Friday, January 28, 2011

Ape or Angel?

You may sample some of V. S. Ramachandran's brilliant new book, The Tell-Tale Brain (2011), using the "Inside the Book" feature of the W. W. Norton website.

Ramachandran visits on January 31.

Here's a brief excerpt from the book's Introduction:

"Any ape can reach for a banana, but only humans can reach for the stars. Apes live, contend, breed, and die in forests—end of story. Humans write, investigate, create, and quest. We splice genes, split atoms, launch rockets. We peer upward into the heart of the Big Bang and delve deeply into the digits of pi. Perhaps most remarkably of all, we gaze inward, piecing together the puzzle of our own unique and marvelous brain. It makes the mind reel. How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and chance brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate—your brain—that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, is the greatest mystery of -all."