May 2016 By T A Balasubramanian We Are All Stardust,Stefan Klein Translated by: Ross Benjamin Speaking Tiger,Paperback, INR 399; 264 pages In these conversations, I pursued two simple goals: to learn who my conversation partners are, and what they do. For me, those are really just two ways of phrasing a single question, for I have never believed in the myth that scientists can disregard their personal side in their work.” The author, Stefan Klein, holds a doctorate in biophysics, but has made a name for himself as a popular science writer and journalist. This book is really a wide-ranging collection of intimate personal conversations with scientists from a wide array of disciplines, ranging from molecular physics and neurobiology to economics and developmental psychology. In these assorted interviews, he manages to wiggle deep into the hearts and emotions of his subjects. We are drawn into a fascinating series of insights that reflect their ways of working with, and imagining, the world of science. So we listen to Hannah Monyer, a neurobiologist, describing the process of scientific discovery thus: “Proust compares the joy of remembering with origami. When the pieces of paper are steeped in water, they unfold, and whole landscapes emerge from them. It’s the same way you feel in the lab when you make an important discovery. An incredible joy takes hold of you. It’s like falling in love.” Klein is adept at his task. In the 19 encounters, he manages to uncover the mental landscapes and sometimes, the wild fantasies and dreams of some of the brightest “rational” minds of our times. It is a pleasant surprise to discover, for instance, that a sports car inspired physicist Steven Weinberg on his quest for ‘the theory of everything,’ and that jazz musicians gave psychologist Alison Gopnik new insight into the process of bringing up children. Evidently, the Muse of Science lurks in every facet of human imagination and experience! If you are interested in the inner life of scientific thinkers, or even merely curious about how other curious minds work, this is a fascinating guide. If you looking for something to inspire you in your professional work, you can dip in and browse any page. Some interaction here will spark off a few ideas, and who knows, that may even change your life!
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