Guest book review: What are you optimistic about?

ScienceWoman notes: Last week I gave away a couple of books to readers who enthusiastically promised to review the books. The books were mailed on Friday and I've already gotten the first review back. Talk about enthusiasm! Here's a review from Courtney of Courtney's Blog.

What Are You Optimistic About is one of's "celebration of the ideas of the third culture" (for further information, read C.P. Snow's classic, The Two Cultures). There is an introduction by the famed scientist/philosopher Dennett, who says, "It can't all be true, but we need to test them."


Fig. 1. Courtney's awesome visual depiction of What are you optimistic about?

More below the fold.

Spoiler Alert:
Despite the optimistic introduction, there is a fairly clear divide between science and humanities, with the bulk of the authors settling quite comfortably on the science bench. Specifically, technology seems to be the egg counted in almost everyone's basket. If not technology specifically, then scientific evidence, science itself, and hence truth and or/knowledge come up as the other clutch of eggs.

Hope for the Theory of Everything in physics makes a good showing, as well as some anti-universal theory of everything proponents. There is a fairly large component of atheism as hope, and some "down with religion" spiels. Happy medicine, epigenetics, age, sleep, hearing, and mental health visions blend into transhumanists, would-be space farers, and then AI optimists, SETI and the human creation of an omni god that could span universes.

Back at biology, Rushkoff uses a good phrase: he is optimistic that we will be "liberated from our biology." Others chime in with optimism about altruism, inner decency, mental health, overpopulation, urbanization, children, family, human bonds, marriage, and the sheer perversity and stubbornness of the human spirit.

Along those lines, there is a great deal of respect for globalization, and the diffusion of power it could be/is bringing to the people with technology, specifically the Internet and cell phones. Education is theoretically, now less about power and cost, and more about metacognition, cognitive flexibility, and recognition of both the individual human intellect and perhaps more importantly, the collective/situational society.


Some say social progress may depend on the recognition of the limits of democracy, a rise in prominence of the female mind, and the continuing global decline in violence and poverty, despite what the news media has to say about it. There is even hope from Jared Diamond that big business can make choices good for both business and humanity.

There is even a fervent believer in Art, and some believers in the spirituality of science, as well as hope for a reconciliation between religion and science.

In Short:
This is an interesting book, but I liked What We Believe But Cannot Prove (also by the people) better. These are everybody's hopes and dreams, wishes and beliefs. In a paraphrase from one of my favorite television shows, Bones, intelligence doesn't cause you to make different choices; it just affects how well you're going to carry them out.


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Just sent an email to your science woman gmail address with regards to a project I'd love for you to be involved in - thought I'd mention it here in case you don't check your mails that much. Cheers!