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Harriet Nolan: on 8/2/19 at 8:56am UTC, wrote It is challenging to select only one book, but last year, I was fascinated...

Edwin Knox: on 11/14/18 at 12:37pm UTC, wrote The genuine Earth had a genuine VISIBLE surface for many years previously...

situs online: on 11/1/18 at 10:04am UTC, wrote On the podcast, Hooper chats about his hunt for the intangible roots of...

Căn hộ cao cấp: on 11/1/18 at 10:04am UTC, wrote Dear Dr. Zeeya Merali, The realm of supposedly finite quantum particles am...

Julia Agustina: on 10/26/18 at 11:18am UTC, wrote nice and informative article ,nice and best key points thanks for sharing...

Georgina Woodward: on 10/15/18 at 20:19pm UTC, wrote Zeeya, thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I also listened to...

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First Things First: The Physics of Causality
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Untangling the connections between cause and effect, choice, and entropy.

Can Time Be Saved From Physics?
Philosophers, physicists and neuroscientists discuss how our sense of time’s flow might arise through our interactions with external stimuli—despite suggestions from Einstein's relativity that our perception of the passage of time is an illusion.

A devilish new framework of thermodynamics that focuses on how we observe information could help illuminate our understanding of probability and rewrite quantum theory.

Gravity's Residue
An unusual approach to unifying the laws of physics could solve Hawking's black-hole information paradox—and its predicted gravitational "memory effect" could be picked up by LIGO.

Could Mind Forge the Universe?
Objective reality, and the laws of physics themselves, emerge from our observations, according to a new framework that turns what we think of as fundamental on its head.

November 18, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Superhuman: Book Review and Special Podcast [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Sep. 10, 2018 @ 20:48 GMT
Simon and Schuster
In the quantum realm, the act of observing something—a photon, or an electron, say—can disturb or change its properties. In a very real, physical sense, we construct reality just by looking it.

This quantum quirk came to mind while I was reading Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity, by evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper. I learned that biologists can now visualise the physical form of memories in the brain—yes, you should think of the wispy, tendrilous structures that Dumbledore extracts from Harry Potter’s mind, says Hooper—and that the act of remembering degrades the accuracy of our memories each time we try to look back and recall a past event. Hooper also explains that we have evolved a flawed memory as a kind of defence mechanism that allows us to edit out the bad parts of our personal history, subconsciously reconstructing reality to make it more palatable, day by day.

By pointing out this poetic resonance between quantum physics and memory, I do not mean to suggest that we should expect to find that consciousness and intelligence are directly controlled by quantum processes in the brain (although just how these higher-level properties emerge from mindless physical laws are exactly the kinds of issues that FQXi researchers may soon be tackling as part of our Agency in the Physical World program). In fact, Hooper, who joins me on a special edition of the podcast, warns against looking for genetic building blocks for complex traits, in an overly simplistic way. But these are just some of the fascinating facts about the workings of our minds and bodies that I pulled from Hooper’s treasure trove of a book, which skilfully combines conversations with some of the most extraordinary people alive with meticulously researched ideas from the frontiers of genetics, in an effort to unpick what makes the best of us excel.

Free Podcast

Superhuman: In this special edition, evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper discusses his new book, which examines the extremes of mental and physical ability. He discusses encounters with some of the world's cleverest people, investigates the role of genetics in intelligence, memory, drive and focus, and describes people whose immense resilience has seen them come through terrible adversity. Hooper also describes lessons we can take from human evolution when programming AI.


Go to full podcast

On the podcast, Hooper chats about his hunt for the intangible roots of intelligence. Is it in our genes? Or our upbringing? He’s chosen some pretty smart people to help him examine these questions: math prodigy and chess grandmaster John Nunn, (double) Booker-prize winning author of the historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel, and Nobel laureate and (appropriately enough) geneticist, Paul Nurse. Hooper quickly dismisses the “bogus” nature-v-nurture conflict often promoted in the media, stating that both undoubtedly play a role in fostering intellectual achievement. Nonetheless, the importance of genetics and innate talent is striking and, in the book, Hooper addresses whether we should feel discomfited, or maybe instead empowered, by this.

Our chat only touches on a handful of the traits that Hooper investigated for the book. Beyond intelligence and memory, Hooper met with polyglots who speak dozens of languages, round-the-world sailor Ellen MacArthur—who was apparently focused on her nautical goal from the tender age of four—and people with exceptional singing and sporting talent. If that’s not enough to make you feel inadequate, Hooper brings us lucid dreamers, who practise language and dart-throwing skills, literally in their sleep.

As well as having been a research biologist, Hooper is a seasoned writer. He is the managing editor at New Scientist, and brings some of the magazine’s trademark lightness of touch to his anecdotes. (When meeting a minimalist who has given up all but 100 material possessions in his quest for happiness, Hooper understandably ponders how many pairs of undergarments he must own. Spoiler alert: two pairs of pants.)

Hooper’s storytelling truly shines towards the end of the book, in its most moving, and most humbling, chapters. While we admire many of the people he meets in earlier chapters for the drive and focus that motivated them to pursue excellence from a young age, others had greatness thrust upon them later in life, when they met with profound misfortune. Here we meet survivors of horrific physical assault, war injuries, and diseases that left them near-death. In one of his most mind-blowing encounters, Hooper visits a woman with locked-in syndrome—almost entirely paralysed by a stroke and able to communicate only through eye movements—who earned two degrees following her paralysis, and reports being happier now than before the stroke.

It’s these personal tales of hope and resilience that stay with you long after you finish the book, inviting you to reassess life: What really makes us happy? What hidden strengths might we tap in to, at times of adversity? How can we reconstruct our realities to write the best stories for our lives—harnessing our own superhuman abilities?

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Anonymous wrote on Sep. 11, 2018 @ 14:36 GMT
Dear Dr. Zeeya Merali,

The realm of supposedly finite quantum particles am invisible and cannot physically be OBSERVED. The real Earth had a real VISIBLE surface for millions of real years before any real theoretical physicists ever appeared on that real VISIBLE surface and began publishing their unnatural silly guesswork concerning the supposed finite behavior of invisible quantum particles and finite invisible black holes.

It logically means that NATURE must have devised the only real VISIBLE physical structure of the real Universe allowable. There must have only ever been one unified VISIBLE infinite surface ETERNALLY occurring in one infinite dimension that am always mostly illuminated by finite non-surface light.

Humans have NEVER constructed any reality. The only thing theoretical physicists have ever constructed was to publish pretentious codswallop for lots of money.

Thank you for answering my emails.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Anonymous wrote on Sep. 14, 2018 @ 14:20 GMT
Dear Fans,

Yesterday's Closer to Truth Facebook page contained this ridiculous statement:

“The 'Cosmic inflation' hypothesis is a leading theory of the birth of the universe, yet it lacks any definitive proof. Is there a way that the cosmic inflation hypothesis could be tested entirely? A new paper titled, “Unique Fingers of Alternatives to Inflation in the Primordial Power Spectrum” suggests a way of putting the cosmic inflation theory to the test. Closer To Truth contributor Abraham 'Avi' Loeb is one of the authors of the paper!”

Provable fact: The real Earth had a real VISIBLE surface for millions of years before Professor Avi Loeb ever appeared on that real VISIBLE surface and began publishing his utterly unnatural silly guesswork about the abstract invisible big bang commencement of an imaginary universe.

It logically follows that NATURE must have devised the only physical structure of the real Universe allowable.

There must only ever have been one unified infinite VISIBLE surface ETERNALLY occurring in one infinite dimension that am always mostly illuminated by finite non-surface light.

Keep rooting for me,

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Oct. 15, 2018 @ 20:19 GMT
Zeeya, thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I also listened to the podcast interview. It sounds really interesting and inspiring. Some good questions at the end of the blog.

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Harriet Nolan wrote on Aug. 2, 2019 @ 08:56 GMT
It is challenging to select only one book, but last year, I was fascinated by the Shantaram (by Gregory David Roberts). With all my love of reading, I recently used because I could never clearly describe these main ideas of the book. Especially if the theme for the composition sounds like "To Kill a Mockingbird by Boo Radley, struggle with society" there is a desire only to use the base of the essay and maybe even ignore the book. Although in childhood, this book, in some sense, turned my world around and positively changed the point of view on some things.

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