Annal: 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2007.

Book:I Am a Strange Loop

I Am a Strange Loop

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Douglas R. Hofstadter’s long-awaited return to the themes of Gödel, Escher, Bach—an original and controversial view of the nature of consciousness and identity

What do we mean when we say “I”?

Can thought arise out of matter? Can a self, a soul, a consciousness, an “I” arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here?

I Am a Strange Loop argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is the “strange loop”—a special kind of abstract feedback loop inhabiting our brains. Deep down, a human brain is a chaotic seething soup of particles, on a higher level it is a jungle of neurons, and on a yet higher level it is a network of abstractions that we call “symbols.”…[more]

Book:Animal Architects

Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence

James L. Gould, Carol Grant Gould

From two of the world’s most distinguished experts in animal behavior, a radical, creative, and accessible new approach to understanding animal minds through the structures they build.

Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the workings of the animal mind.

Animal Architects examines animal architecture across a range of species, from those whose blueprints are largely innate (such as spiders and their webs) to those whose challenging structures seem to require intellectual insight, planning,…[more]

Book:On Deep History and the Brain

On Deep History and the Brain

Daniel Lord Smail

When does history begin? What characterizes it? This brilliant and beautifully written book dissolves the logic of a beginning based on writing, civilization, or historical consciousness and offers a model for a history that escapes the continuing grip of the Judeo-Christian time frame. Daniel Lord Smail argues that, in the wake of the decade of the brain and the bestselling historical work of scientists like Jared Diamond, the time has come for fundamentally new ways of thinking about our past. He shows how recent work in evolution and paleohistory makes it possible to join the deep past with the recent past and abandon, once and for all, the idea of prehistory. Making an enormous literature accessible to the general reader, he lays out a bold new case for bringing neuroscience and neurobiology into the realm of history.

Book:Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

Gino Segrè

A fascinating look at the landmark 1932 gathering of the biggest names in physics.

Known by physicists as the “miracle year,” 1932 saw the discovery of the neutron and the first artificially induced nuclear transmutation. However, while physicists celebrated these momentous discoveries——which presaged the era of big science and nuclear bombs——Europe was moving inexorably toward totalitarianism and war. In April of that year, about forty of the world’s leading physicists——including Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner, and Paul Dirac—came—went to Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Institute for their annual informal meeting about the frontiers of physics.

Physicist Gino Segrè brings to life this historic gathering, which ended with a humorous skit based on Goethe’s Faust——a skit that eerily foreshadowed events that would soon unfold. Little did the scientists know the Faustian bargains they would face in the near future. Capturing the interplay between the great scientists as well as the discoveries they discussed and debated, Segrè evokes the moment when physics——and the world——was about to lose its innocence.

Book:The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

Christine Kenneally

A compelling look at the quest for the origins of human language from an accomplished linguist.

Language is a distinctly human gift. However, because it leaves no permanent trace, its evolution has long been a mystery, and it is only in the last fifteen years that we have begun to understand how language came into being.

The First Word is the compelling story of the quest for the origins of human language. The book follows two intertwined narratives. The first is an account of how language developed-how the random and layered processes of evolution wound together to produce a talking animal: us. The second addresses why scientists are at last able to explore the subject. For more than a hundred years, language evolution was considered a scientific taboo. Kenneally focuses on figures like Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, along with cognitive scientists, biologists, geneticists, and animal researchers, in order to answer the fundamental question:…[more]

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