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See Inside June 2010

Recommended: Adventures among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions

Books and recommendations from Scientific American

Adventures among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions
by Mark W. Moffett. University of California Press, 2010

Join biologist and photographer Mark W. Moffet of the Smithsonian Institution—who has been called the “Indiana Jones of entomology”—as he journeys to the Amazon, Nigeria, Borneo and beyond to uncover the secret lives of ants.

EXCERPT
Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
by Spencer Wells. Random House, 2010

Around 10,000 years ago humans invented agriculture, shedding the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for one in which they created their own food. This innovation, argues anthropologist and geneticist Spencer Wells, set into motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to our present era of overpopulation, infectious disease and anxiety—a mismatch between culture and biology. Below he describes modern-day stresses and their impact on our still fundamentally hunter-gatherer minds.

“Cars rush by outside your window, a horn blaring occasionally. The refrigerator hums in the corner of the kitchen, and the heat coming out of a duct over your head whooshes softly. Bills sit stacked on the counter, insistently waiting to be opened. A television—perhaps one of several in the house—blares advertisements from the next room, and Internet pop-up ads interrupt your attempts to check on your retirement investments. The cacophony reaches a crescendo when your spouse’s cell phone rings, vibrating along the tabletop like some sort of angry digital dervish. The blare of the outside world goes on all around us, even while we attempt to focus on our ‘real’ lives.

“We are constantly surrounded by surreptitious stimuli—so much so that we take it all for granted. We are used to the notion that advertisements saturate our lives—exposure estimates for the average American range from several hundred to several thousand every day—as promoters try to sell us everything from life insurance to an enhanced sex life. Data flows at us from every direction. Information is ubiquitous and, with the rise of the Internet and broadband connectivity, more easily accessible than ever. But even things we might not think of as intrusive bombard our subconsciousnesses with stimuli. Inadvertently, the machines we have created to improve our lives may actually be causing some degree of psychological harm....

“Our lives are now lived in a state that could be called ‘stream of subconsciousness,’ as we subliminally lurch from one unrelated (and usually unwanted) stimulus to the next like floating dust particles buffeted by the random forces of air currents. Some people seem to thrive on constant overstimulation ... but most of us react rather badly to it.”

BOOKS
How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like
by Paul Bloom. W. W. Norton, 2010

The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck: What Everyday Things Tell Us about the Universe
by Marcus Chown. Faber and Faber, 2010

The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind
by Melvin Konner. Belknap Press, 2010

Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo
by Vanessa Woods. Gotham, 2010

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
by Matt Ridley. Harper, 2010

Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry
by Daniel Carlat. Free Press, 2010

Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus rex
by Lowell Dingus and Mark Norell. University of California Press, 2010

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