Today is a sad day for the science community and for all humans alike: physicist, Stephen Hawking, has passed away at seventy-six-years-old. His life was an incredible one. Even after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he continued to pursue his study of physics and the universe as a whole. After his diagnosis, Hawking’s physical health continued to deteriorate: paralysis of his limbs was the first sign of his illness followed by loss of speech. Even then, however, Hawking continued to learn, teach, and expand his mind, using a speech-pad and wheelchair to navigate around his condition. In honor of this great man’s life, let’s celebrate with some of his greatest, oftentimes comical, quotes.
“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”
—On The Universe as a whole
“Unfortunately, Eddie did not inherit my good looks.”
—In regards to Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of him in the film The Theory of Everything
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
—His stance on the mind and the afterlife
Image Via disclose.tv
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
—On exploration and the possibilities that life has to offer every human being
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically”
—On his struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and his advice for other people with physical or mental deficits
“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.”
—On humans and the impact we are having on the Earth
Image Via Yahoo
“Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking.”
—On the opportunities we have to attain knowledge through communication
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”
—His philosophy on life as a whole
Image Via Wikipedia
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first”
—On the prospect of death
While Stephen Hawking might have left our planet in body, he will forever remain with us in spirit and through his vast amount of work. Hawking helped excel humanity’s potential for greatness, and his contributions to the scientific community will continue to remain as important and pertinent as ever.
Last December, Microsoft founder Bill Gates revealed his five favorite books of 2017, a diverse list including, somewhat hilariously, Eddie Izzard’s autobiography. During a recent reddit AMA, the billionaire revealed his favorite books of 2018 thus far.
When asked if there was a standout book for him from this year, he named two.
There are two amazing books. One is Enlightenment Now by [Steven] Pinker and another is Factfulness by [Hans] Rosling. They are both very readable and explain that the world is getting better.
Pinker’s work asserts that the human race are on the whole happier, healthier, wealthier, and safer than ever before. Pinker’s previous book Better Angels has long been one of Gates’ favorites.
Factfulness author Rosling was an advisor to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and assisted in the setup of Médecins sans Frontières in Sweden. Rosling passed away a year ago this month, however his son and daughter-in-law completed the book’s final chapters. It will be released in April. The book chronicles the ten most common misconceptions about the world.
An avid reader, Bill Gates doesn’t hesitate to share his favorite reads with the literary community, having recently shared his top five books of 2017. The new year brings new favorites, however, and the billionaire business giant announced his all-time favorite book that every reader should indulge in.
The New York Times bestseller examines the history and progression of the human condition around the world, ultimately arguing that the ideals of Enlightenment (i.e. reason and science) can enhance human success.
Gates described the core purpose of Pinker’s book, stating, “Enlightenment Now takes the approach he uses in Better Angels to track violence throughout history and applies it to 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety). The result is a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better.”
Gates had the opportunity to sit down with the author and discuss his arguments and findings, which you can check out below.
Though Enlightenment Now hasn’t hit shelves yet (it will be released on February 27, 2018) Gates was able to secure an early copy and found himself intrigued by meticulous yet straightforward exploration of each of the fifteen measures of progress that Pinker discusses.
“He manages to share a ton of information in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and easy to digest,” Gates said.
If the study of enlightenment and its connection to human progression sounds daunting and boring, don’t dismiss it just yet. As Gates notes, there are plenty of interesting facts to take away from Enlightenment Now, having shared his own five favorite facts from the book that, “show how the world is improving.” Here they are, in Gates’ words:
You’re 37 times less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than you were at the turn of the century—and that’s not because there are fewer thunderstorms today. It’s because we have better weather prediction capabilities, improved safety education, and more people living in cities.
Time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920 to an hour and a half in 2014. This might sound trivial in the grand scheme of progress. But the rise of the washing machine has improved quality of life by freeing up time for people—mostly women—to enjoy other pursuits. That time represents nearly half a day every week that could be used for everything from binge-watching Ozark or reading a book to starting a new business.
You’re way less likely to die on the job. Every year, 5,000 people die from occupational accidents in the U.S. But in 1929—when our population was less than two-fifths the size it is today—20,000 people died on the job. People back then viewed deadly workplace accidents as part of the cost of doing business. Today, we know better, and we’ve engineered ways to build things without putting nearly as many lives at risk.
The global average IQ score is rising by about 3 IQ points every decade. Kids’ brains are developing more fully thanks to improved nutrition and a cleaner environment. Pinker also credits more analytical thinking in and out of the classroom. Think about how many symbols you interpret every time you check your phone’s home screen or look at a subway map. Our world today encourages abstract thought from a young age, and it’s making us smarter.
War is illegal. This idea seems obvious. But before the creation of the United Nations in 1945, no institution had the power to stop countries from going to war with each other. Although there have been some exceptions, the threat of international sanctions and intervention has proven to be an effective deterrent to wars between nations.
If those facts don’t shock or interest you, then maybe Gates’ high opinion of it will be enough to make you contemplate reading Enlightenment Now.
“I’m glad we have brilliant thinkers like Steven Pinker to help us see the big picture,” Gates wrote. “Enlightenment Now is not only the best book Pinker’s ever written. It’s my new favorite book of all time.”
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress will be released on February 27th and is available for pre-order now on Amazon.
Featured image courtesy of Bill Gates/’Entrepreneur’
2018 is here, and we have all promised ourselves that this year will be better than the last. One way to achieve this is, of course, by reading more. Although many of our reading lists are sprawling and unmanageable already, it’s important to make sure we read diversely and that we’re reading stuff that’s not only entertaining but educational. Luckily, we live in a good time for popular science books that accomplish both in excess.
Here are some of the most exciting science book releases coming this winter, descriptions courtesy of the publishers.
Making the Monster explores the scientific background behind Mary Shelley’s book. Is there any science fact behind the science fiction? And how might a real-life Victor Frankenstein have gone about creating his monster? From tales of volcanic eruptions, artificial life and chemical revolutions, to experimental surgery, ‘monsters’ and electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Shelley, and inspired her most famous creation.
Since the beginning of human history, bears have been regarded as animals of great power. Ethnobotanist and cultural anthropologist Wolf Storl, who spent years in the wilderness with bears, explores the fascinating relationship between bears and humans, including the history, mythology, healing lore, and biology of this formidable creature. Storl takes the reader from the bear caves of the Neanderthals to the bear-worshipping Siberian tribes of today, from the extinct cave bear to the modern teddy bear. Bears were traditionally seen as a kind of “forest human” under whose shaggy fur a king or a god was hidden, he explains. Vividly illustrating the power of myths and fairy tales to reveal more than scientific treatises about the true nature of beings–especially in the case of bears–Storl restores this magnificent animal to its rightful place at the forefront of the human imagination as well as among the dwellers of the forest.
In the aftermath of a shattering illness, Lonni Sue Johnson—a renowned artist who regularly produced covers for The New Yorker, a gifted musician, a skilled amateur pilot, and a joyful presence to all who knew her—lives in a “perpetual now.”
Lonni Sue has almost no memories of the past and a nearly complete inability to form new ones. Remarkably, however, she retains much of the intellect and artistic skills from her previous life. As such, Lonni Sue’s story has become part of a much larger scientific narrative—one that is currently challenging traditional wisdom about how human memory and awareness are stored in the brain.
In this probing, compassionate, and illuminating book, award-winning science journalist Michael D. Lemonick tells the unique drama of Lonni Sue Johnson’s day-to-day life and explains the groundbreaking revelations about memory, learning, and consciousness her unique case has uncovered. This is his nuanced and intimate look of the science that lies at the very heart of human nature.
An engrossing history of the science of one of the four fundamental physical forces in the universe, electromagnetism, right up to the latest indications that the poles are soon to reverse and destroy the world’s power grids and electronic communications
A cataclysmic planetary phenomenon is gathering force deep within the Earth. The magnetic North Pole will eventually trade places with the South Pole. Satellite evidence suggests to some scientists that the move has already begun, but most still think it won’t happen for many decades. All agree that it has happened many times before and will happen again. But this time it will be different. It will be a very bad day for modern civilization.
Award-winning science journalist Alanna Mitchell’s delightful storytelling introduces enchanting characters from investigations into magnetism in thirteenth-century France to the discovery in the Victorian era that electricity and magnetism emerge from the same force. No one has ever told so eloquently how the Earth itself came to be seen as a magnet, spinning in space with two poles, and that those poles dramatically, catastrophically reverse now and then…
For more than forty years, the U.S. government, through various military and intelligence agencies, has invested millions in classified programs that study the role of mental telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP) as a means of intelligence collection for military and defense purposes.
Now, for the first time, New York Times bestselling author Annie Jacobsen will tell the story of these programs, using interviews with the core group of individuals–including former Defense Department scientists, military officers, CIA analysts and researchers, an Apollo 14 astronaut, government psychics, and members of the Aviary–who ran these phenomena programs at the highest level of government.
Formerly the domain of fiction, moving human civilization to the stars is increasingly becoming a scientific possibility–and a necessity. Whether in the near future due to climate change and the depletion of finite resources, or in the distant future due to catastrophic cosmological events, we must face the reality that humans will one day need to leave planet Earth to survive as a species. World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. He reveals how cutting-edge developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology may allow us to terraform and build habitable cities on Mars. He then takes us beyond the solar system to nearby stars, which may soon be reached by nanoships traveling on laser beams at near the speed of light. Finally, he brings us beyond our galaxy, and even beyond our universe, to the possibility of immortality, showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space. With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity may finally fulfill its long-awaited destiny among the stars.
James Hartzell wrote a piece for Scientific American earlier this week delving into the “Sanskrit Effect”—the name for what MRI scans show as the increase of the size of brain regions associated with cognitive function due to memorizing ancient mantras.
Hartzell, who spent many years studying and translating the language, noticed that the more he worked with the language, the better his verbal memory became. Other researchers and translators spoke of their own cognitive improvements, and there developed the question:
Was there actually a language-specific “Sanskrit effect” as claimed by the tradition?
Pandits, the traditional scholars of the language, master a variety of Sanskrit poetry and prose text. One of India’s most ancient Sanskrit texts, the Shukla Yajurveda, takes six hours to completely recite. The tradition says that exactly memorizing and reciting the texts, or mantras, enhances memory and thinking.
Hartzell then entered the cognitive neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Trento in Italy, and took the opportunity to start investigating his question. He wanted to discover how intense verbal memory training can affect the physical structure of the brain, and through the India-Trento Partnership for Advanced Research, the scientist recruited pandits from schools in the Delhi region. Once they arrived in Italy, they received MRIs, and so did a control group matched for age, gender, right-or-left-handedness, eye-dominance, and multilingualism.
What we discovered from the structural MRI scanning was remarkable. Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness. Although the exact cellular underpinnings of gray matter and cortical thickness measures are still under investigation, increases in these metrics consistently correlate with enhanced cognitive function.
Hartzell’s study resulted in some incredible results, which you can delve farther into in the original article. One of the most interesting questions that’s come of his study is whether or not the pandits’ increase of gray matter in areas of the brain important to memory means they are less likely to develop subsequent memory diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. They can’t answer that yet, but anecdotal reports from Ayurvedic doctors in India suggest the possibility. This then asks the question, will “exercising” the brain help those at risk for cognitive impairment, or even prevent its onset?
Can’t wait to find out!
Featured image via the Association for Yoga and Meditation.