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P.W. Atkins

P.W. Atkins is a lecturer in physical chemistry at Oxford and a fellow of Lincoln College. His books include The Creation and The Second Law.

Double Brains

P.W. Atkins, 19 May 1988

Anne Harrington’s masterly account of homo duplex is more than just an account of the emergence of our understanding of our own inner dissymmetry. It sets the striving towards comprehension amid the social prejudices and pressures of the 19th century and shows how the expectations of the time moulded scientific opinion. We are made aware of the traffic of ideas about this most intimate of parts between those who were discovering and those who were using the discoveries. Here we see science in the grip of society.

No soul, and not special

P.W. Atkins, 21 May 1987

Science is currently poised for its assault on the last two great peaks of ignorance. Having struggled with immense labour across the foothills of physics and biology, it has set up camp at the foot of cosmology and consciousness. Which will be the first to go? Will we understand the origin of the universe before we understand consciousness, or will consciousness be conquered first? If the problems are truly fundamental, they will be found to be united, and the assault on either will facilitate the assault on the other. As we unravel the simplicity of the web that makes up the material world and see how it emerged from nothing, so we can expect to expose the workings of that apotheosis of complexity, the response of the brain to its input and its own output, the response we call consciousness.

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