The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life

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9780231164733: The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life

Why was there a meltdown at the Fukushima power plant? Why do some people get cancer and not others? Why is global warming happening? Why does one person get depressed in the face of life's vicissitudes while another finds resilience?

Questions like these―questions of causality―form the basis of modern scientific inquiry, posing profound intellectual and methodological challenges for researchers in the physical, natural, biomedical, and social sciences. In this groundbreaking book, noted psychiatrist and author Peter Rabins offers a conceptual framework for analyzing daunting questions of causality. Navigating a lively intellectual voyage between the shoals of strict reductionism and relativism, Rabins maps a three-facet model of causality and applies it to a variety of questions in science, medicine, economics, and more.

Throughout this book, Rabins situates his argument within relevant scientific contexts, such as quantum mechanics, cybernetics, chaos theory, and epigenetics. A renowned communicator of complex concepts and scientific ideas, Rabins helps readers stretch their minds beyond the realm of popular literary tipping points, blinks, and freakonomic explanations of the world.

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About the Author:

Peter Rabins is the Richman Family Professor for Alzheimer's and Related Diseases and director of the Geriatric Psychiatry program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Johns Hopkins Berman Bioethics Institute. He is the author or editor of eight books and coauthor of the landmark title The Thirty-Six-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life.

Review:

Peter Rabins shows incredible breadth of knowledge and his thesis―that there are three distinct approaches to causation, appropriate for different types of questions―is compelling. His writing is engaging, and the subject matter is deeply relevant. (Simon Levin, Princeton University, author of Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons)

Peter Rabin's book draws upon science, statistics, philosophy, and religion to stretch readers' thinking about the 'why' and 'how' of what happens. It provides a remarkably lucid synthesis of diverse ideas about causality based on superb scholarship and is always entertaining. I heartily recommend it. (David Reuben, MD, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles)

From the two year old child's endlessly nested 'why' questions to the Old Testament and the modern scientist, and through many philosophers in between, Peter Rabins takes us on a fascinating quest in search of answers to that seemingly simplest of all questions: Why? Simple but enigmatic because, like the two year old, how do we know when to be satisfied and how do we know when we know? Throughout The Why of Things, Rabins examines fundamental aspects of how we know―or don't. In his erudite yet accessible book, readers will learn everything from philosophical categorization to nonlinear dynamics in a way that will suddenly make sense, even if they never do find out exactly why. (Stuart Firestein, Columbia University, author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science)

if you're looking to learn how to better reason things out through logic and comparative analysis, then this one may be for you. (Lifelong Dewey Blog)

Quite simply, wow. This is one of the most complex, mind-boggling and ultimately satisfying books I have read in a very long time. (The Garden Window Blog)

A most enjoyable read and source of inspiration. The book constitutes a noteworthy addition to Professor Rabins' academic production Philosophers of science – and perhaps more specifically philosophers interested in causality, explanation, or medicine – would gain a lot in reading it. (Metascience)

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