Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The (true) Origins of "Christmas"

From Santa Clause to Christmas Cards, this programme traces our modern Yuletide traditions back to their earliest roots in Roman celebrations and pagan rituals.

An excellent documentary showing that christmas has very little to do with christianity.

The majority of the holiday customs (and the holiday itself) come from pagan origins which have been co-opted by christianity.


Monday, 22 November 2010

Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language

Why is it that among all the primates, only humans have language? According to Professor Robin Dunbar's new book, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, humans gossip because we don't groom each other. Dunbar builds his argument in a lively discussion that touches on such varied topics as the behavior of gelada baboons, Darwin's theory of evolution, computer-generated poetry, and the significance of brain size. He begins with the social organization of the great apes. These animals live in small groups and maintain social cohesion through almost constant grooming activities. Grooming is a way to forge alliances, establish hierarchy, offer comfort, or make apology. Once a population expands beyond a certain number, however, it becomes impossible for each member to maintain constant physical contact with every other member of the group. Considering the large groups in which human beings have found it necessary to live, Dunbar posits that we developed language as a substitute for physical intimacy.

Whether or not you accept Dunbar's premise, his book is worth reading, if only for its animated prose and wealth of scientific information. An obvious choice for science buffs, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language is a wonderful book for anyone with an inquiring mind and an interest in what makes the world go round


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bertrand Russell - Religion and Science - Audiobook

Bertrand Russell--agnostic, pacifist, great humanitarian, and Nobel Prize laureate--reviews in this volume the conflict between science and traditional religion during the last four centuries, and attempts to estimate the influence of present-day science upon present-day theology.


Secret Origins of the Bible

From one of the authors of Skeptic Magazine

This book demonstrates that the stories and themes of the Bible were part of the great mythic systems of the ancient world by u sing comparative mythology, tell tale verses in the Bible and archaeology. The abstract God of modern monotheistic Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a comparatively recent creation. In later times the myth of a messianic deliverer was combined with that of the pagan god-man who suffered a horrible, excruciating death but was physically resurrected to produce the Christ myth
. Amazon


BBC – Hawking (2004)

The story of Professor Stephen Hawking’s early years is told for the first time in a major drama for BBC Two.

It is 1963, and our young cosmologist celebrates his 21st birthday. At the party is a new friend, Jane Wilde – there is a strong attraction between the two. Jane is intrigued by Stephen’s talk of stars and the Universe. But she realises that there is something very wrong when Stephen suddenly finds that he is unable to stand up.

Hawking stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Stephen Hawking who, as a bright and ambitious 21-year-old PhD student at Cambridge University, is diagnosed with the debilitating motor neurone disease and given two years to live. Against the odds, he goes on to achieve scientific success and worldwide acclaim, in particular with his best-selling book A Brief History Of Time.

PASS: Atilla82

Volcanoes: Global Perspectives

Volcanoes are a vital presence in our world, and play a key role in maintaining the human eco-environment through soil enrichment and atmospheric inputs. They are also hazardous features, whose eruptions have not only killed many hundreds of thousands of people in recorded history, but have also greatly influenced both the development of human culture and the evolution of human species. Volcanoes commonly form beautiful landscapes, and form the principal features of national parks all over the world, serving as magnets that attract millions of visitors each year. Hundreds of millions of other people live on or in the shadows of active volcanoes. Most of these people have only a shallow, passing interest in the volcanoes they see, but there is a certain large, enthusiastic cohort of these people whose fascination with volcanoes leads them to travel to see volcanoes close-up, and to seek authoritative volcanological information.
Four color throughout with many superb color photographs

Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong

"One of the hottest new topics in intellectual life: the psychology and biology of morals...full of fascinating new material." -- Steven Pinker

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard University psychologist, wants to do for morality what Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Noam Chomsky did for language—he wants to discover the universal "moral grammar." Chomsky suggested that humans are born with a "universal grammar," a cognitive capacity that helps us acquire language and shapes the way we apply language rules. Hauser thinks our moral grammar works the same way, helping us isolate moral lessons from our culture and make judgments about right and wrong. In Moral Minds, Hauser reviews what we already know about innate human faculties—for instance, that even infants seem to understand that people and animals have intentions, whereas inanimate objects do not. And he presents evidence that our universal morality is probably based on rules about fairness, proportionality and reciprocity, among other things. The material is captivating and ranges from philosophy to anthropology to psychology, including some of Hauser’s own original work. Scientific American


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

From Dust To Stars: Studies of the Formation and Early Evolution of Stars

Studies of stellar formation in galaxies have a profound impact on our understanding of the present and the early universe. The book describes complex physical processes involved in the creation of stars and during their young lives. It illustrates how these processes reveal themselves from radio wavelengths to high energy X-rays and gamma -rays, with special reference towards high energy signatures. Several sections devoted to key analysis techniques demonstrate how modern research in this field is pursued. 


Monday, 8 November 2010

The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

We all know Darwin's theory of evolution—natural selection favors some adaptations over others. But where do new adaptations come from? This problem baffled Darwin and is the main point of attack for opponents of evolution. Kirschner and Gerhart, professor at Harvard and UC-Berkeley, respectively, present their solution to the problem and take a few timely shots at the advocates of intelligent design. The key to understanding the development of complex structures, they say, is seeing that body parts as seemingly different as eyes and elbows are formed from the same basic molecular mechanisms. Thus, the authors propose, the metabolic building blocks of life functions can be rearranged and linked in novel ways with less chance of fatal variations than random mutation of DNA would allow.


How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn

The third and second centuries BC witnessed, in the Greek world, a scientific and technological explosion. Greek culture had reached great heights in art, literature and philosophy already in the earlier classical era, but it was in the age of Archimedes and Euclid that science as we know it was born, and gave rise to sophisticated technology that would not be seen again until the 18th century. This scientific revolution was also accompanied by great changes and a new kind of awareness in many other fields, including art and medicine.
What were the landmarks in the meteoric rise of science 2300 years ago? Why are they so little known today, even among scientists, classicists and historians? How do they relate to the post-1500 science that we are familiar with from school? What led to the end of ancient science? These are the questions that this book discusses, in the belief that the answers bear on choices we face today.

Einstein's Enigma or Black Holes in My Bubble Bath

Einstein's Enigma or Black Holes in My Bubble Bath is a humourous and informal rendition of the story of gravitation theory from the early historic origins to the latest developments in astrophysics, focusing on Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity and black-hole physics. Through engaging conversations and napkin-scribbled diagrams come tumbling the rudiments of relativity, spacetime and much of modern physics, narrated with high didactic and literary talent, and each embedded in casual lessons given by a worldly astrophysicist to his friend. Join the intellectual fun and exalt in the frothy ideas while vicariously taking relaxing baths in this magical bathtub.


Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction

How much would you pay for a gallon of gas? $4.00? $10.00? Would you pay with the health of your lungs or with years taken from your lifespan?
The infamous "pain at the pump" runs much deeper than our wallets, argues Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and current Special Advisor to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Petroleum may power our cars and heat our homes, but it also contributes to birth defects and disorders like asthma and emphysema, not to mention cancer.

In Lives Per Gallon, Tamminen takes a hard look at these and other health, environmental, and national security costs hidden in every barrel of oil.
While the petroleum industry is raking in huge profits, Tamminen shows, it is studiously avoiding measures that would lessen the hazards of its products. Using the successful lawsuits by state governments against big tobacco as a model, the author sets forth a bold strategy to hold oil and auto companies accountable and force industry reform. He also offers a blueprint for developing alternative energy sources based on California's real world experiences.

Certain to be controversial, Lives Per Gallon is an unblinking assessment of the true price of petroleum and a prescription for change. The choice is clear: continuing paying with our health, or kick our addiction and evolve beyond an oil-dependent economy.


Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Recent discoveries in astronomy, especially those made with data collected by satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, have revolutionized the science of cosmology. These new observations offer the possibility that some long-standing mysteries in cosmology might be answered, including such fundamental questions as the ultimate fate of the universe. Foundations of modern cosmology provides an accessible, thorough and descriptive introduction to the physical basis for modern cosmological theory, from the big bang to a distant future dominated by dark energy.


The Faith Factor: How Religion Influences American Elections

Covering three areas of religion that tend to influence election outcomes, Green illuminates the meaning of religious belonging, behaving, and believing in current political context. Each of these aspects of religion affects the way people vote and their views of issues, ideology, and partisanship. He reviews the importance of "moral values" in the major party coalitions and discusses the role religious appeals have in presidential campaigns. In addition, he compares the influence of religion to other factors such as gender, age, and income. Given the emphasis on the influence of religion on American politics and elections in recent years, this book serves as a cogent reminder that the situation is not new, and offers a careful analysis of the real role faith plays in the electing of government officials.