Origins of Consciousness, and Sustainable Cities: The Books in Brief

Back on earth

Nicole stott Seal (2021)

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott says “you are on the ground” are “the worst and three best words” an astronaut can hear, which means either the astronaut is prohibited from flying or that it has a crucial attribute for success. The words also suggest the down-to-earth purpose of his book: to explain how spaceflight enriches life on Earth. She remembers her own “moment of Earth’s rise” when she first looked out of the space shuttle – the sudden realization that we live on a planet that must be preserved from human destruction.

Feel and know

Antonio Damasio Pantheon (2021)

According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, the origin of consciousness – “the intriguing pirouette that allows the physical body to harbor mental experiences” – is often considered impossible to explain, despite the efforts of brilliant minds ranging from Sigmund Freud to Francis Crick. This intentionally short book for the general reader provides no explanation of consciousness as such, but plenty of thought-provoking elegant prose, including ideas from biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology.

Corrupt cultures

Roy Yorke Calne Global scientist (2021)

Organ transplant pioneer Roy Calne draws on a long career in his brief and straightforward reflection on how to reduce cheating in science. It focuses on three accepted cases of fraud – by dermatologist William Summerlin, biologist Haruko Obokata and surgeon Paolo Macchiarini – involving large institutions. He suggests ways to minimize the misconduct and admits it’s “extremely difficult.” He ends with a piece of advice from the Buddha: “Don’t believe anything, even if I have said so, unless it is in accordance with your own reason and common sense.

Reimagining sustainable cities

Stephen M. Wheeler & Christina D. Rosan Univ. Californian press (2021)

“Go to town / See the fools there. / Like lambs in the slaughterhouse, / They drink water, / And breathe [cough] air! ”sang Tom Lehrer in ‘Pollution’ in 1965. The concept of sustainability was launched in a 1972. Half a century later, drastic changes are still needed, warn urban environmentalists Stephen Wheeler and Christina Rosen in their insightful study of cities today, offering practical, yet challenging, strategies to promote “ecological health, social equity, quality of life, cooperation and compassion.”

Hot and cold media

Nicole starosielski Duke Univ. hurry (2021)

The intense media focus on climate change makes this meditation on the cultural significance of temperature topical. Nicole Starosielski’s background is in media, culture and communication; despite references to science and technology such as thermostats and infrared cameras, she primarily considers the social effects of heat. She cites the story of the Ford Motor Company of outsourcing hot and dangerous jobs at its foundry to black workers, which reinforced racial stereotypes about being fit for certain types of work.

Competing interests

The author declares no competing interests.

Colin L. Johnson