I Wanna Be Literated #152

I Wanna Be Literated #152

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Tuesday, 18 April 2017
COLUMN

The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human
by Adam Piore

One of the greatest things science can offer us is the ability to better ourselves: improve where possible, correct mistakes, fix what might be broken. That work is certainly going on right now and Adam Piore’s Body Builders presents itself as a look behind all the science that goes behind engineered humans. It’s right there in the title. The problem is that that isn’t really the case, or maybe we have different definitions of what an engineered human is. Engineering to me means something like genetic tampering to cause a desired phenotype. That’s not what this book is about. If you’re thinking in the scope of the 6 million dollar man, then you have a better idea of the subjects we encounter in this book. I like to think of these more as humans with gadgets.

Although Piore makes a valiant effort to tell his story, unfortunately Body Builders suffers from some major pitfalls that are much too frequent in popular science writings. For starters Piore seems to focus too much on the boring experimental details involved in the science yet still not painting a clear enough picture of what’s going on. Look, these experiments are just boring, and we don’t need to know where every single wire is placed. Some charts or drawings would have helped us understand what’s going on. Other times, Piore presents the results in a confusing manner. For example, when he tells the story of how recording the neuron activity in patients listening to Pink Floyd can lead to scientists pulling Another Brick in the Wall out of the data, I think what he means that the brain patterns can be interpreted into melodies that can be played back like something akin to a midi track. Cool stuff, for sure, but Piore makes it sound like we can hear a segment of the actual song.

Then there’s the fact that Piore just isn’t a very exciting storyteller. While someone like Oliver Sacks manages to tell compelling stories behind his subjects and focuses on the important details, numerous times the reader will simply get frustrated as Body Builders keeps telling the story of the scientist, the collaborators, and the science that preceded it and so on instead of just focusing on what they’re trying to do in the present moment.

Body Builders has a lot of potential but ultimately just ends up being a fragmented and unfocused read. Although there is some cool science discussed it happens too seldom to make this a real page-turner.

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