huxleyi pre-dated the “first bird” Archaeopteryx and helped solve the confusing “temporal paradox”. Until then, all known feathered dinosaurs were younger than Archaeopteryx, so couldn’t have been ancestral to it. Instead, experts now think Cretaceous forests were home to a mixture of feathery dinosaurs and early birds. (Source: Julius Csotonyi)

Flying Dinosaurs
Pitstop: Early birds were contemporaries of a diverse fauna of bird-like dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurs rex, during the Cretaceous period. (Source: Luis Rey)

(more…)

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a FREE copy of “Flying Dinosaurs”

Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds

“A marvelous book. The moment life took to the air—caught in stone!” — Tim Flannery, environmentalist and paleontologist

This week our featured book is Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds, by John Pickrell.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 19 at 1:00 pm.

Mixing colorful portraits with news on the latest fossil findings and interviews with leading paleontologists in the United States, China, Europe, and Australia, John Pickrell explains and details dinosaurs’ development of flight. This special capacity introduced a whole new range of abilities for the animals and helped them survive a mass extinction, when thousands of other dinosaur species that once populated the Earth did not.

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Abominable Science! Wins a AAUP Design Award!

Congratulations to designer Philip Pascuzzo and our design department for winning an AAUP award for best book jacket for Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero.

Needless to say, we agree with the AAUP but don’t take their, or our, word for it, here’s the cover:

Abominable Science, Daniel Loxton, Donald Prothero

Friday, August 29th, 2014

H. H. Shugart on Comprehending the Earth

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. Shugart

“Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? … Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.”—H. H. Shugart

Fittingly enough, we conclude our week-long focus on H. H. Shugart’s Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job with an excerpt from the book’s conclusion “Comprehending the Earth”:

We live in a time of great need to understand our planet. We have the challenge of comprehending Earth as we simultaneously change the Earth. Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? It is a not a question of letting scientists do what scientists do. It is a question for us all. Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.

The tools at our disposal for the challenges in Earth-system science would be the envy of the environmental researchers who have come before us. We have satellite systems capable of remarkable measure­ments, along with a repository of innovative new systems on the shelf. Products of several of these are shown as illustrations in this text. However, the satellite constellation of the U.S. space agency, NASA, is falling into a state of disrepair. Some of this lost capability is being replaced by the orbiting instruments developed by other nations or by international and even commercial consortia. But overall, there is a loss of capability at this critical time. The conversion from satellite data provided free to researchers of any nation by NASA to a more nationally oriented, pay-as-you-go system may have a negative effect on creative, small-budget exploratory research.

(more…)

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Can We Change the Weather? H. H. Shugart on the Peril and Promise of Geoengineering

H. H. Shugart, Foundations of the Earth

One of the issues H. H. Shugart explores in Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job is whether and to what extent should humankind should see itself as “masters of nature”.

In the chapter, “Making Weather and Influencing Climate,” Shugart looks at geoengineering, one of the ultimate examples of humans trying to master nature. He examines both the possible benefits, such as remedying global warming, and the possible dangers. Here is the conclusion to that chapter:

It is no surprise that the power to control the weather is a principal dimension of divine omnipotence. Does the sensitivity of simulations of the Earth’s climate to inadvertent human changes in the atmosphere and the planet’s surface imply that geoengineering could be effective to manifest planetary-scale changes? In other words, if we can change the climate by accident, just think what we could do if we really put our minds to it. The stakes to control the weather have always been high.

Certainly, control of weather has both tactical and strategic war-fighting implications. Choosing to fight battles under favorable condi­tions has been an aspect of warfare since time immemorial. Predict­ing these conditions is intrinsic to modern warfare. Modifying the environment to favor one military opponent over another has been deployed in the past but is currently under international injunction through treaties.

If to intensify storms, blizzards, hurricanes, and hail is the ultimate weapon, then to moderate these same calamities is the ultimate magna­nimity. Breaking or causing droughts could control the fates of regions and cultures. Simply being able to produce rain at critical times during the growth and maturation process of crop plants could determine eco­nomic success or failure of agriculture at a myriad of scales. Issues asso­ciated with the geoengineering of the Earth have parallels with these issues. One problem is to know when and how geoengineering might favor one people or one nation over another. This was a persistent con­cern with respect to the USSR’s climate modification plans. The melt­ing of the Arctic Sea was one of the preferred Soviet schemes. The possibility of this event worsening climate elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere was a worrisome consequence of this action. Ironically, at the time of writing there is a decline in Arctic Sea ice attributed to a general warming of the Arctic.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

H. H Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth, takes the “Page 99 Test”

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartEarlier this summer, H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job took the Page 99 Test. Taken from a Ford Maddox Ford quote, the Page 99 Test asks authors to explain how page 99 of their book reveals larger themes and ideas that shape the entire work.

Here is an excerpt from Shugart’s response:

Page 99 of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and The Book of Job is the penultimate page of Chapter 4, “Freeing the Onager: Feral and Introduced Animals.” Foundations of the Earth poses global environmental problems in the context of a set of biblical questions, the Whirlwind Speech, found in Job: 38-40. The Joban questions initiate chapter discussions on such topics as, “Where did the solar system come from? How were animals domesticated? How do changes in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere imply global warming? How do climate and its change alter the world’s vegetation and vice versa?” Foundations of the Earth intends to demonstrate the intrinsic connectedness of the Earth’s systems, their dynamic change and their interactions with humans using these divine questions as a framework to provide additional connectedness. The book emphasizes environmental synthesis at large scales—regional to global scales in space; century to millennia to even longer scales in time. The mutual interactions among different Earth systems provide a unity to the text, so does the framework provided by the extraordinary questions from Job.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

What Constitutes Compelling Evidence, and for Whom? — B. Alan Wallace

B. Alan WallaceThe following post is by B. Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice and Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. For more, you can also read our recent interview with B. Alan Wallace:

“Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” is presented as the heart of the scientific method, and a model for critical thinking, rational thought and skepticism everywhere. But it begs the questions, what constitutes an exceptional claim versus an ordinary claim, and who determines this distinction? When it comes to the relation between the body and mind, one might assume that contemporary scientists and philosophers have the authority to determine the difference between exceptional and ordinary claims. But that assumption is problematic for two reasons: (1) scientific and philosophical views vary widely in today’s society, and (2) contemporary Euro-centric views are not the indisputable arbiters of truth for humanity as a whole.

While the reductionist views of atheist, or materialist, scientists and philosophers dominate scientific discourse and the popular media, they by no means represent a consensus view within the two communities, let alone all educated people. According to a poll published in the Scientific American in 1914, 40% of scientists stated that they believed in God. A poll with the same set of questions was again conducted in 1997, also reported in the Scientific American, and it indicated that 40% of scientists still believe in God. So no one view—either materialist or non-materialist—can be said to represent the scientific community as a whole. Likewise, according to a survey done by the philosopher David Chalmers, 11% of contemporary philosophers are non-materialist, so they represent a significant minority. But more important is his finding that there was nothing of importance the “philosophical community” at large agrees upon. So when it comes to the mind-body problem, there is no consensus about what constitutes an exception versus an ordinary claim.

The same is true of hypotheses regarding unresolved issues in quantum mechanics, particularly the so-called “measurement problem.” As I write in Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, “In his recent book entitled Quantum, science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the ninety respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world, thirty favored the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ formulated by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III (1930–82), while fifty replied, ‘none of the above or undecided.’ The real implications of quantum physics seem to be hidden in a cloud of uncertainty.”

(more…)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth

“Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.”—H. H. Shugart

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartThe following is an interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Question: Science and religion are often seen as antagonistic and while you are not interested in “reconciling” the two, you have brought them together in Foundations of the Earth. How can science learn from the Book of Job, and religion more generally, in its approach to understanding some of the issues you consider in your book?

H. H.Shugart: Perhaps it’s best to answer from the specific case to the more general. The Whirlwind Questions in Job 38 to 41 begin with God’s challenge, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’” Many of following questions, asked by God to a man, are remarkably current—How did the cosmos form? Where did the oceans come from? What happens to the light that falls upon the Earth? What controls the boundary between ocean and land? What are the consequences of the changes we made to the land through domesticated animals (and eventually machines)? … Today, these whirlwind questions are compelled by scientific observations that we are changing our planet through our actions. It is rewarding to think that some of the questions that I see as immediately important as a scientist have such deep antiquity. They reach back two and one-half millennia to the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judea and likely even deeper in time.

Religion, particularly ethics, occupies a domain that extends from knowledge of how the planet functions to the essential human issue, “If our actions are altering Earth with potential risk to the survival of our species, how can we stop ourselves?” Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.

Q: How can a religious understanding of the “foundations of the earth,” and the environment be deepened by the scientific approach?

HHS: The Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki or “Rashi” (France 1040-1105) distinguished what a biblical text “says” from what it “means” in his Talmudic commentaries. Rashi was a remarkable scholar and his medieval biblical insights transcend history to be read, considered and studied today. His exemplary search for meaning and the consequently deeper appreciation of religious texts is central in many religious studies. I hope that Foundations of the Earth can provide a more profound appreciation of just how powerful the questions from the whirlwind really are from a scientific viewpoint. These questions are not merely clever riddles or tricky puzzles. They challenge us to appreciate Earth from multiple scales ranging from the greatness of the Oceans to the details of migrations of tiny birds. The whirlwind questions identify complete knowledge of Earth systems as the provenance of the Divine. One can pursue these questions but never completely understand them at their fullest depth. Such pursuit of always deepening questions also is the procedural manifesto of the scientific approach.

Q: How do both the “Whirlwind Speech” and recent environmental thinking move us away from seeing humans as masters of nature and more toward understanding humans as in nature?

HHS: The Whirlwind questions and recent thinking about the environment share the view that we lack and need better knowledge of the Earth and its systems. The wisdom to use this knowledge to understand our role in nature is a common thread in both.

From the environmental point-of-view, our modern stewardship of the Earth would seem a substantial disaster. Species are being lost at alarming rates. Local-scale environmental problems involving pollution, erosion and ecosystem misuse are legion. Global systems, such as the oceans and the atmosphere, due to our profligate use of the planet’s resources, are displaying measurable change with potentially dark consequences. If we are the masters who manage the Earth, we aren’t doing a bang-up job of it.

In the Whirlwind Speech, God’s questions are edgy with comments to Job of, “ … —surely you know!”; “Declare, if you know all this,”; “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, …” etc. It is pointed out that it rains in the desert were there are no people to benefit from the water. Through the text, animals laugh at people, ignore them, or conduct their lives independent of people’s actions. The Behemoth, a gigantic semiaquatic creature, is the “first of the great acts of God” and created before man. The Leviathan is a great fire-spitting sea-dragon that thoroughly intimidates humankind. In toto, the interrogation from the whirlwind substantially deflates the notion that the world was created for the mastery of humans.

(more…)

Monday, August 25th, 2014

An Interview with B. Alan Wallace

“Buddhism … proposes experiments in consciousness through the rigorous practices of meditation that enable the first-person investigation of the mind and its role in nature to fully complement the third-person methods of modern science.”—B. Alan Wallace
B. Alan WallaceThe following is an interview with B. Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice and Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. Both books are now available in paperback:

Question: You write that the mind has been artificially excluded from the natural world and that you, following the radically empirical lead of William James, are seeking to return it to the world of nature, where it belongs. How did this exclusion of the mind and first-persona experience come about?

B. Alan Wallace: Since the origins of experimental psychology 135 years ago, many scientists and philosophers have sought to explain the relation between subjective experience and the correlated objective processes in the brain. This has been called the “hard problem of consciousness,” and despite all the advances made in the cognitive sciences, this issue remains a mystery. The underlying issue is the “closure principle,” which has dominated the natural sciences since the mid-19th century, and which asserts that there are no nonphysical influences in nature. This immediately implies that the mind—including our perceptions, intentions, thoughts, and emotions—must either be physical (contrary to all empirical evidence) or it must exert no consequences in human life or the universe at large, which is contrary to common sense. Many materialists argue that mental processes are identical to or are nothing more than functions of their neural correlates, while others dogmatically propose that consciousness and all kinds of subjective experiences don’t really exist at all! Although many materialistic theories of the mind-body relationship have been proposed, none of them lend themselves to scientific verification or repudiation, so they are merely hypotheses or speculations, not scientific theories. And they are certainly not scientifically established facts, despite the fact that the scientific and popular media commonly equate the mind and brain, without any compelling reasoning or empirical evidence.

Q: Does this reductionist approach to the mind and consciousness have ramifications for other branches of the natural science?

BAW: A core problem that has remained unresolved over the past 90 years is the so-called “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics, which has to do with the relationship between the weird qualities the quantum realm, in which physical entities exist only in relation to their being measured, and the world of classical physics, in which the objective world appears to exist independently of all measurements. Before a quantum measurement takes place, that which is about to be measured exists only as a probability wave function. But once the measurement occurs, the wave function appears to collapse, and a physical system exists in a definite state. But what constitutes a “measurement”? Does this require a conscious observer, or can it take place objectively? In short, the problem remains unsolved, and there is little evidence that any real progress is being made.

While many scientists and philosophers regard these two problems as being unrelated, in my last three academic books I argue that they are profoundly related and that a solution for one implies a solution for the other. I have addressed these entangled problems in Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness, Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity, and Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice. In these works I have argued that the root of both problems lies in a dogmatic allegiance to the metaphysical beliefs of mechanistic materialism, rooted in the antiquated physics of the 19th century, and in the failure on the part of the scientific community to devise and implement sophisticated methods for observing and exploring the mind and multiple dimensions of consciousness from a first-person perspective.

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