(2001) John L Casti, Abacus, £9.99, pbk, 324pp, ISBN 0-349-11133-2
A decade can be a long time in science and this is why Casti has followed his 1989 release Paradigms Lost with this volume. Both books look at the (relative) current states of science by focussing on six of the "big" questions: How did life on Earth arise?, Does nature or nurture determine behaviour?, Is language an innate property of the brain?, Can AI be created?, Does intelligent extraterrestrial life exist?, and Does 'reality' exist independent of an observer? In the case of each question Casti presents a 'court case' with arguments from the prosecution and defense scientists in the respectively relevant communities. Certain conclusions were reached by Casti (in the role of jury member) in the earlier book, and the arguments in this volume take the form of an 'appeal' against the earlier verdict. The pleasure in this approach is that you too can be a jury member, and need not agree with Casti's conclusions (and I see no reason to impose my own prejudices on you either), and that he presents both sides of the arguments clearly and fairly. My only caveat would be that, no matter how lucid Casti's style, you will probably need a better-than-O-level (junior high school) science education to fully comprehend the arguments – certainly in the final 'reality' section of the book. As is usual (and desirable) with this type of book, there is an extensive reading list for each topic, so that really clever bods can look into each subject further. Over all I think the 'average' reader (whatever that is) might get a little lost, but could still find much of interest here, and that the intelligent (ie. well-educated, well-read) reader will have no difficulties. I don't mean that in any condescending way – after all, even scientists reading outside of their own disciplines can sometimes get lost – I just don't want readers to be disappointed by buying a book beyond their capabilities to read. Only you can decide that. But if you think you can handle it (A-level students, undergrads and upwards), then I thoroughly recommend this book.
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