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Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over The Edge Paperback – Sep 18 1991

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (Sept. 18 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201567512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201567519
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 426 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #458,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Author of the delightful Who Got Einstein's Office? , Regis here presents a hilarious but nevertheless sympathetic look at practitioners of "fin-de-siecle hubristic mania." These are the scientific visionaries who are plotting "post-biological man," scheming to build giant space colony/stations to orbit around the Earth, use microscopic robots (nanotechnology) to resurrect humans frozen in liquid nitrogen, raise chickens in higher gravity fields and project human minds via energy beams to distant galaxies. Readers learn about artificial life, bioinfomatic bumblebees, human minds instilled in "bush robots" and how to enclose the Sun within a man-made sphere. In the future everything will be possible and humans will be able to redesign themselves and the universe to meet higher technical standards than mere nature has achieved. This is a wonderful romp on the cutting edge of science.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

After reading this book, you will regard tabloid-style headlines such as "Super Chicken Bred in Double Gravity" or "Human Heads Frozen for Future Revival" with far less skepticism. These, as well as other seemingly bizarre technological feats, are being done or planned today by scientists who are either brilliant and visionary or dangerous and eccentric, depending on your point of view. Regis, a frequent contributor to Omni, writes with wit and humor as he describes the off-the-wall exploits of several scientists and engineers whose credentials are solid but whose objectives are, to say the least, a bit odd. Downloading a human mind into a computer? It's not only possible, it's the subject of Hans Moravec's Mind Children (Harvard Univ. Pr., 1988). Molecular robots capable of re-creating matter? It's on the drawing board now. Some scientists are even brazen enough to suggest that humankind can arrest the expansion of the universe. This delightful book reveals that the cutting edge is not far from the lunatic fringe. Recommended.
- Gregg Sapp, Montana State Univ. Lib., Bozeman
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
As someone with a bit more than just a passing interest in the singularity and transhumanism, I found Great Mambo Chicken & the Transhuman Condition to be an important work in these fields—not because it joins so much of the literature in boundless enthusiasm for an extravagant future, but rather because it does the opposite, taking a somewhat critical stance on the failed efforts of the previous generations of futurists.

Published in 1990, GMC covers the progress of the past few decades in two broad technology classes: cryonics and radical life extension, and rocketry and interplanetary (-stellar, -galactic, what have you) travel. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea that rocketry startups even existed before SpaceX, and had always thought that cryonic freezing was still under development. In that sense, it was interesting to get some historical development of where we are today with these technologies.

In a more important sense, though, it is plain to see that none of the futurists covered in GMC have delivered on their promises to radically change civilization for the better. The rocketry startups never launched any serious rockets, and cryonics certainly hasn't caught on as a widespread practice. We're struggling to get astronauts up to the ISS, let alone establish moon bases and mine asteroids. Granted, the pace of technological development is accelerating, but some of the time projections for such advanced technology have long since passed. Regis' preferred term for this is "fin de siècle hubristic mania", the feeling that, just given a chance, a few forward-thinking individuals could fundamentally alter humanity's place in the cosmos within only a few decades.
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Here's a thought: the problem with teaching non-fiction in schools is that as a culture we value story, even it its most cliched forms, over memorization. The great wave of edutainment hitting us now is trying to meet this need, merging story (the "Mario" adventure, in a nutshell, is a fairy tale in which it's man, or plumber as the case may be, vs. nature, albeit a very twisted view of nature, to rescue his true love) with facts. While the grooters are tied to the tube wonking on flying turtles, they have to solve puzzles that actually contain meaning.
Story and facts have been merged into one for years. There's some speculation that the Bible was preserved to retain warnings for behavior (food choices, ethics), while histories are basically the story of the past written by the winners. Today we get our non-fiction in a multitude of forms, but I have to admit that I prefer a well-done story version as in Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown and here in Ed Regis' take on wacky (but plausible) science.
Regis' idea on science goes something like this: there's always been science that people thought a little strange if not laughable (tiny living organisms that carry disease?), so what's the current wacky science, is it really plausible and why, and where's it heading. But he tells us this through the lives of the scientists (and I may be using that term loosely for some of these people). People like Eric Drexler (nanotechnology), Hans Moravec (downloading brains), Dave Criswell (stars for energy), and Michael Darwin (cryogenics). What they have in common with each other and such people as Robert Heinlein, Timothy Leary, Evil Knieval, and Richard Feynman illustrates the heady stuff of science on the edge. If at times it seems science fictional, then that's probably because SF writers make it their job to keep up with fringe elements such as these.
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Although not expertly written, Great Mambo Chicken elicits more active reading than the majority of popular science books on the market. For that reason, Regis's paean to today's "hubristic" scientists ranks among the top-decile of all books that I've read.
I agree with the other readers, however, that Regis's prose leaves something to be desired. The constant repetition of "hubrisitic" (I counted a total of 32 instances of the word) becomes bothersome and the reader may soon question the breadth of the writer's vocabulary.
But that said, the ideas contained in the book are superb and well intertwined. Regis is able to link the following disparate topics into a coherent whole (in order of presentation):
Cryonics, Nanotechnology, Privately Funded Rocket Missions, Extra-planetary Habitation, Transhumanism (the mental uploads and bush robots espoused by Moravec), etc.
I often found myself writing notes on the margins of the book coming up with a my own questions in reponse to the text. Regis's clear enthusiasm and his declaration of the impending Omega Point (the point of mankind's effective omiscience and omnipotence) will be hardy memes that infect the thoughts of many generations of scientists.
Paul Erdos
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....[Regis is] trying to say that science doesn't have to be stuffy, regimented and boring. He is saying that science can be done at home, in the back yard, by anybody. It doesn't have to be done by some international mega-corporation, or a bloated government agency. But most of all, he is saying that the science we understand now doesn't say that the universe is predictable and straightforward. Rather, Regis points out that the universe is a weird place, much weirder than most people realize, and it is only going to get weirder and weirder.
Regis clearly likes to poke a little fun at some of the characters he writes about, but I get the strong impression that he admires these people more than the ivory tower variety of professors and scientists who wouldn't know a revolutionary new idea if it hit them over the head. He shows a great respect for these people, and makes the reader wish he had personally witnessed the events described.
And not all of the science described in the book is as far-fetched as some reviewers would have you believe. If you've been asleep for the past couple of years, you might not have heard how the US government budgeted $500 million for nanotechnology research in 2000, or how Japan has matched or even exceeded that amount. If you haven't read K. Eric Drexler's excellent introduction to nanotech "Engines of Creation", then I don't know how you could comment on the feasibility of such technology. And if you think nanotech doesn't have a solid scientific foundation, then I suggest you try to tackle Drexler's "Nanosystems".
As for the feasibility of back yard rockets, there is no question we will have that technology someday. You know, Orville and Wilbur were just bicycle mechanics before they built the first working airplane.
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