Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow

Homo Deus

In his new book Homo Deus, Israeli scholar Yuval Noah Harari has published one of the most thoughtful and far-reaching analyses of humanity’s present and future. Building on his earlier Sapiens, Harari argues that although humanity has made enormous progress across in the past few centuries, the future of our society, and even of our species, is uncertain.

Harari begins with a reprise of human history, from prehistoric times to the present. He then observes that although religious beliefs are much more nuanced and sophisticated than in the past, human society still relies heavily on the narratives

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New books and articles on the “great silence”

Credit: NASA

The great silence

As we have explained in previous Math Scholar blogs (see, for example, MS1 and MS2), the perplexing question why the heavens are silent even though, from all evidence, the universe is teeming with potentially habitable exoplanets, continues to perplex and fascinate scientists. It is one of the most significant questions of modern science, with connections to mathematics, physics, astronomy, cosmology, biology and philosophy.

In spite of the glib dismissals that are often presented in public venues and (quite sadly) in writings by some professional scientists (see MS1 and MS2 for examples and rejoinders), there

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Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now”: Humanism and scientific progress


Many have read books and articles by renowned Harvard social scientist Steven Pinker. In his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Pinker cited a huge amount of historical and sociological data to conclude, counter-intuitively to many, that violence has declined “at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years”, “over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals.”

Pinker pointed out, for example, that while WWI and WWII had the most wartime fatalities in history, when normalized by world

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Carlos Rovelli’s “Reality Is Not What It Seems”

C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures”

Back in 1959, the influential British scholar C. P. Snow gave a lecture entitled The two cultures and the scientific revolution. In this discourse Snow warned of a widening divide between the scientific world on one hand and the humanities on the other: “This polarization is a sheer loss to us all.” Snow wrote,

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice

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Is the universe fine-tuned for intelligent life?


Is the universe fine-tuned for intelligent life? Astrophysicist Geraint Lewis and cosmologist Luke Barnes, both at the University of Sydney, Australia, wade into this perplexing and controversial arena in a new book, published by Cambridge University Press, entitled A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos.

The book presents a comprehensive analysis of the issue, delving into nuclear physics, astrophysics, cosmology, biology and philosophy. It is entertainingly written, yet does not compromise in detail. The authors mercifully relegate some of the more technical material to footnotes, but even the footnotes are remarkably useful and well documented. The book

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Reproducibility: Principles, Problems, Practices, and Prospects

The book Reproducibility: Principles, Problems, Practices, and Prospects, which contains a chapter co-authored by the late Jonathan Borwein and the present authors (Victoria Stodden and David H. Bailey), has won a 2017 Prose Award (“Honorable Mention”) in the category “Textbook/Best in Physical Sciences and Mathematics.” These prizes are awarded annually in 53 categories by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers.

This volume consists of 27 chapters, grouped into six sections, which collectively address questions of reproducibility in a broad range of scientific disciplines, ranging from medicine, physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences and even

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Space, Time and the Limits of Human Understanding

Springer has just published the book Space, Time and the Limits of Human Understanding. The book consists of 39 chapters, each written by a leading figure in one of the six general areas covered in the volume (philosophy, physics, mathematics, biology and cognitive science, logic and computer science, and miscellaneous). The present author has an article, co-authored with the late Jonathan Borwein, entitled “A computational mathematics view of space, time and complexity.” The book is targeted to a technical reader, but a first-year college calculus and physics background suffices for at least 90% of the material.

Here is a sample

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“My Search for Ramanujan”

Recently Ken Ono, a renowned mathematician at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, published an autobiography entitled My Search for Ramanujan: How I Learned to Count. It is co-authored with Amir Aczel, who, among other things, wrote the book Finding Zero, but sadly Aczel passed away before the book was completed.

Ken Ono was the son of Takashi Ono, a Japanese mathematician who taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Ono’s field of research has closely paralleled the writings of famed Inidian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Among other things, Ono significantly extended Ramanujan’s work on partition congruences and mock theta functions, and, with

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Shawn Otto’s “The War on Science”

Shawn Otto has written a new book on science denialism, entitled The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About it.

Otto argues that modern science is under attack from three directions: (a) the academic left, which has asserted that science has no claim to objective truth, (b) the religious right, which has fought evolution and more under the banner of biblical literalism, and (c) the industrial world, which has fought scientific findings in the area of health and environmental protection.

Otto observes that science denialism is rooted, surprisingly enough, in the academic left.

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