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Ever since we became aware of there being something beyond the confines of our world, we have been fascinated by the idea of aliens. We are compelled by these thoughts of life on other planets, and in an infinite universe, that life is almost certainly out there.

But what form will that life take?

We have no way of knowing the specifics – the universe is too vast and varied for that – but one scientist argues that what we know about our own world can give us some general ideas about the life that may exist on others.

Dr. Arik Kershenbaum’s “The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal about Aliens – and Ourselves” (Penguin Press, $28) is an attempt to use what we understand about the rules of this planet and apply that understanding to the potentialities of alien life. He does so through simple extrapolation, taking into account fundamental laws of nature and spinning them forward into general theories about the life that might be found elsewhere.

Published in Tekk

How much thought have you given to your voice?

Not the way it sounds, mind you. We’re not talking about the words that you might say or the notes that you might sing, but rather the actual voice itself. The physiological and neurological underpinnings of how we as human beings are able to harness its many complexities.

If you’re at all curious, then you desperately need to sit down with John Colapinto’s “This Is the Voice” (Simon & Schuster, $28). It is a deeply researched and incredibly informative plunge into what proves to be a surprisingly robust topic, one that digs into not just the nuts and bolts of how our voice works, but some ideas about WHY it works the way it does.

This unapologetically wonky book is rife with fascinating facts about the origins of human voice, packed with interviews that address the topic from all angles. Through delving into the physical, emotional and cultural connotations of voice, Colapinto illustrates just how vital a part the voice plays in our world – who we were, who we are and who we may yet become.

The fundamental idea that this book explores is a simple, yet far-reaching one. Basically, Colapinto argues that the ability to speak – not just to make sounds, but to SPEAK – has been the key to humankind’s evolutionary journey to the top of the heap. That ability to communicate concisely and flexibly is what truly separated us from the pack and allowed for the many developments that led us to our current status.

And it all started with a song. Kind of.

Published in Style

It’s a reality of life that nothing lasts forever. All things are transient. Everything that begins must eventually end.

And I do mean EVERYTHING.

Even the universe itself will eventually come to an end. Entire fields of study are devoted to beginnings and endings on a cosmic scale, with brilliant scientists spending their professional lives staring out into the universe and deep into the atom in an effort to understand not just how everything works, but how it might eventually stop working.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack’s new book “The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking)” (Scribner, $26) is a smart, surprisingly funny look at some of the ways that cosmologists believe the universe could potentially end. Don’t worry – it probably isn’t taking place anytime soon. Most of these endings won’t happen tomorrow. Probably.

It’s an accessible and engaging work of pop science, one that finds a way to strike a balance between the intricate physics and mathematics that go into these explorations and an easy narrative tonality that allows even those without PhDs to wrap their heads around these big-by-definition ideas. Consider this a crash course in cosmic eschatology, a sort of End Of It All 101. It is informative and entertaining in the way that only the very best science writing can be.

Published in Tekk

Baseball is a game of decisions, both on the field and off it. And when we talk about Major League Baseball, well – there are A LOT of choices that need to be made. Whether we’re talking about in-game strategy or front office maneuvering, the sport is rife with opportunities to make decisions.

But how do we know if they’re the right ones? How do we know if we’re truly making optimal choices or if we’re being guided (or misguided) by subconscious belief systems and biases of which we may not even be fully aware?

Answers to those questions are among the many things that Keith Law is delving into with his new book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s an effort to make accessible the behavioral science behind the inherent biases that can impact our decisions, baseball or otherwise.

By walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport – a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game.

Published in Sports

At first glance, the disciplines of science and philosophy would seem to be mostly distinct. To put it simply, science is about considering how the world works, while philosophy is about considering why the world works the way it does. Again, an oversimplified explanation, but close enough.

What the two share, however, is that deep-seated desire to unpack the secrets of the universe. And in some cases, the line of demarcation can become considerably more difficult to find.

In “The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way” (Doubleday, $26.95), author David Lindley posits that in the bleeding edge world of theoretical physics, that line is all but erased. He walks the reader through a quick-hit history of science and how our conception of what “science” even is has evolved from the philosophical beginnings of the Greeks, growing into something observationally and experimentally based over the centuries, only to relatively recently push so far into the theoretical realm as to circle back round to its thought-driven underpinnings.

That might sound a bit heavy, but Lindley has a real gift for narrative; it’s rare for science writing – even pop science aimed at a broad audience – to be this readable and engaging. Lindley pushes us through the history of science via a handful of touchstone figures, giving us a crash course of sorts. From the early work of Galileo up through the pure-math musings of today’s physics giants, we’re along for the ride.

Published in Tekk

BANGOR – One of the most thought-provoking and exciting events on the area’s cultural calendar has arrived once again – it’s time for the Maine Science Festival!

Too often, we think of science as SCIENCE, something far-removed from our personal experience that has little connection with most of our everyday lives. We engage in intellectual projection, allowing ourselves to be intimidated by this notion that science is something far too complex for any but the most specialized among us to truly understand it.

And nothing could be further from the truth.

Science is EVERYWHERE, a fact that is celebrated annually by the Maine Science Festival. This year’s MSF – which marks the event’s sixth year – takes place March 18-22 at locations all over the greater Bangor area. We’re talking dozens upon dozens of events, all intended to bring science to joyful, relatable life – as well as finding those connections to the world we live in every day.

Published in Cover Story

Are we alone in the universe?

Simple math would seem to indicate that we are not; what are the odds that Earth is alone among an infinite number of planets in producing intelligent life? And yet, we have yet to encounter these other intelligences in any verifiable way.

So … where is everyone?

That’s part of the question being tackled by Keith Cooper’s new book “The Contact Paradox: Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). It’s a look at the decades-long history of SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Life – and a deep dive into some of the presuppositions that we as humans have placed on that search. Through conversations with leading experts and long digressions into not just hard science, but fields such as sociology, anthropology and psychology, Cooper considers what it means to want to talk to the stars – and what it might mean were they ever to talk back.

Published in Tekk
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:48

‘Genuine Fakes’ keeps it real

What is real? What is fake? What do those terms even mean? Is there some kind of gray area in between? And what about authenticity? Is that the same thing? Can something be real without being authentic? Or authentic without being real?

That idea of what is real is the central tenet of Lydia Pyne’s new book “Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). Through an exploration of eight different objects that land somewhere in that blurry place between real and fake, Pyne offers readers a chance to consider what the differences might be.

Too often, we allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that there are two choices: real and not-real. But the world is far too complex to be governed by that sort of yes/no binary – authenticity depends on one’s perspective.

What Pyne does with “Genuine Fakes” is offer up examples that point up the malleability of authenticity; what is and is not real isn’t always set in stone. And just because something comes to be through methods different than the norm, does that make it fake? Or just a different kind of real? It’s a legitimately fascinating read, well-researched and packed with detail – the sort of book that will surprise and delight the intellectually curious.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 12:36

‘The Body’ a fantastic voyage

How much do you know about the ways in which your body works?

Most people have at least a rudimentary understanding of some of the basics, but it’s a scant few that possess a truly thorough knowledge about the ins and outs of their assorted systems and the organs that make those systems go.

Don’t worry, though – Bill Bryson is here to help.

Bryson’s newest book is “The Body: A Guide for Occupants” (Doubleday, $30). It’s a thoughtful and thorough trip through the human body, an amiable amble from top to bottom and from the outside in. It’s a well-researched and witty exploration of the immense complexities of the human form.

Published in Tekk

There are plenty of books out there that aim to tell you how to do something. Whether its DIY home repair or computer programming or self-help or what have you, there’s probably a book that purports to tell you how to do it. These books bill themselves as offering straightforward instructions on doing whatever it is you seek to do.

But maybe you’re not looking for straightforward. Maybe the how-tos (hows-to?) you’re looking for are needlessly complicated, convoluted and/or flat-out absurd. And if they’re illustrated with goofy graphs and jokey stick-figure comic strips, so much the better.

If you fall into the latter category, then Randall Munroe’s “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Real-World Problems” (Riverhead, $28) is the book you’ve been waiting for. The NASA-roboticist-turned-beloved-webcomic-artist aims his unique perspective and skill set at coming up with ridiculous and technically correct (the best kind of correct) advice for dealing with an assortment of everyday – and occasionally not-so-everyday – issues.

The blend of smart and simple that has marked Munroe’s work since the earliest days of online comic sensation xkcd is in full effect in this new book; he takes real joy in finding that weird intersection of scientific thought and anarchic absurdity … and that joy is evident on every page of this book. He wants you to laugh and to learn as you look at the workings of the world through his own peculiarly and particularly cracked lens.

Published in Tekk
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