Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge is the second non-fiction compilation from editor Max Brockman, following up the earlier essay collection, What's Next? The topics are as varied as the authors: working scientists from fields as diverse as astrophysics, immunology, computer science, even a new discipline called “experimental philosophy”, which would probably fall under the heading of neuroscience or behaviour psychology (there are several more of those, as well).
Essentially, what Brockman did was get a lot of young, actively working scientists to talk about what's exciting right now in their field. There's a balance between the highly topical “look at this cool thing we've just discovered” and some of the broader implications of their work. It seems the contributors were given free rein, perhaps actively encouraged, to speculate a bit about what it all means.
I appreciated this larger context. Even though most everything in the book is, as the sub-title suggests, cutting-edge to varying degrees, references to the big picture provide something extra. There's a sense in this book of being invited to look ahead and ask, well, what's next? This provides a unifying theme which might be absent in, say, a best of year collection of science journalism. The result is both topical and an historical benchmark: this is us; this is the world — right now.
Kevin P. Hand, a planetary scientist, wants to talk about the next stage of deep ocean exploration — in Jupiter's moon, Europa. Laurie Santos discusses everything from primate studies to game theory to the economics of consumer behaviour, in order to understand the leaps of illogic that lead to some of our terrible financial decisions. Kirsten Bomblies surveys what's currently known about plant responses to stress — and what's still to be determined, if we hope to help both crops and natural ecosystems survive the next century of climate change.