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Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future (Sciencewriters) [Paperback]

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Item description for Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future (Sciencewriters) by Dorion Sagan...

In a thought-provoking, humorous, and engaging style, Dorion Sagan combines philosophy, science, and an understanding of illusion to probe the deep questions of existence.

Operating on the precept that the universe is far weirder than we might imagine, Sagan--- son of acclaimed scientists Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis---uses his knowledge of philosophy, science, sleight-of-hand magic, and the fantastical writings of Philip K. Dick to explore some of the deepest questions we face on Earth. He provides fresh insights as to why we are here, the nature of technology, the prognosis for humanity, the living nature of our planet, and a reasoned explanation to why our universe is probably just one of an infinite number.

Sagan also provides answers to twelve pressing questions:

  • Why does life exist?

  • Why do we drink water?

  • Can we save the Earth from global warming?

  • Are human beings central and special?

  • Is it possible that we've arisen by pure chance?

  • Is the Earth an organism?

  • Are we part of its exo-brain?

  • If it is alive, can it reproduce?

  • Can the universe?

  • What does the future hold in store for us?

  • Does God exist? What is the nature of ultimate reality?

  • Notes from the Holocene is a prime example of the writing coming from a new generation of scientific writers. It will inspire readers to think for themselves while leaving them chuckling with tongue-in-cheek anecdotes---a rare combination that Sagan delivers with ease. And yes, as geneticist J.B.S. Haldane says, "the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine."

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    Item Specifications...

    Pages   226
    Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5.75" Height: 8.75"
    Weight:   0.55 lbs.
    Binding  Softcover
    Release Date   Sep 27, 2007
    Publisher   Chelsea Green Publishing
    ISBN  1933392320  
    ISBN13  9781933392325  

    Availability  0 units.

    More About Dorion Sagan

    Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Eric D. Schneider served as senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of the National Marine Water Quality Laboratory of the Environmental Protection Agency. His work on thermodynamics--a topic he has pursued for more than twenty years--has been widely anthologized and cited. Dorion Sagan is coauthor of "Acquiring Genomes" and "Up from Dragons," Called an "unmissable modern master" of science writing by "New Scientist," Sagan has written for the "New York Times," "Natural History," and "Wired," among other publications.

    Dorion Sagan was born in 1959.

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    Product Categories

    1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Sciences > Biological Sciences > Ecology
    2Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Biological Sciences > Ecology
    3Books > Subjects > Science > General
    4Books > Subjects > Science > History & Philosophy > Science

    Reviews - What do customers think about Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future (Sciencewriters)?

    A World Stranger Than We Can Imagine  Jul 2, 2008
    I bought this book in the University of California at Berkeley book store and read the last half of it while flying back to El Paso, Texas. It was well worth the price of admission! Dorian Sagan is an interesting and stimulating thinker. In "Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History History of the Future" he often argues, or at least introduces, both sides of an argument. In this he is quite superior to writers of straight polemics. He makes few pronouncements, but invites the reader to take part in the discussion as an equal. This does not mean that he lacks an opinion. It just means that he knows that his opinion could change, based on new evidence, and so has not invested his ego into absolute statements of "facts," when there is uncertainty. By the time you finish reading the book you are convinced however of the basic weirdness of the universe and of the planet earth in particular, and of the fragile state of human existence.

    This book is a treat for those who think about such issues as the existence of a creator, the effects of human-induced global warming, the possibility of a living planet, the Anthropic Principle, the tragedy of the commons and other stimulating questions. While Sagan does not solve most of these (this is not his purpose in any case), he certainly gives the reader something to ponder. I highly recommend this book for those who would plumb the depths of such perennial questions. You may not always like Sagan's take on these issues, but he will make you see many questions from a new and often surprising perspective.
    Notes From the Holocene  Mar 10, 2008
    NOTES FROM THE HOLOCENE: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE BY DORION SAGAN: Dorion Sagan, son of the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan, attempts to outline our possible future in his latest book now in paperback, Notes From the Holocene. Sagan uses every informational tool possible, not just drawing from the sciences of physics and evolutionary biology, but also from "science fiction, knowledge of magic tricks, and even a little metaphysics to speculate on basics questions of who and what we are in relationship to the Earth and the universe." It is a book that at times seems almost silly in its thoughts, drawing from ideas that are certainly not facts, and yet when viewed as a whole is comprehensive of the way things are and what they might turn out to be. As humans, we are always asking the "Why are we here?" question, sometimes with our own answers in mind. Notes From the Holocene is Dorion Sagan's answer to this question and many more.

    The book is split into four distinct parts: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Each section goes into immense detail about these specific components, educating the reader greatly in these areas, but at the same time, Sagan ties each part significantly to the overall idea of the book. The afterword, "Twelve Mysteries," does an excellent job of quickly summing up his answers to the questions posed throughout the book. The twelve questions are:

    Why does life exist?
    Why do we drink water?
    Can we save the earth from global warming?
    Are human beings central and special?
    Is it possible that we've arisen by pure chance?
    Is the Earth an organism?
    Are we part of its exobrain?
    If Earth is alive, can it reproduce?
    Can the universe?
    What does the future hold in store for us?
    Does God exist?
    What is the nature of human reality?

    Whether you're an absolute scientist, a fundamentalist, or one who believes in reading the future in tea leaves, there is something for everyone in this book. The key is that Sagan is open minded and non-judgmental in every regard, saying that nothing is right or wrong, for nothing is certain, but here are all the possibilities. Notes From the Holocene is a book that may not have your answer to life's questions, but it may get you thinking more about these questions, and start you on a journey with a destination where you will have your own satisfactory answers to these great questions.
    Clue to the New Direction  Dec 18, 2007
    Holocene is a sophisticated, energized, literary-scientific essay in geoecology that is also a very enjoyable read. The breadth, depth and seriousness of Dorion Sagan's scholarship is unexpectedly punctuated every couple of pages with his captivating dry wit. At times I imagined portions as a script for a standup comedy act - perhaps combined with a few magic routines - Dorion being among other things a professional magician. If this book were to be developed into a Holocene television series paralleling his father's Cosmos, it would be equally eloquent; yet enhanced with a touch of science fiction vaudeville. StarTrek's Data might costar.

    The inclusion of numerous references to science fiction (cf Robert Dick) reflects the essay's dual polemic - as much an exploration as an update of current thinking. Unlike classical mechanical science that tends to see the future as pre-determined by universal laws of necessary causal connection, the science fiction mind is that of the engineer, a participant in the universe, who wants to know, not what must be, but what could be. And it is through this portal that Dorion connects us to literature and philosophy. The breadth of the scientific examination is inspiring, covering the billion of years of Gaia's evolution partitioned into the viewpoints founded on what has been recognized since ancient times as the four thermodynamic phases - earth, water, air and fire.

    The central theme of Holocene is best understood as a probing response to the question - Where is geoecology leading us? It is both a statement and broadening of the inquiry.

    Although understated, there is a palpable sense that we are involved in an historic intellectual transition. Darwin looked at Nature and saw a Malthusian competition of all against all. Vernadsky looked at the same Nature and saw a diverse and highly organized community equally as cooperative as competitive. Many of us recall the experience when first introduced to the Darwinian theory of wondering 'if it is competitive, and obviously humans are the winners, then what are all these other life forms doing still hanging around'. Richard Dawkins modernized the competitive metaphor, in his book The Selfish Gene. The natural expectation of the Darwinian tradition is for there to be only one winning species. The overwhelming evidence against this has been handled by introducing what philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn referred to as 'auxiliary hypotheses' - plausible exception clauses. But modern ecology, epitomized in Vernadsky's 'biosphere', sees an organizational structure completely unexplained by The Darwinian Research Program. James Lovelock's ecological research program captured in his Gaia Hypothesis serves as the modern counterpoint and prospective successor to Dawkins and the dwindling Neo-Darwinian research program.

    The depth of the intellectual transition was pointed out by Sagan in his previous book, with Eric Schneider, Into The Cool. And it is here even more explicit in the Earth, Water, Air and Fire partitioning of the presentation. Mechanics, the cornerstone of modern science, doesn't handle the full breadth and significance of thermodynamics. The argument that irreversible processes are 'really' reversible processes, has been hanging uncomfortably in the intellectual air of the science community - 'magically suspended' - supported by increasingly implausible 'auxiliary hypotheses'.

    Sagan reviews complexity, chaos and self-organization, the most recent attempts in the 20th century to make sense of irreversible processes, which remain unaccounted for in the physicists representation of thermodynamics as reversible.

    Thermodynamics is a natural component of the cluster of concepts associated with modern ecology. But this is thermodynamics more in the Carnot tradition - the engineering tradition - than in the Maxwell/Boltzmann tradition. Awareness of the connection to engineering is welling up slowly. Peter Atkins, in his book, The Second Law (page 7), points out, honestly if unexpectedly that: "The aims adopted and the attitudes struck by Carnot and Boltzmann epitomize thermodynamics. Carnot traveled toward thermodynamics from the direction of the engine, then the symbol of industrial society: his aim was to improve its efficiency. Boltzmann traveled to thermodynamics from the atom, the symbol of emerging scientific fundamentalism: his aim was to increase our comprehension of the world at the deepest levels then conceived. Thermodynamics still has both aspects, and reflects complementary aims, attitudes, and applications."

    Sagan more than anyone else in the modern ecological movement sees - or perhaps, more accurately, senses - the engineering perspective and, most insightfully, its connection to Enlightenment thinking. Both Lazere and Sadi Carnot were early graduates of the first engineering university, France's Ecole Polytechnique - and deeply involved in the French Revolution. The same natural philosophy was at the heart of the American Revolution where the concept 'evolutionary progress' was taken for granted. Thomas Jefferson's repeated themes combined faith in the 'useful sciences' (viz engineering) and the laws of nature with ideals of freedom, beauty and progress. None of this makes sense in the framework defined by the Darwinian program - as it remains tethered to time-reversible mechanics.

    In the first half of the 20th century, American Pragmatist, John Dewey, clarified the distinct conceptual clusters associated with the Spectator and Participant approaches to understanding our place in the universe. The Spectator sees the universe as an isolated mechanical system where our inquiry as to the nature of the universe has no consequence in altering the nature of the universe. Dewey points that the Spectator perspective is internally incoherent and self-referentially paradoxical. From the Participant perspective Dewey treats the mechanical sciences as sub-perspectives - special cases that only make sense in the broader context of freedom, beauty and progress.

    It is in the Participant's engineering perspective - defined by the enterprise of problem-solving - that C.P. Snow's separation between the sciences and the humanities disappears. As Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon put it, 'problem solving is trying to move from a given state to a more desired, more valued state'.

    My main criticism of Holocene, as well as the otherwise excellent, Into The Cool, is that Sagan's treatment of thermodynamics is still tied - although with obvious discomfort - to the mechanical metaphor presupposing that the overall organization of the universe is running down. A better guess is that this apparent decline - the so-called 'heat death' - is an artifact of trying to account for real, irreversible change in terms of a reversible mechanical framework. When we accept that the evolution of the biosphere, as well as the evolution of the cosmos, are real phenomena - explanations in terms of time-reversible mechanics simply inadequate.

    Dorion Sagan, the magician, is well aware of the connections between science and magic. Notably up until the last few centuries, engineers who had mastered a technology - most often without any help from science - were often characterized as magicians, performing technological magic. Reverse engineering Nature to discover technological secrets (viz How does Nature do that?) is methodologically identical to trying to discover the secrets of a professional magic trick. I captured this quote during some now forgotten listserv discussion. Apologies to the now anonymous author. "What is astonishing is that when the development of a previously unknown structure is suddenly revealed as the result of new research, the feeling is often that of seeing the secret of a magic trick or illusion revealed. If there is an Intelligent Designer, he/she/it must be one (excuse the vernacular) helluva magician."

    Dorion Sagan's Holocene moves us a step closer to a more magical, enchanting vision of our place in the universe - and to a Participant view of the universe as something like the cosmic engineering enterprise that Plato intimated over 2500 years ago in his dialogue Timaeus.
    The Big Questions  Oct 16, 2007
    If you enjoy philosophy, history of human consciousness, creative speculative thinking and the fine arts of nature as manifest over the past 4,000,000,000 years you will enjoy this book. Notes from the Holocene is both very smart and totally unpretentious. Equally important, for the reader's pleasure, it is at once profound and hilarious.

    Dorian Sagan's "Brief History of the Future" is way pre- and post- postmodern. At times I felt I was on a train to nowhere, lucky enough to be seated near Douglas Adams and Foucault having a heart-felt chat.

    With sleight-of-hand artistry, Sagan deftly deconstructs our trained-incapacities--we see our delusional projections (aka reality) for what they are. While making us feel we are part of the continuity of 4,000 million years of life on this planet, Sagan uncovers our arrogant self-importance and, at the same time, leaves room for wonder. Notes from the Holocene, much the way Shakespeare's Cleopatra does, moves us into re-cognizing the difference(s) between delusion and illusion--between disjunctive destruction (of much of the planet and ourselves) and visionary imagination.

    If you enjoy philosophy, science, evolution of planet Earth, and the ins and out of humans thinking about these things, you'll enjoy this book. If you don't, my hunch is you will enjoy the book anyway. Notes from the Holocene is simply a good read, at he desk with highlighter in hand or at the beach with a glass of wine.
    With wit and wisdom  Oct 6, 2007
    With more than a bit of sardonic Humor, Dorion Sagan, or "D" as I call him answers for us the age old questions that our grandparents didn't know (and probably never thought to ask): is there a god? Is global warming real? Is the earth alive (I think so); what happens to socks in the dryer? All silliness aside, this is a great book to pick up if you are unfamiliar with Sagan's writings. If you are, as I am, it is a great book to pick up to see some of the more complex ideas (Gaia Hypothesis, Daisy world, Second law of thermodynamics for example) explained in simple everyday terms. What this is not is a dull science book (plus it allows us to keep an eye on what D has been up to as of late). Make no mistake, this book will leave you with some questions, to which other Sagan books can answer for you. All in all an interesting read. Part Hitchikers guide part owners manual for the Earthling, a worthy way to spend a rainy Sunday.

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