April 1, 2011

Skeptically Inclined (plus books)

Next weekend, New York will welcome the third annual Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism, featuring some of my favorite scientists (and writers) Phil Plait, Carl Zimmer, George Hrab, Jacob Appel, and tons more. Events abound: panel discussions, guided tours at the AMNH, a science fair/musical project, and (the best part) many opportunities to drink and converse skeptically among like-minded folk at bars across the city.

Plus: too many books, too little time. Feast your mind on all of these, if you can:

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen: An interesting analysis of how modern psychology could recharacterize diagnoses by examining a person's level of empathy; raises provocative implications for conditions like autism.

Medical Muses: Hysteria in 19th-century Paris by Asti Hustvedt: Three case histories of19th-century female hysterics in Paris, under the auspices of controversial neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Very interesting questions raised about femininity and psychoanalysis via sensational accounts of hysteria and all of its dramatic mental and physical manifestations.

The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty by William Byers: Why the fact that scientific certainty is an illusion (as evidenced by quantum physics) plays an important role in mankind's ability to experience, and create, wonder.

Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc by Hugh Aldersey-Williams: An informative survey, from elements that can dictate economies (gold), love (platinum), war (plutonium) and technology (lithium); how elements can be applied as a cure-all in one era, yet shunned as a poison the next (mercury); how iron in meteorites hint at the mysteries of the universe and also provide us with the building blocks of modern cities (when alloyed with carbon to form steel), etc.

And finally, I'm deep into Karen Barad's phenomenal book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, and highly recommend it. It's already shaken my intellectual foundation; longer post later.

Happy reading!

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