Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Seed 2(7): Part III

This is the third part of a five part series of reviews of Volume 2, Number 7 of Seed magazine.

Part I is here.
Part II is here.

Part III Long Articles

For the purposes of this review, I'm defining any single article that covers more than two pages with mostly text a "long article". This issue of Seed magazine has four such long articles. I'll review each in turn, hopefully concisely enough that neither of my readers will lapse into unconsciousness.

The Synthesizer (pg 44-53)

This is the cover article of this issue. Five full pages of 3-column text plus four full-colour full-spread photo pages and a dedicated title page all indicate that this is the article of the issue. As for the actual content, I was quite pleased, it's set up as a mix of questions posed to E.O. Wilson, some biographical background narrative, and some more-or-less free-ranging commentary by Wilson. I'm impressed by the way the journalist(s) allowed Wilson to speak for himself, and didn't seem to ask too many leading or biased questions, like the type that start with "Don't you think...". Wilson's ideas about "consilience" are well-expressed and thought-provoking, particularly the part about how, if major religous theologies accept scientific input, their mythologies will be "hollowed out". In other words, Wilson seems to view the potential unification of Science and Religion as resulting in a world-view of a religious shell draped over a rational scientific core.

I don't agree with this view, but I think it's interesting, and I'm glad someone as articulate and intelligent as E.O. Wilson is exploring it. I've read only one of his previous books - Naturalist - his autobiography from 1994, so I'm far from an expert or even a knowledgeable layperson about most of his ideas. This article in Seed was certainly worth my time to read, anyway.

Revolutionary Minds (pg 54-63)

This is more of a collection of short articles than one long, coherent article. Each page is about 1/2 covered with text about one person, who Seed collected because they are people who are strongly interdisciplinary in their work and/or lives. Most of these people seem to be non-scientists (artists, lawyers, politicians) who have strong interests in science. This fits the theme of the magazine - "Science is Culture" - quite well, and the short bios were fairly interesting. The art style associated with this series is striking in its divergence from the rest of the magazine. Each person is presented as four "photo-booth" style black-and-white photos, with one photo re-drawn in bright watercolour sketch in the background. I quite like this artistic style, and I think it suits the article very well.

Science Writing Contest (pg 75-79)
Here, in strong Red-and-Blue, Seed presents the winners of a previous writing contest.
Earlier this year, we invited readers to respond to the
following question:

What is the future of sciencein America? What should the U.S. do to preserve and build upon its role as a leader in scientific innovation?

The winners were a professor of physics from the University of San Francisco, and a "recent college graduate" from Los Angeles.

Dr. Brown's article is basically a call to improve university-level scientific research across the U.S.A. in all scientific fields. He discusses the problems of "publish or perish" and other quirks of the Ivory Tower, and poses some suggestions for improvement. It's a very well-written essay, and states its case clearly.

Ms. Tolkin's article is also very well written as well, and is about half the length of Dr. Brown's. She apparently wishes to become a science teacher, and targets her essay at grade-school and high-school science education reform. Good luck with that. Other than the banging-head-against-brick-wall meta-article feel, this is actually a really good read.

The Seed Salon: Robert Stickgold and Michel Gondry (pg 80-85)

The idea of the intellectual, academic Salon where participants freely discuss ideas and trade concepts was discussed in the introduction to the Revolutionary Minds article. Here, Seed basically sits in on a discussion between two people with related interests. Both of these people are interested in dreams - Dr. Stickgold is a psychiatrist who studies dreams and sleep, Michel Gondry makes movies that feature dreams and dreaming as major components of the themes - for example, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The most impressive thing to me about this article was the way Seed's journalists stayed at arm's length. This isn't a double-interview, or a series of prompts. It's just these two people sitting around, talking about dreams. I think the conversation is brilliant, especially the way the scientist is able to explain to the artist what the current scientific understanding of this topic, so beloved of crap artists, really is at the this point. The artist, to his credit, seems very willing to learn about the scientific knowledge, and how it can inform his future artistic endeavors. I really liked Spotless Mind when I saw it a couple of years ago, so perhaps I'm biased towards Mr. Gondry to some extent. Anyway, I call this a fun read.

OK, that's the long articles out of the way. Sorry this took so long to get up, I'll try to post part IV soon.

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