Are We Unique?
Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind
A powerful and important exploration of the most compelling question for the 21st century. "Trefil's race through the science that could explain the brain is highly readable. "--Sunday Times "Although Mr. Trefil makes a solid scientific case for humanity's uniqueness, it is his insightful, witty, informal --in a word, human--style that convinces the reader that no machine could ever succeed in replacing such an author or in duplicating such a book." --The New York Time Book Review In a stimulating and far-range exploration of the cutting edge studies of animal and artificial intelligence, bestselling science author James Trefil asks the fascinating and provovative question, Is there really anthing so special about the human mind after all? He presents a powerful and compelling argument that, yes, in fact, the human mind is an entirely unique organ of intelligence--different in startling ways from both animal and machine. Ultimately, Are We Unique offers an exhilarating exploration of what it means to be human. JAMES TREFIL (Fairfax, Virginia) is Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University.
He is the author of 15 books, including coauthor of the bestselling Science Matters and the perennially popular Sharks Have No Bones. A regular contributor to Smithsonian, he is also a science commentator for National Public Radio.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
An attempt to explain the "problem of consciousness" scientifically, by the prolific popular science writer (A Scientist in the City, 1994, etc.) and NPR commentator. Consciousness is a problem because it is difficult to define scientifically and yet would seem to be the one entity rendering humankind distinct from animals - and from the imminent artificial-intelligence capabilities of computers. Trefil (Physics/George Mason Univ.) easily dispenses with arguments that the DNA of some animals hardly differs from our own, and with the supposedly intelligent behavior of, say, chimpanzees and octopi, since, in the end, the gap between animal and human intelligence is impressively large. Computers prove harder to deal with, however. First, in his most brilliant chapters, Trefil lays out everything science knows about the workings of the human brain: how synapses fire to cause actions such as the resolution of sight, and the tracking of where individual functions, such as muscle control or the perception of motion, are born. With his model established, Trefil then tries to demolish the notion of a computer as a mechanical brain. The brain is not an electrical apparatus, but a chemical one, he points out, and therefore the parallel commonly drawn between the firing of a synapse and the connections between semiconductors is false. And what to do about that sturdy yet poorly understood mechanism known as intuition? Could a machine, no matter how sophisticated, ever manage such a leap? Even so, Trefil acknowledges that science will shortly be able to map every function of the brain and that eventually enough semiconductors, mimicking those functions, might be strung together to equal the brain's huge capacity. Once he does so, only a mystical approach to consciousness can rescue him, but Trefil is at pains to avoid any but strictly empirical arguments. A gallant, moving, but in the end unconvincing argument. (Kirkus Reviews)