Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge


Editor Max Brockman presents the work of some of today’s brightest and most innovative young researchers in this fascinating collection of writings that introduce the very latest theories and discoveries in science.
Future Science features eighteen young scientists, most of whom are presenting their work and ideas to a general audience for the first time. Included in this collection are

* William McEwan, a virologist, discussing his ...

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Future Science: Essays from the Leading Edge

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Editor Max Brockman presents the work of some of today’s brightest and most innovative young researchers in this fascinating collection of writings that introduce the very latest theories and discoveries in science.
Future Science features eighteen young scientists, most of whom are presenting their work and ideas to a general audience for the first time. Included in this collection are

* William McEwan, a virologist, discussing his research into the biology of antiviral immunity

* Naomi Eisenberger, a neuroscientist, wondering how social rejection affects us physically

* Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist, showing what massive datasets can teach us about society and ourselves

* Anthony Aguirre, a physicist, who gives readers a tantalizing glimpse of infinity

Future Science shares with the world a delightful secret that we academics have been keeping—that despite all the hysteria about how electronic media are dumbing down the next generation, a tidal wave of talent has been flooding into science, making their elders feel like the dumb ones. . . . It has a wealth of new and exciting ideas, and will help shake up our notions regarding the age, sex, color, and topic clichés of the current public perception of science.”
—Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When someone "hurts our feelings," do we feel physical pain? Is altruism the challenge to evolutionary tenets that many have claimed? How will plants adapt to global warming? Young scientists tackle these subjects and 15 others in this collection of essays edited by literary agent Brockman (editor of What's Next?: Dispatches on the Future of Science). Readers looking for prognostications on the future of technology should look elsewhere, since the book skews towards the behavioral sciences. Exceptions include: a thought-provoking essay by planetary scientist and astrobiologist Kevin Hand on why exploration of oceans on the moons of the giant planets may finally uncover extraterrestrial organisms; MacArthur "genius" Kirsten Bomblies on how plants respond to diseases in a changing environment; and physicist Anthony Aguirre on why infinity challenges our intellectual capability to grasp it, either in the palm of your hand or on larger scales. Readers curious about new frontiers in science and why we do the things that we—and other primates—do will enjoy this engrossing collection. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“A title wave of talent. . . . A wealth of new and exciting ideas."
—Stephen Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought

“I would have killed for books like this when I was a student!”
—Brian Eno
“This remarkable collection of fluent and fascinating essays reminds me that there is almost nothing as spine-tinglingly exciting as glimpsing a new nugget of knowledge for the first time. These young scientists give us a treasure trove of precious new insights.”
—Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen and Rational Optimism
“A good overview of what’s happening in today’s laboratories.”
“A glimpse of how today’s daring science is defining tomorrow’s lines for inquiry. . . . Readers will delight in the complexity of its exciting mosaic.”
Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Investigating such questions as how stress affects the human genome, whether life could exist under the ocean ice of Jupiter's sixth moon, and whether immunity to the AIDS virus can be genetically engineered, 19 up-and-coming scientists discuss their research in essays aimed at an audience outside of academia. This collection (a follow-up to What's Next?: Dispatches on the Future of Science) provides a fascinating glimpse of research trends in fields as diverse as astrobiology, computer science, virology, and neurobiology. Edited by Brockman, a literary agent who specializes in making innovative scientific research accessible to nonscientists, it is heavily weighted toward the work of experimental psychologists. Some of their findings (such as the altruistic tendencies of chimpanzees) suggest that certain behavioral traits long thought to be culturally acquired and uniquely human actually have a biological basis. VERDICT Though some researchers are more creative than others at communicating scientific theories and experimental results to the nonscientist, overall the essays are engaging. Those who enjoyed the first volume will be interested in this one as well.—Cynthia Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Lib., Flemington, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

A collection of essays by young scientists, describing the implications of their work for a general audience.

Literary agent Brockman (What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science, 2009) notes in an introduction that the various authors are at the stage in their academic careers when writing a popular book on their work would do nothing for their prospects for tenure or promotion. Thus this collection of essays, the majority of which focus on biological or social science. In "The Coming Age of Ocean Exploration," Kevin P. Hand discusses the probability of finding life on several satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, which are believed to have oceans larger than Earth's. At the other end of the scale of magnitude, William McEwan, working with synthetic DNA, explores the potential for creating molecular tools to combat viral infections. In several instances, two essayists take on similar topics: Daniel Haun and Joan Y. Chiao look at different aspects of human diversity, and Jennifer Jacquet and Naomi Eisenberger examine the biological roots of shame and rejection. Anthony Aguirre, in "Next Step: Infinity," threads out the cosmological and philosophical implications to be drawn from the interplay of mathematics and physics, ending up with the probability that, in an infinite universe, there are infinite copies of Earth, with an infinite number of copies of every one of us. Other writers also explore the interplay of scientific research and philosophical issues. Joshua Knobe takes on the venerable mind-body problem and arrives at the conclusion that our tendency to ascribe complex mental processes to another is inversely related to our perception of their animal nature. Fiery Cushman, in "Should the Law Depend on Luck?" asks why our legal system differentiates between essentially identical actions by assigning different punishments to the drunken driver who hits a tree and the one who hits a child. While not all the essays are equally well written, the book offers a good overview of what's happening in today's laboratories.

IfScientific Americanis your idea of a good read, this should be right up your alley.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307741912
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/9/2011
  • Series: Vintage Original Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 381,610
  • Product dimensions: 7.78 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Max Brockman is the vice president of Brockman, Inc., a literary agency, and the editor of What’s Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science. He also works with the Edge Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization that publishes the Edge newsletter (www.edge.com). He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt


Academia, with its somewhat old-fashioned structure and rules, can appear quite a strange place when observed from the outside. Frequently, through my work as a literary agent, I’ve noticed that if you’re an academic who writes about your work for a general audience, you’re thought by some of your colleagues to be wasting your time and perhaps endangering your academic career. For younger scientists (i.e., those without tenure), this is almost universally true.

There are some good reasons for this peer pressure, the most obvious being that getting published in academic journals is an essential step on the very diffi cult road to tenure. However, one unfortunate result is that those of us outside academia are blocked from looking in on the research being done by this next generation of scientists, some of whom will go on to become leading doers and communicators of science.

This opacity was the impetus for the first essay collection in this series, What’s Next?: Dispatches on the Future of Science. Essays seemed to be an ideal and appropriate way for representatives of this group of scientists to communicate their ideas. The title of the new collection is different, but the organization is the same. Future Science features essays from nineteen young scientists from a variety of fields, writing about what they’re working on and what excites them the most. To come up with the list of contributors, I fi elded recommendations from top scientists on the rising stars in their various disciplines.

Among those you will hear from in Future Science are:

• Kevin P. Hand, a planetary scientist and astrobiologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on the possibilities for life elsewhere in the solar system (and the universe)

• Felix Warneken, who heads the Social Cognitive Development Group at Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies, on investigating the evolutionary roots of human altruism in his studies of young children and Ugandan chimpanzees

• William McEwan, a virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K., who probes the biology of antiviral immunity by designing his own viruses

• Anthony Aguirre, a physicist and cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who maintains that infi nity has been brought into the domain of testable physical science

• Daniela Kaufer and Darlene Francis of the University of California, Berkeley, neurobiologists who have taken a transdisciplinary approach to the study of the effects of stress on mind and body

• Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell University, who is working on ways to extract significance from the enormous data sets we are building in the Internet age.

Working on Future Science has been an extremely rewarding experience, and I look forward to putting together the next collection in this series. These passionate young scientists, by giving us a glimpse of the work they’re doing today, are in a sense providing a window into the world to come.

Max Brockman
New York
August 2011

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Table of Contents

Kevin P. Hand: On the Coming Age of Ocean Exploration
What makes ocean worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa compelling places for astrobiology? Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Earth was not a particularly good place for life to arise. The main ingredients for life as we know it are a lot easier to find farther out in the solar system.
Felix Warneken: Children’s Helping Hands
Several novel empirical findings suggest that human altruism has deeper roots than previously thought.
William McEwan: Molecular Cut and Paste: The New Generation of Biological Tools
A combination of cheap DNA synthesis, freely accessible databases, and our ever expanding knowledge of protein science is conspiring to permit a revolution in creating powerful molecular tools.
Anthony Aguirre: Next Step: Infinity
Infinity can violate our human intuition, which is based on finite systems, and create perplexing philosophical problems.
Daniela Kaufer & Darlene Francis: Nurture, Nature, and the Stress That Is Life
Why is it that when faced with the same challenges, some of us crumble, some of us survive, and some of us even thrive?
Jon Kleinberg: What Can Huge Data Sets Teach Us About Society and Ourselves?
Vast digital trails of social interaction allow us to begin investigating questions that have been the subject of theoretical inquiry and small-scale analysis for a century or more.
Coren Apicella: On the Universality of Attractiveness
My quest to understand the natural origins of attractiveness preferences led me to the African savannah near Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.
Laurie R. Santos: To Err Is Primate
Why do house sellers, professional golfers, experienced investors, and the rest of us succumb to strategies that make us systematically go wrong?
Samuel M. McClure: Our Brains Know Why We Do What We Do
The goal of the new field of decision neuroscience is a greatly improved understanding of the variability that dominates our moment-to-moment decision-making behavior.
Jennifer Jacquet: Is Shame Necessary?
Balancing group and self-interest has never been easy, yet human societies display a high level of cooperation. To attain that level, specialized traits had to evolve, including such emotions as shame.
Kirsten Bomblies: Plant Immunity in a Changing World
To what degree plant populations can adapt to novel disease pressures in an altered and increasingly unpredictable climate remains largely unknown.
Asif A. Ghazanfar: The Emergence of Human Audiovisual Communication
The basic patterns of neocortical anatomy that produce a set of fixed neural rhythms are conserved throughout the mammalian lineage, and they predate the elaboration of vocal repertoires.
Naomi I. Eisenberger: Why Rejection Hurts
The experience of social pain, while temporarily distressing and hurtful, is an evolutionary adaptation that promotes social bonding and, ultimately, survival.
Joshua Knobe: Finding the Mind in the Body
People’s intuitions about whether a given entity has a mind do not appear to be based entirely on a scientific attempt to explain that entity’s behavior.
Fiery Cushman: Should the Law Depend on Luck?
How will advances in the science of moral judgment change the way we think about the law?
Liane Young: How We Read People’s Moral Minds
Recent work suggests that our moral judgment of another person depends on specific brain regions for reasoning about that other person’s mental state.
Daniel Haun: How Odd I Am!
Cross-culturally, the human mind varies more than we generally assume.
Joan Y. Chiao: Where Does Human Diversity Come From?
Culture-gene coevolutionary theory describes a complementary process by which adaptive mechanisms in the human mind and brain evolved to facilitate social group living through both cultural and genetic selection.
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