“Heredity is a lot more complex than most people think. In She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer dives deep into the ways that we pass along our genetic inheritance. Through history, science, and a boatload of personal curiosity (the book originated from questions he had regarding his own child, and he had his entire genome mapped in the process of writing it), Zimmer seeks to retell the story of heredity in broader and more inclusive terms than the ones we’re used to hearing. For example, who we become is determined by our ancestors’ genes, yes; but it is also a product of our own cells—for one cell can contribute to millions of future cells. How we treat ourselves, what we learn, and even how we feel, eventually contributes to our hereditary future. The forces at work are myriad, mostly unseen, and subject to variables that we barely understand. Zimmer is trying to help us here, to teach us, and in doing so he succeeds in entertaining us as well. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review”
I interviewed Carl with some questions about the book, and here are our interview questions:
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We are guided by forces beyond the obvious, and these come from the elephant in the brain, which is the selfish undertone behind what we do. This concept is explored in detail by Kevin Simler and Dr. Robin Hanson in their book titled The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.
The book is broken into two parts, with one being about why our motives are hidden, and the second part being about how these hidden motives show up in everyday life. The key part of the second half is that it catalogs the undertones in various fields of life, like the educational system, use of body language, application of charity, and social laughter. I find the authors of this book to be very fitting to my style of reading and writing, and this made the book flow very well for me.
Author Kevin Simler has degrees in philosophy and computer science from UC Berkeley, and had started a PhD program in computational linguistics at MIT before joining Palantir Technologies as an engineer, engineering manager, and product designer. He believes in reduced sense of identity, allowing for open criticism of all aspects of a concept, and the values of writing to complement thought.
Author Dr. Robin Hanson is associate professor of economics at George Mason University and research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. He has done research in the fields of artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, and hypertext publishing. He has proposed alternative institutions to those that currently exist, supports rational discourse, and embraces upcoming technologies.
Here is my interview with both authors on topics of interest from concepts in The Elephant in the Brain:
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Understanding of human behavior can explain most of what is happening on the Earth, and the decision-making and neurological components of our mind are explained in detail by Dr. Robert Sapolsky in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. It is a seminal work that covers how a decision is made, from moments prior, to years and centuries ago. What leads to something happening today? The book includes discussion on neuroendocrinology, hormones, brain activation and maturation, stress, morality, us/them dynamics, and much more. I took extensive notes on this book that I will review for some time to come.
Dr. Sapolsky is an American neuroendocrinologist who is currently professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. His work has focused on stress, neuronal degeneration, and recently, gene therapy. As mentioned in the book, he has spent some years studying a population of wild baboons in Kenya, examining environmental stress and the baboon’s stress response. He has received many awards for his decades of research and teachings.
Here is my interview with Dr. Sapolsky on topics from Behave:
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Science is changing how we look at humans as a whole, regarding our function and ability. Each day comes with new technology that makes us rethink things we have done for generations. Organisms have to become more and more sophisticated to stay competitive in a landscape involving both people and competent digital Dr. Arlindo Oliveira explores the concept of this changing landscape in his book The Digital Mind: How Science Is Redefining Humanity.
Dr. Oliveira is professor of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of Instituto Superior Técnico, the President of the institute, and a member of its executive board. He obtained his PhD from UC Berkeley, and has mostly studied in the areas of algorithms and complexity, machine learning, bioinformatics, and digital circuit design.
Here is my interview with Dr. Oliveira about The Digital Mind:
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When it comes to adjusting quickly to user-desired changes, companies like Google and Amazon are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. In his book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, USC Professor Jonathan Taplin details how these companies have usurped supreme positions of relevance in our hyper-connected society.
Professor Taplin is director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC, was a tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, and produced film for Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, and Gus Van Sant. He is an expert in digital media entertainment, sits on the California Broadband Task Force, and is part of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Council on Technology and Innovation.
Here is my interview with Jonathan about Move Fast and Break Things:
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Professor Lisa Randall is an American theoretical physicist working in particle physics and cosmology. She is the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science on the physics faculty of Harvard University. Her research includes elementary particles, fundamental forces and extra dimensions of space. She studies the Standard Model, supersymmetry, possible solutions to the hierarchy problem concerning the relative weakness of gravity, cosmology of extra dimensions, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. She contributed to the Randall–Sundrum model, first published in 1999 with Raman Sundrum.
Here is my interview with her about topics from her book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, which is about the universe and our understanding of the invisible dark matter in it:
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Eliezer Sternberg, M.D., is a resident neurologist at Yale–New Haven Hospital. With a background in neuroscience and philosophy, he studies how brain research can shed light on the mysteries of consciousness and decision making. He is the author of multiple books, including Are You a Machine? and My Brain Made Me Do It, and for the purposes of this interview, NeuroLogic, which is about brain activation and what propels us to do things.
The following is my interview with Dr. Sternberg about Neurologic:
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Dr. Michael Shermer is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members. Shermer engages in debates on topics pertaining to pseudoscience and religion in which he emphasizes scientific skepticism.”
Here is my interview with Dr. Shermer about topics from his books Skepticand The Moral Arc:
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Justin Peters is a Slate correspondent and the author of The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. The book is about the life of Aaron Swartz, who was an American computer programmer, entrepreneur, writer, political organizer, and Internet hacktivist. He was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS and the Markdown publishing format, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework web.py, and the social news site Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.
Here is my interview with Justin about the story in his book The Idealist:
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John H. Miller is Professor of Economics and Social Science at Carnegie Mellon University. In his book A Crude Look at the Whole, he examined how business, systems, and life intertwine regarding their algorithms and ways of functioning. He discusses economic crashes, slime mold behaviors, adaptive system choices, and more.
Here is my interview with Professor John H. Miller about topics in his book:
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