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General Interest

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Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World

An ancient tradition holds that Pythagoras discovered the secrets of harmony within a forge when he came across five men hammering with five hammers, producing a wondrous sound. Four of the five hammers stood in a marvelous set of proportions, harmonizing; but there was also a fifth hammer. Pythagoras saw and heard it, but he could not measure it; nor could he understand its discordant sound. Pythagoras therefore discarded it. What was this hammer, such that Pythagoras chose so decidedly to reject it?

Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age
Edited by Sheila Jasanoff

Legal texts have been with us since the dawn of human history. Beginning in 1953, life too became textual. The discovery of the structure of DNA made it possible to represent the basic matter of life with permutations and combinations of four letters of the alphabet, A, T, C, and G. Since then, the biological and legal conceptions of life have been in constant, mutually constitutive interplay--the former focusing on life’s definition, the latter on life’s entitlements.

A Laboratory Study of Multimodal Semiotic Interaction in the Age of Computers

The results of fMRI brain scanning require extensive analysis in the laboratory. In Handling Digital Brains, Morana Alač shows that fMRI researchers do not sit passively staring at computer screens but actively involve their bodies in laboratory practice. Discussing fMRI visuals with colleagues, scientists animate the scans with gestures, and talk as they work with computers. Alač argues that to understand how digital scientific visuals take on meaning we must consider their dynamic coordination with gesture, speech, and working hands.

Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives

Information shapes biological organization in fundamental ways and at every organizational level. Because organisms use information--including DNA codes, gene expression, and chemical signaling--to construct, maintain, repair, and replicate themselves, it would seem only natural to use information-related ideas in our attempts to understand the general nature of living systems, the causality by which they operate, the difference between living and inanimate matter, and the emergence, in some biological species, of cognition, emotion, and language.

Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change

Viewed from above, Greenland offers an endless vista of whiteness interrupted only by scattered ponds of azure-colored melt water. Ninety percent of Greenland is covered by ice; its ice sheet, the largest outside Antarctica, stretches almost 1,000 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west. But this stark view of ice and snow is changing—and changing rapidly. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting; the dazzling, photogenic display of icebergs breaking off Greenland’s rapidly melting glaciers has become a tourist attraction.

In The Techno-Human Condition, Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz explore what it means to be human in an era of incomprehensible technological complexity and change. They argue that if we are to have any prospect of managing that complexity, we will need to escape the shackles of current assumptions about rationality, progress, and certainty, even as we maintain a commitment to fundamental human values.

Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age

The molecular life sciences are making visible what was once invisible. Yet the more we learn about our own biology, the less we are able to fit this knowledge into an integrated whole. Life is divided into new sub-units and reassembled into new forms: from genes to clones, from embryonic stages to the building-blocks of synthetic biology.

Science, Scientists, and Cinema

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, is perhaps the most scientifically accurate film ever produced. The film presented such a plausible, realistic vision of space flight that many moon hoax proponents believe that Kubrick staged the 1969 moon landing using the same studios and techniques. Kubrick’s scientific verisimilitude in 2001 came courtesy of his science consultants—including two former NASA scientists—and the more than sixty-five companies, research organizations, and government agencies that offered technical advice.

Fashioning Apollo

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: twenty-one layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of those spacesuits. It is a story of the triumph over the military-industrial complex by the International Latex Corporation, best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex"—a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.

Creating New Kinds of Collaboration

Cross-disciplinary collaboration increasingly characterizes today’s science and engineering research. The problems and opportunities facing society do not come neatly sorted by discipline. Difficulties arise when researchers from disciplines as different as engineering and the humanities work together and find that they speak largely different languages. This book explores a new framework for fostering collaborations among existing disciplines and expertise communities.

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