Why Us?: How Science Rediscoveerd the Mystery of Ourselves

Overview

In this daring treatise on the current state of scientific inquiry, James Le Fanu challenges the common assumption that further progress in genetic research and neuroscience must ultimately explain all there is to know about life and man’s place in the world. On the contrary, he argues, the most recent scientific findings point to an unbridgeable explanatory gap between the genes strung out along the Double Helix and the beauty and diversity of the living world—and between the electrical activity of the brain and...
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Overview

In this daring treatise on the current state of scientific inquiry, James Le Fanu challenges the common assumption that further progress in genetic research and neuroscience must ultimately explain all there is to know about life and man’s place in the world. On the contrary, he argues, the most recent scientific findings point to an unbridgeable explanatory gap between the genes strung out along the Double Helix and the beauty and diversity of the living world—and between the electrical activity of the brain and the abundant creativity of the human mind. His exploration of these mysteries, and his analysis of where they might lead us in our thinking about the nature and purpose of human existence, form the impassioned and riveting heart of Why Us?
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Simple and compelling; a bold attempt to reunite science with a sense of wonder.”
The Sunday Times (London)

“An extraordinary work of science. . . . Quite wonderfully refreshing.”
—A. N. Wilson, Reader’s Digest (UK)
 
“[Le Fanu reminds us] that life is finally inexplicable, and the universe full of mysteries that are inaccessible to scientific probing. The fact that these rarely stated realities are so superbly brought to life here makes this a brave, brilliant and fascinating book.”
The Sunday Telegraph (London)

“Excellent. . . . An important, luminously written book. . . . Carefully-documented, scrupulously fair-minded. . . . It deserves a very wide readership. . . .  A careful reader, analyst, and conveyor of this body of research, and an admirer of its revelations and the ingenuity of those who have made them, LeFanu is also possessed of something even rarer than a gift for luminous explication of scientific complexity: he has what the great, polymathic thinker Blaise Pascal called 'l’esprit de finesse,' or a philosophical mind.”
Modern Age

“James Le Fanu’s lively literary imagination makes this book such a stimulating and challenging read.”
Literary Review (UK)
 
“Erudite and beautifully written. . . . Le Fanu lucidly analyses the limitations of that narrow intellectual prison in which science has languished too long.”
The Spectator (UK)
 
“Le Fanu sets his stall out with admirable clarity, and not a little brio. . . . [He is] a lucid and compelling writer.”
Evening Standard (UK)
 
“This challenge is so knowledgeable, so meticulously constructed that mere prejudice will not be enough to undermine this major work.”
Catholic Herald
 
“A bold synthesising polemic.”
Standpoint Magazine
 
“Le Fanu eviscerates salvation by science. The Double Helix is impenetrable, the brain unfathomable, the genome over-rated, the self a mystery.”
World Magazine
 
“An outstandingly readable and informative book. . . . Le Fanu knows a lot but wears his erudition lightly.”
—David Klinghoffer, The Discovery Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400030545
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/6/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 852,553
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James Le Fanu is an international award winning author who for the past twenty years has contributed a twice weekly column on medicine, science and social policy to the Sunday and Daily Telegraph. His articles and reviews have also appeared in the New Statesman, The Spectator, GQ, the British Medical Journal, and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He has made original contributions to current controversies over the value of experiments on human embryos, environmentalism, dietary causes of diseases, and the misdiagnosis of non-accidental injury in children. His previous book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2001. He lives in England.
 
www.jameslefanu.com
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Read an Excerpt

When cosmologists can reliably infer what happened in the first few minutes of the birth of the universe and geologists can measure the movements of vast continents to the nearest centimeter, then the inscrutability of those genetic instructions that should distinguish a human from a fly, or the failure to account for something as elementary as how we recall a telephone number, throws into sharp relief the unfathomability of ourselves. It is as if we, and, indeed, all living things, are in some way different, profounder, and more complex than the physical world to which we belong . . . This is not just a matter of science not yet knowing all the facts; rather, there is the sense that something of immense importance is “missing” that might transform the bare bones of genes into the wondrous diversity of the living world and the monotonous electrical firing of the neurons of the brain into the vast spectrum of sensations and ideas of the human mind.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations vii

Introduction: A Mystery to Ourselves xiii

1 Science Triumphant, Almost 1

2 The Ascent of Man: A Riddle in Two Parts 24

3 The Limits of Science 1: The Quixotic Universe 59

4 The (Evolutionary) ‘Reason for Everything’: Certainty 72

5 The (Evolutionary) ‘Reason for Everything’: Doubt 110

6 The Limits of Science 2: The Impenetrable Helix 126

7 The Fall of Man: A Tragedy in Two Acts 148

8 The Limits of Science 3: The Unfathomable Brain 176

9 The Silence 230

10 Restoring Man to His Pedestal 253

Acknowledgements 263

Notes 265

Index 293

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