Wisdom: From Philosophy to
Stephen S. Hall
Of all human attributes, wisdom is perhaps the most vaunted. Yet ask someone
to define the trait and the answer will
probably echo the test applied to obscenity in 1964: I know it when I see it.
In his latest book, Hall, a science
writer, attempts to tackle the question
of what defines wisdom and what
science has learned to date about this
elusive characteristic. What results
is a comprehensive and thought-provoking book that examines the
difficult topic of wisdom in a fair —
even wise — manner.
Hall begins by surveying early
attempts to understand wisdom,
including biblical stories (think King
Solomon) and the musings of ancient
philosophers. He then fast-forwards
to modern neuroscience’s take on
wisdom, where his model breaks
wisdom down into eight major parts.
These “neural pillars of wisdom,”
as Hall calls them, range from emotional regulation — essentially coping
Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in
the Third Great Age of Discovery
Stephen J. Pyne
What with Mars rovers that tweet and
space telescopes with Facebook fan
pages, one might think space explora-
tion today is just another part of mod-
ern life. In this new book, however,
environmental scholar Pyne reminds
readers of the rich cultural history that
of the cosmos.
To frame his story
Pyne chooses the
twin Voyager mis-
sions, launched in
1977 to study Jupiter
and Saturn but
later extended for a “Grand Tour” that
also took in Uranus and Neptune. The
probes, he argues, symbolize a Third
Age of exploration — the first being the
15th century ocean voyages pioneered
ability — and moral reasoning to altruism
Interviews with leading neuroscien-
tists describe experiments that attempt
to reveal the inner brain workings
behind these pillars. Researchers have
examined, for instance, the brain activ-
ity of a Tibetan monk practicing medi-
tation and the cognitive processes of
between receiving a
smaller gift certifi-
cate now or a larger
goal of this research
is to explore broader
as whether wisdom is innate, learn-
able or a bit of both, and if wisdom is
a uniquely human trait. There are no
easy answers, Hall notes. Science may
one day succeed in taking wisdom apart
to study its pieces, but some mystery
will remain about how these elements
coalesce to make a person wise in an
often foolish world. — Rachel Zelkowitz
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, 333 p., $27.95.
by the Portuguese and the second the
land-based exploration of the 18th
century, driven in large part by rivalry
between England and France.
Planetary exploration, Pyne says,
was a natural successor, stimulated in
the 1950s by technological advances
and by the space race of the Cold War.
His narrative is a remarkable intermingling of the story of the Voyager
probes — their birth at NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in California,
their long slow cruise through interplanetary space — with a historian’s
take on how space exploration sprang
from timeless yearnings to push
Today both Voyagers are still in
operation and are passing beyond the
edge of the solar system, serving as
distant ambassadors for humankind.
In this book, Pyne puts that quest in
grand perspective. — Alexandra Witze
Bursts: The Hidden
Everything We Do
Mining digital data
reveals patterns in
ous human behavior. Dutton, 2010,
310 p., $26.95.
Hoard of Mathemati-
The math professor
returns with more
brain teasers, puzzles
and facts designed to reveal the fun
side of the subject. Basic Books,
2010, 339 p., $16.95.
Bohr, and the Great
Debate About the
Nature of Reality
The story of quantum
mechanics and the
decades-long argument about how to
interpret it. W. W. Norton & Co., 2010,
448 p., $27.95.
and the Development
of a Social Bond
Darcy F. Morey
describes the evolu-
tion of the dog and
explores how this creature became
man’s best friend. Cambridge Univ.
Press, 2010, 356 p., $45.
Sarah C. Campbell
Kids can learn about this special set
of numbers from color nature photos.
Boyds Mill Press, 2010, 32 p., $17.95.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.