When minds meet

THE THIRD CULTURE John Brockman-Simon & Schuster Rs 695

 
By Shobhit Mahajan
Published: Sunday 31 December 1995

IF THERE is One striking feature about the intellectual landscape today, it is the increasing importance of science as opposed to literature or philosophy. Scientists are at the centrestage of intellectual debates on various issues ranging from the nature of the mind to that of the universe. This is in sharp contrast to earlier periods in history when the classics and humanities defined the perimeter of an intellectual's knowledge base.

It was in 1963 that C P Snow introduced the term "third culture" as a bridge between literatists and scientists. In recent years, scientists have written books about their works which have become instant best sellers. Starting with S Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, we have had Stephan Hawking's A Brief History of Time and, more recently, Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind to name a few. These books have contributed to a better public understanding of the work done by scientists in fields as diverse as cognitive science or cosmology.

Now John Brockman has brought together a galaxy of star scientists to talk about what they feel is important by way of ideas in theiraft fields. The book is divided into five sections@@ beginning with a small introduction. Some o@,, the fundamental questions posed are: Where did the universe come from? Where did life. come from? What is the future of artificialintelligence? What is the relationship between. cognition, the mind and self realisation?

These are quite clearly the very questions. that need to be answered by civilisation today.W- The fields covered include evolution, cosmology, cognitive sciences, artificial intelligencgmand complexity theory. Surprisingly, particle physics is excluded from discussionem Brockman has managed an assembly of the very best in the field to talk about their workw- their views on the status of their respective fields and, more interestingly, speculate AM, the future. The book features evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould discussinA"- The Pattern of Life's History, Lynn Margulis (the co-founder of the Gaia hypothesis) o4m- Gaia is a tough bitch, Daniel Dermett on Intuition Pumps and many others.

The contribution of each of these science luminaries is very clear and comprehensibly to the non-expert. What is really interesting about these articles is the fact that certaiounre solved and open ended questions in the field are discussed at some length. At the en(V of each piece is an illuminating discussion b% other contributors in the field ON VA The discussion not only brings out the assortment of idea about the subject but also lets us have a peek into the lives of th EMB124 personalities themselves.

John Brockman is a remark ago able person. A literary agent b% NO profession, he is one of th founders of The Reality Club, a collection of best selling autho scientists and other intellectu In 1988, he edited an extremel interesting volume of the pre - sentations made by various sci entists to The Reality Club und the title Speculations. With T Th diaim Third Culture he has again com out with an important boo which will go a long way i . bridging the gap between the two cultures of the literary intel lectuals (or even the lay persons) a and the scientists.

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