The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in

The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos From the bestselling author of The Drunkard s Walk and Subliminal, this is the inspiring and illuminating story of how we have come to understand the world, from the invention of the very first tools to the mind bending theories of quantum physicsLeonard Mlodinow guides us through the critical eras and events in the development of science, all of which, he demonstrates, were propelled forward by humankind s collective struggle to know From the birth of reasoning and culture to the formation of the studies of physics, chemistry, biology, and modern day quantum physics, we come to see that much of our progress can be attributed to simple questions why how bravely asked Mlodinow profiles some of the great philosophers, scientists, and thinkers who explored these questions Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Lavoisier among them and makes clear that just as science has played a key role in shaping the patterns of human thought, human subjectivity has played a key role in the evolution of scienceAt once authoritative and accessible, and infused with the author s trademark wit, this deeply insightful book is a stunning tribute to humanity s intellectual curiosity Leonard Mlodinow is probably best known as co author of a pair of books with Stephen Hawking for example, The Grand Design , so it was interesting to see his writing away from the great man s shadow Generally his style is light, slick and enjoyable, though he sometimes tries too hard to be witty, peppering the book with a jokiness that gets wearing I could do with a little less of remarks likeThe first cities did not arise suddenly as if nomads one day decided to band together and the next th Leonard Mlodinow is probably best known as co author of a pair of books with Stephen Hawking for example, The Grand Design , so it was interesting to see his writing away from the great man s shadow Generally his style is light, slick and enjoyable, though he sometimes tries too hard to be witty, peppering the book with a jokiness that gets wearing I could do with a little less of remarks likeThe first cities did not arise suddenly as if nomads one day decided to band together and the next thing they knew they were hunting and gathering chicken thighs wrapped in Styrofoam and cellophane.However, what we have here is an easy reading and a sometimes inspiring gallop through the development of human thought and science As the subtitle puts it The human journey from living in trees to understanding the cosmos It s interesting to compare this book with Steven Weinberg s To Explain the World, which has related aims, though without the first part about the development of humans Without doubt Mlodinow s book is by far thereadable And Weinberg has been slated in some sources for being unforgiving of the lack of modern insights in the likes of Aristotle, where arguably they should be allowed to be people of their time But for me, Weinberg delivers achallenging and stimulating read Even so, Mlodinow s book is certainlyof a natural read for a popular science audience.The Upright Thinkers is divided into three sections, and for me the beginning and end work far better than the middle As an author, I can see the sense behind the low point being the middle section, but the worry might be that some could give up part way through The first part shone brightest for me This is the most original section, with really interesting consideration of the very early development of maths and culture Despite that intrusive Styrofoam, I challenge anyone not to find this section genuinely fascinating In the middle we plod rather heavy handedly through the likes of Galileo and Newton Then things liven up with quantum theory oddly there is very little about understanding the cosmos per se There isn t a huge opportunity to gain insights into quantum physics itself, but there is plenty of context and a good feel for the way that modern science has moved away from hands on science to the indirect and theoretical Like Weinberg, one of Mlodinow s failings is not putting across the best understanding of history of science He doesn t seem to realise, for instance, that Newton s If I have seen further comment in a letter to Robert Hooke was not supposed to be a compliment And, yes, there s the hackneyed old claim that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for the heresy of declaring that the earth revolved around the sun He wasn t, it was common or garden religious heresy And, for that matter, the family of Gilbert Lewis will be surprised to discover that Max Born introduced the term photon.Overall then, a solid overview with some interesting novelties on early civilisation, but probablya book for those who don t generally read popular science than those who do and that s not a bad thing 4.5 starsFor humans to advance from wandering hunter gatherers to the savvy beings we are today able to use all kinds of intricate gadgets and even send spacecraft out into the cosmos there had to be significant advancements in knowledge and technology In this book Mlodinow talks about the major leaps of mankind and how they came about.Primitive humans were hunter gatherers Modern humans are tech savvyMlodinow focuses on three areas evolution of the human mind discoveries related to astro 4.5 starsFor humans to advance from wandering hunter gatherers to the savvy beings we are today able to use all kinds of intricate gadgets and even send spacecraft out into the cosmos there had to be significant advancements in knowledge and technology In this book Mlodinow talks about the major leaps of mankind and how they came about.Primitive humans were hunter gatherers Modern humans are tech savvyMlodinow focuses on three areas evolution of the human mind discoveries related to astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology and the revolutionary field of quantum mechanics The book, which covers a wide array of topics, can t be summarized in a short reviewand I won t try I d just strongly encourage anyone interested in the topic of human advancement to read the book themselves It s exceptionally well written, has loads of fascinating information, and against all odds is VERY funny The author has a great sense of humor and includes lots of humorous quips and examples throughout the book.Just for fun, I ll mention a few things in the book that I found particularly memorable.One of the most important human discoveries occurred when some cavewoman or man banging a couple of rocks together accidently produced a shard with a sharp edge.the first knife This helped early humans, who were mostly vegetarians, expand their diet to includemeat It made a good weapon as well In any case, these sharpened rocks apparently helped us get muchclever.I was surprised to learn that Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the laws of motion, wasn t a nice guy at all He worked constantly, shunned human interaction, and was very vengeful toward people who disagreed with him or criticized his research If someone angered Newton he would write lots of nasty letters and viciously criticize them in scientific journals You wouldn t want to get on the wrong side of this genius Charles Darwin, who at the age of 22 bravely undertook his extensive voyage on the Beagle, was a physical wreck by the age of 30 Poor Darwin was so sick that he sometimes couldn t work for months at a time The biologist visited many doctors and tried innumerable remedies, but nothing helped My own theory is that Darwin picked up a parasite on his trip Still Darwin married and had lots of children He also carried on through the pain for many years to develop his theory of evolution Yay The book s author, Leonard Mlodinow, specializes in theoretical physics but had to learn some applied physics as well For one such class young Mlodinow had to build a radio from scratch As the author describes it, the radio only got one unpopular station and only worked when he held it upside down and shook it Ha ha ha Leonard MlodinowI completely enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in science You can follow my reviews at This is an engaging book by an excellent author I ve read a few of his books and they have all been excellent This book is sort of a history of science Not a complete history there is no attempt to make it comprehensive.The book covers physics, chemistry, biology, and quantum mechanics It is filled with anecdotes and interesting stories that help make the scientists come alive The book is also about Mlodinow s father, a holocaust survivor When his father was in a concentration camp, he ha This is an engaging book by an excellent author I ve read a few of his books and they have all been excellent This book is sort of a history of science Not a complete history there is no attempt to make it comprehensive.The book covers physics, chemistry, biology, and quantum mechanics It is filled with anecdotes and interesting stories that help make the scientists come alive The book is also about Mlodinow s father, a holocaust survivor When his father was in a concentration camp, he had conversations with another prisoner, a mathematician The mathematician gave Mlodinow s father puzzles to solve He couldn t solve one puzzle, so he asked the mathematician for the answer But in return for the solution to the puzzle, the mathematician demanded a crust of bread the daily ration in a place where prisoners were starving to death And Mlodinow s father gave his bread in return for the solution, a tribute to man s curiosity and thirst for knowledge I listened to this book as an audiobook, narrated by the author Unfortunately, Mlodinow reads his book in a stilted manner it would have been better if a professional actor had read it Upright Thinkers by Leonard Moldinow is in part, an attempt to explain the history of science to his father, a holocaust survivor with a 7th grade education see page 1.Moldinow is particularly good at explaining science in a way that is fun and engaging.He s essentially writing to his beloved father He s making it so his dad could get it Not in a condescending way Not at all Moldinow s writing is smart and he clearly relates to his audience as if we re smart too But just perhaps lacking t Upright Thinkers by Leonard Moldinow is in part, an attempt to explain the history of science to his father, a holocaust survivor with a 7th grade education see page 1.Moldinow is particularly good at explaining science in a way that is fun and engaging.He s essentially writing to his beloved father He s making it so his dad could get it Not in a condescending way Not at all Moldinow s writing is smart and he clearly relates to his audience as if we re smart too But just perhaps lacking the rich education a professional scientist gets as part of their training So that s what this book is He s making the world of science accessible to an ordinary audience And it s a wonderful thing.The book begins with a story of Moldinow s father in a Nazi concentration camp Apparently his father was approached by a fellow inmate, an accomplished mathematician, and given a mathematical riddle to solve.Moldinow s father labored over the riddle for days but couldn t solve it He finally resorted to bribing the mathematician for the answer with a crust of bread a days food ration.The mathematician accepted the food a total dick move in exchange for the answer to the riddle which incidentally was Pi.Considering that Moldinow s father was quite literally starving to death, the willingness to trade food for knowledge speaks volumes about what actually motivates us humans The anecdote also foreshadows the subtext of the book That great scientists can be total dicks, or at least eccentric and ballsy enough to ask questions that others just don t or simply won t.Upright Thinkers tracks the history of science, reaching all the way back to our pre human ancestry After we meet Aristotle in Ancient Greece, the story subdivides into brief histories of early physics, chemistry, biology and quantum mechanics.The story of each sub field is told via biographical vignettes of some of theprominent characters who contributed to each sub field Incidentally, they tend to be total dicks with some notable exceptions Moldinow puts it nicely when he says we tend to shun people who do not blend well with others But it is those who are different who often see what others do not.And that s pretty much what the book is about It s the story of science, and the eccentric, oftentimes course people who advanced it.Physics Moldinow breezes through the history of physics, from Pythagoras to Aristotle, Copernicus And the to the set up with Galileo, and finally to the spike with Isaac Newton who was a total dick.Newton was a total outcast nerd, and a total dick to boot He worked almost exclusively in solitude Apparently he had invented the calculus and it was just sitting in his papers One day one of his bros, sir Edmond Haley of Haley s comet fame asked him about a problem he was having understanding the orbit of planets, and Newton said oh yeah, I already solved that one, it s in my desk somewhere, I ll have to dig it up And like four months later Haley gets a letter in the mail, and not only did it explain the orbit of planets in perfect mathematical detail, but it was an entirely new form of mathematics that could be used to understand motion and changegenerally i.e a little piece of intellectual property called the Calculus you may have heard of it.So Haley shits his pants and says hey Newton, can I publish this And Newton shot back that he needed to make a few corrections, and the result was the three volume Philosophi Naturalis Principia Mathematica Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy or simply The Principia for short.The Principia states Newton s laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics, also Newton s law of universal gravitation, and a derivation of Kepler s laws of planetary motion.Basically, The Principia rocked the scientific establishment from the basement to the attic Pincipia was so fucking good that Newton s bitter and I mean BITTER arch rival Robert Hooke called it the most important discovery in nature since the world s creation.That s like Fox News admitting that Barak Obama was the single greatest man in human history.That s how utterly overwhelmingly fucking good Principia was.Newton s laws remained the fundamental organizing principals of physics until Einstein dropped Special Relativity over 250 years later Butlike when Heisenberg dropped his uncertainty principle a little after that You get the picture Newton s shit was dominant for like over two and a half centuries.For those aware of the halflife of most scientific truths , that is for all intents and proposes an eternity.Chemistry Moldinow begins his history of chemistry with a brief tour of alchemy, then on to Paracelsus who was a total dick too.Paracelsus Born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, was a Swiss German Renaissance doctor, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist He took the name Para Celsus because the greatest physician of the time was named Celsus, and Para meaning close to or in this case better than Celsus was his way of saying I m better than Celsus.Ballsy That s like calling your band Better Than Led Zepplin That s hella gangster right Your shit better be really fucking good if your going to call for the ball like that And basically, Paracelsus s shit was really fucking good So the name stuck He invented a bunch of rad stuff but his big deal was that he invented Laudanum, a tincture of opium i.e morphine.That s right, Paracelsus invented smack and the Junky in one foul swoop Or para smack in this case para meaning not quite as good but close enough.Anyway Laudanum was a HUGE hit no pun intended and basically revolutionized pain management including existential pain management if you catch my drift Anyway, Paracelsus was also known as a revolutionary for insisting upon observing nature via experiments and shit rather than just looking to ancient Galenic texts This made him a fuck ton of enemies in the conservative establishment and he caught hella shit for his progressive beliefs Thepush back he got, thestubborn and independent dickish he became Until his name essentially became synonymous with progressive reform righteous dickishness.But Paracelsus wasn t the real father of modern chemistry, another total dick was.Dmitri Mendeleev He was writing a text book on chemistry, and he wanted to make it really really good So he was trying to figure out how to arrange the chapters But that lead to afundamental question of how to arrange chemicals in general This problem bugged the shit out of him So he just kept fucking around with the arrangement of the known chemicals of his day, and he pretty much stumbled upon arranging them by atomic weight.He knew he was on to something, but there were these huge gaps in the matrix that made the whole table look fucked up and wrong But he was such a dick that he insisted that these were undiscovered chemical elements He even predicted what the missing elements would weigh and what they would look like And he turned out to be right Wow Some other dude discovered one of the missing elements but it was a different atomic weight than Mendeleev had predicted So Mendeleev wrote the guy an angry missive demanding that he redo his analysis, so the guy did just to shut Mendeleev up, and Mendeleev turned out to be right FUCK That s fucking AWESOME right The periodic table became the organizing principal of chemistry Still is..Word Biology Moldinow somewhat apologetically explains that biology lagged behind the other sciences because for biology to grow as a science it had to overcome the natural human tendencies to feel that we are special and that deities and or magic govern the world.So true As it turns out, the real dicks in this case were not the biologists, but the naysayers e.g the theologians, clergy and the old school scholars etc Anyway The obvious Newton or Mendeleev of biology is Charles Darwin His theory of Evolution via Natural Selection is like Newtons laws, and Mendeleev s periodic table the organizing principal of biology and now, increasingly psychology, which is in my humble opinion, simply a sub discipline of biology any way.While Darwin wasn t quite a dick, in fact, he was supposed to be pretty fuckin cool, he did almost do a total dick thing to this guy Wallis who almost scooped Darwin with the theory Anyway, they talked it out and Wallis conceded the theory to Darwin and they actually agreed to share the credit and Darwin got all the credit but they were still friends Not really that dickish I guess biologists tend to be pretty nice guys Apparently biology didn t produce its first authentic total dick till Richard Dawkins, but he s not really mentioned in the book Quantum Mechanics Okay Not everyone in science is a dick or an eccentric According to Moldinow, there are plenty of ordinary people asking ordinary questions, and most of them will do just fine But the most successful researchers are often the ones who ask the odd questions For their trouble, they will be considered crazy until the time comes when they re considered geniuses.Certainly the post classical physics era is defined by these oddball types Max Plank and Albert Einstein come to mind But the book focuses on Niels Bohr who was muchof an eccentric thinker than a dick.Bohr Discovered the structure of the atom, which turned out to be much weirder than anyone has previously thought, and completely outside of Newtonian conventions Based on his discoveries of atomic structure, he reworked Mendeleev s periodic table of elements from ordering by atomic weight to ordering by atomic number Based on his new system, in the tradition on Mendeleev, Bohr predicted the existence of yetundiscovered elements, and also discovered that Mendeleev had been wrong about a couple of his calculations of elements Bohr got Mendeleev at his own game Zing In 2015 It s easy to be flip about all of this quantum stuff, but if you think about it The concepts and mathematics of all of this are extremely difficult to learn, even after it s all been figured out and laid out in a textbook, with an instructor telling you how to do it, not to mention with calculators, computers, and the internet, and YouTube and all of that stuff.The dudes who discovered this shit did it from scratch, with fucking pencils and paper and some shitty experiments.It s really astounding.No wonder pretty much only extreme characters make the cut That s obviously what it takes to do this kind of work Heisenberg It s not that Heisenberg had a particularly off center character But the man conceived of an entirely unintuitive, entirely novel conception of reality And it turned out to be spot on Actually true Think about that for a second.If you don t think that s boss, tell me.What the fuck have you done I think my personal greatest invention was the word lezbro It is a name for guys who befriend and generally prefer the company of lesbians Nearly 10 years after it s inception, It has been mentioned on Ellen Degeneres s web sight, and I think you can google it.Can I prove that I invented the word No So that s my contribution to society.Anyway Heisenberg pretty much discovered a strange, new, complexly alien, sub atomic world Using math Before he was 30 Heisenberg s thing was so way the fuck out, that even Einstein was like fuck it I can t deal with this And he pretty much never recovered He basically quit working at the cutting edge of physics from that moment on Heisenberg s work transformed Einstein into an old fart Like poof But Heisenberg s thing was right It was so right that it blew Newton s thing into the basement It was a radical new frontier.Drop the mic..errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.Butimportantly, was Heisenberg a dick The answer is, kind of, yes.He was at least a Nazi tolerator, if not supporter, if not the full blown real deal.But he rocked a pencil, and the iPhone that I m writing this on is a direct result of his work.In Conclusion This was an intensely pleasurable summer read I highly recommend it And I highly recommend all of Moldinow s other books There all great fun You can t go wrong with this guy Get it Read it You ll love it.

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