Sunday, June 21, 2015

Brandon R. Brown

Brandon R. Brown is a Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco. His writing for general audiences has appeared in New Scientist, SEED, the Huffington Post, and other outlets. His biophysics work on the electric sense of sharks, as covered by NPR and the BBC, has appeared in Nature, The Physical Review, and other research journals.

Brown's new book is Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Brown's reply:
I’m reading two books, one quickly and one very slowly. The faster book is The Voice of Dolphins and Other Stories, a mostly forgotten collection by the late physicist Leó Szilárd. A friend loaned this book to me after seeing my biography of Max Planck. Szilárd was one of the physicists who set up the first nuclear reactor and, fleeing Nazi Germany, contributed to America’s Manhattan Project during WWII. He advocated using the bomb in demonstration only and was horrified to see it dropped on cities. He wrote the Dolphins pieces of fiction circa 1960, and the main story casts a forward-looking history to 1985. He accurately foresees the cold war, many specific issues in the Middle East, and the formation of the EU. The title relates to the fact that we’ve figured out that dolphins are more intelligent than humans and we start turning to them for advice. Even this bit of fantasy is handled seriously, right along with the speculative narrative of geopolitics, and the tone of dry history works perfectly. The book is simultaneously provocative and giggle inducing.

The slower book is an academic collection, Subjective Time: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Temporality. I am becoming increasingly obsessed by the biology of time, and this book covers the technical ABC’s of how we think about time and what we observe of the brain as it processes time. Every page warrants rereading, chewing, and contemplating, so I’m taking it slowly, with lots of note taking along the way. As with other topics related to consciousness, it can be alternately disturbing and exhilarating to realize how much of our standard daily reality is a functional, comforting illusion. The perception of time is no different, but time is so fundamental to existence and thinking itself that it offers extra pretzel twists for the reading brain.
Visit Brandon Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: Planck.

--Marshal Zeringue