James Gleick is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Harvard and the author of a half-dozen books on science, technology, and culture. His latest bestseller, translated into 20 languages, is The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, which the NY Times called "ambitious, illuminating, and sexily theoretical." Whatever they meant by that. They also said "Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly."
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The amazing author Warren Ellis is on the podcast! He talks about his new book Gun Machine, coming up with ideas for his novels, and the monster that is social networking!
In his new novel 2312, legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson focuses on outer space and humans’ place in it.
As you probably guessed from the title, the story is set three centuries in the future. It hinges on “the idea that the solar system is our neighborhood, and could be inhabited,” Robinson tells Wired Senior Editor Adam Rogers in this episode of the Storyboard podcast.
In the book, which hits stores May 22, humans live not just on other planets, but also in miniature biomes in hollowed-out asteroids. Robinson’s oeuvre includes the Hugo-winning Mars trilogy and the global warming-focused Forty Signs of Rain. In the podcast, he talks about time travel, trips to Antarctica and the future of humanity.
A History of the World in Maps - Late Night Live - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Throughout history, maps have always been as much about their creators and their worldviews as about reproducing an accurate replica of the world. Early maps were also about the unknown and how to display the borders of the known world. Monsters in illustration were often used to represent what lay beyond the edge of the world, and cartographers competed to create the best and scariest monsters on their creations.
Professor and BBC documentary presenter Jeremy Brotton has produced a study of the cultural values embodied in maps and collected them in a book called A History of the World in Twelve Maps.
The final Book Talk podcast of 2012 features a timely discussion of J.R.R Tolkien’s worldwide bestselling favourite The Hobbit, coinciding with the release of the first in Peter Jackson’s series of big-budget film adaptations of the novel.
Paul Gallagher is joined by Edd McCracken of Book Riot, Hollyrood High School librarian Rachel McCabe and two high school pupils, Juliette and Michael, to get into a wide-ranging discussion of the fantasy classic. With each of their Hobbit experiences being different - some having read it many times since childhood, some just reading it for the first time for this podcast - their reactions offer a great cross-section of opinions!
Frances Ashcroft’s new book details how electricity in the body fuels everything we think, feel or do. She tells Fresh Air about discovering a new protein, how scientists are like novelists and how she wanted to be a farmer’s wife.
The Night of the Hunter is a much-loved film, but author Julia Keller says the book it is based on is even better — a forgotten masterpiece. Do you have a favorite book that became a movie? Tell us in the comments.
“Nothing can be more gentle than man in his primitive state,” declared Rousseau in the 18th century. A century earlier, Thomas Hobbes wrote, “In the state of nature the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The evidence shows that Rousseau was wrong and Hobbes was right, said Pinker. Forensic archaeology (“CSI Paleolithic”) reveals that 15 percent of prehistoric skeletons show signs of violent trauma. Ethnographic vital statistics of surviving non-state societies and pockets of anarchy show, on average, 524 war deaths per 100,000 people per year.
Germany in the 20th century, wracked by two world wars, had 144 war deaths per 100,000 per year. Russia had 135. Japan had 27. The US in the 20th century had 5.7. In this 21st century the whole world has a war death rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people per year. In primitive societies 15 percent of people died violently; now 0.03 percent do. Violence is 1/500th of what it used to be.
The change came by stages, each with a different dynamic. Pinker identified: 1) The Pacification Process brought about by the rise and expansion of states, which monopolized violence to keep their citizens from killing each other. 2) The Humanizing Process. States consolidated, enforcing “the king’s justice.” With improving infrastructure, commerce grew, and the zero-sum game of plunder was replaced by the positive-sum game of trade. 3) The Humanitarian Revolution. Following ideas of The Enlightenment, the expansion of literacy, and growing cosmopolitanism, reason guided people to reject slavery, reduce capital crimes toward zero, and challenge superstitious demonizing of witches, Jews, etc. Voltaire wrote: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
4) The Long Peace. Since 1945 there has been zero use of nuclear weapons, zero combat between the Cold War superpowers, just one war between great powers (US and China in Korea, ending 1953), zero wars in western Europe (there used to be two new wars a year there, for 600 years), and zero wars between developed countries or expansion of their borders by conquest. 5) The New Peace is the spreading of the Long Peace to the rest of the world, largely through the decline of ideology, and the spread of democracy, trade, and international organizations such as the UN. Colonial wars ended; civil wars did flare up. 6) The Rights Revolution, increasingly powerful worldwide, insists on protection from injustice for blacks, women, children, gays, and animals. Even domestic violence is down.
Such a powerful long-term trend is the result of human ingenuity bearing down on the problem of violence the same way it has on hunger and plague. Something psychologists call the “circle of empathy” has expanded steadily from family to village to clan to tribe to nation to other races to other species. In addition, “humanitarian reforms are often preceded by new technologies for spreading ideas.” It is sometimes fashionable to despise modernity. A more appropriate response is gratitude.
In the Q & A, one questioner noted that violence is clearly down, but fear of violence is still way up. Social psychologist Pinker observed that we base our fears irrationally on anecdotes instead of statistics—-one terrorist attack here, one child abduction there. In a world of 7 billion what is the actual risk for any individual? It is approaching zero. That trend is so solid we can count on it and take it further still.
There has never been a better time to be a geek. What was once an insult used to marginalize the curious has become a badge of honour. People who care about science have stopped apologizing for their interests, and are gaining the political confidence to stand up for them instead.
Whether we want to improve education or cut crime, to enhance healthcare or generate clean energy, we need the experimental methods of science - the best tool humanity has yet developed for working out what works. Yet from the way we’re governed to the news we’re fed by the media, we’re let down by a lack of understanding and respect for its insights and evidence.
Leading science communicator Mark Henderson, visits the RSA to explain why and how we need to entrench scientific thinking more deeply into public life. With over a decade of experience as the science correspondent for the Times, Henderson has seen it all, and plans to gather a new agenda-setting movement and turn it into a force our leaders cannot ignore.
Chair: Alice Bell, senior teaching fellow in science and public policy, Imperial College London.
In The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, mathematician Steven Strogatz provides an entertaining refresher course in math, starting with the most elementary ideas, such as counting, and finishing with mind-bending theories of infinity—including the idea that some infinities can be bigger than others.
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