Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves

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9780007120284: Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves

The triumph of science in explaining man’s unique place in the universe might seem almost complete. But in this lucid and compelling account, James Le Fanu describes how in the recent past science has come face-to-face with two seemingly unanswerable questions concerning the nature of genetic inheritance and the workings of the brain–questions that suggest there is, after all, “more than we can know.”

“Scientists do not ‘do’ wonder,” he writes in his introduction. “Rather . . . they have interpreted the world through the prism of supposing there is nothing in principle that cannot be accounted for.” But Le Fanu argues that there is nothing so full of wonder as life itself. As revealed by recent scientific research, it is simply not possible to get from the monotonous sequence of genes strung out along the double helix to the infinite beauty and diversity of the living world, or from the electrical activity of the brain to the richness and abundant creativity of the human mind. Le Fanu’s exploration of these mysteries, and his analysis of where they might lead us in our thinking about the nature and purpose of human existence, form the impassioned and riveting heart of Why Us?

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About the Author:

For the past twenty years James Le Fanu has combined working as a doctor in general practice with contributing a weekly column to The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New Statesman, The Spectator, GQ, the British Medical Journal, and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He has made original contributions to current controversies over the value of experiments on human embryos, environmentalism, dietary causes of diseases, and the misdiagnosis of non-accidental injury in children. His previous book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2001. He lives in England.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

When cosmologists can reliably infer what happened in the first few minutes of the birth of the universe and geologists can measure the movements of vast continents to the nearest centimeter, then the inscrutability of those genetic instructions that should distinguish a human from a fly, or the failure to account for something as elementary as how we recall a telephone number, throws into sharp relief the unfathomability of ourselves. It is as if we, and, indeed, all living things, are in some way different, profounder, and more complex than the physical world to which we belong . . . This is not just a matter of science not yet knowing all the facts; rather, there is the sense that something of immense importance is “missing” that might transform the bare bones of genes into the wondrous diversity of the living world and the monotonous electrical firing of the neurons of the brain into the vast spectrum of sensations and ideas of the human mind.

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James Le Fanu
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The imperative to `know thyself is both fundamental and profoundly elusive - for how can we ever truly comprehend the drama and complexity of the human experience? In `Why Us? James Le Fanu offers a fascinating exploration of the power and limits of science to penetrate the deep mysteries of our existence, challenging the certainty that has persisted since Charles Darwin s `Origin of Species that we are no more than the fortuitous consequence of a materialist evolutionary process. That challenge arises, unexpectedly, from the two major projects that promised to provide definitive proof for this most influential of scientific theories. The first is the astonishing achievement of the Human Genome Project, which, it was anticipated, would identify the genetic basis of those characteristics that distinguish humans from their primate cousins. The second is the phenomenal advance in brain imaging that now permits neuroscientists to observe the brain `in action and thus account for the remarkable properties of the human mind. But that is not how it has turned out. It is simply not possible to get from the monotonous sequence of genes along the double helix to the near infinite diversity of the living world, nor to translate the electrical firing of the brain into the creativity of the human mind. This is not a matter of not knowing all the facts. Rather, science has inadvertently discovered that its theories are insufficient to conjure the wonder of the human experience from the bare bones of our genes and brains. We stand on the brink of a tectonic shift in our understanding of ourselves that will witness the rediscovery of the central premise of Western philosophy that there is more than we can know . Lucid, compelling and utterly engaging, `Why Us? offers a convincing and provocative vision of the new science of being human. Bookseller Inventory # AA89780007120284

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The imperative to `know thyself is both fundamental and profoundly elusive - for how can we ever truly comprehend the drama and complexity of the human experience? In `Why Us? James Le Fanu offers a fascinating exploration of the power and limits of science to penetrate the deep mysteries of our existence, challenging the certainty that has persisted since Charles Darwin s `Origin of Species that we are no more than the fortuitous consequence of a materialist evolutionary process. That challenge arises, unexpectedly, from the two major projects that promised to provide definitive proof for this most influential of scientific theories. The first is the astonishing achievement of the Human Genome Project, which, it was anticipated, would identify the genetic basis of those characteristics that distinguish humans from their primate cousins. The second is the phenomenal advance in brain imaging that now permits neuroscientists to observe the brain `in action and thus account for the remarkable properties of the human mind. But that is not how it has turned out. It is simply not possible to get from the monotonous sequence of genes along the double helix to the near infinite diversity of the living world, nor to translate the electrical firing of the brain into the creativity of the human mind. This is not a matter of not knowing all the facts. Rather, science has inadvertently discovered that its theories are insufficient to conjure the wonder of the human experience from the bare bones of our genes and brains. We stand on the brink of a tectonic shift in our understanding of ourselves that will witness the rediscovery of the central premise of Western philosophy that there is more than we can know . Lucid, compelling and utterly engaging, `Why Us? offers a convincing and provocative vision of the new science of being human. Bookseller Inventory # AA89780007120284

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