Books written (or edited) by Yours Truly

img_6918How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life, by Massimo Pigliucci. Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, I offer Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that teaches us to act depending on what is within our control and separate things worth getting upset about from those that are not. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we bank in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever you are, Stoicism has something for you — and How to Be a Stoic is your essential guide, featuring an ongoing conversation with the ancient slave-turned-teacher Epictetus.

Philosophy of PseudosciencePhilosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, co-edited with Maarten Boudry, University of Chicago Press, 2013. What sets the practice of rigorously tested, sound science apart from pseudoscience? In this volume, the contributors seek to answer this question, known to philosophers of science as “the demarcation problem.” This issue has a long history in philosophy, stretching as far back as the early twentieth century and the work of Karl Popper. But by the late 1980s, scholars in the field began to treat the demarcation problem as impossible to solve and futile to ponder. However, the essays that Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry have assembled in this volume make a rousing case for the unequivocal importance of reflecting on the separation between pseudoscience and sound science.

Answers for AristotleAnswers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life, Basic Books, 2012. How should we live? According to philosopher and biologist Massimo Pigliucci, the greatest guidance to this essential question lies in combining the wisdom of 24 centuries of philosophy with the latest research from 21st century science. In Answers for Aristotle, Pigliucci argues that the combination of science and philosophy first pioneered by Aristotle offers us the best possible tool for understanding the world and ourselves. As Aristotle knew, each mode of thought has the power to clarify the other: science provides facts, and philosophy helps us reflect on the values with which to assess them. Pigliucci discusses such essential issues as how to tell right from wrong, the nature of love and friendship, and whether we can really ever know ourselves—all in service of helping us find our path to the best possible life. Combining the two most powerful intellectual traditions in history, Answers for Aristotle is a remarkable guide to discovering what really matters and why.

Nonsense on StiltsNonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, University of Chicago Press, 2010. Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and—borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham—the nonsense on stilts. Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.

Extended SynthesisEvolution – the Extended Synthesis, co-edited with Gerd B. Müller, MIT Press, 2010. In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, the spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis. In this volume, sixteen leading evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey the conceptual changes that have emerged since Huxley’s landmark publication, not only in such traditional domains of evolutionary biology as quantitative genetics and paleontology but also in such new fields of research as genomics and EvoDevo. This continuing revision of a theoretical edifice the foundations of which were laid in the middle of the nineteenth century–the reexamination of old ideas, proposals of new ones, and the synthesis of the most suitable–shows us how science works, and how scientists have painstakingly built a solid set of explanations for what Darwin called the “grandeur” of life.

Making Sense of EvolutionMaking Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology, with Jonathan Kaplan, University of Chicago Press, 2006. Making Sense of Evolution explores contemporary evolutionary biology, focusing on the elements of theories—selection, adaptation, and species—that are complex and open to multiple possible interpretations, many of which are incompatible with one another and with other accepted practices in the discipline. Particular experimental methods, for example, may demand one understanding of “selection,” while the application of the same concept to another area of evolutionary biology could necessitate a very different definition. Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan intertwine scientific and philosophical analysis to produce a coherent picture of evolutionary biology. Innovative and controversial, Making Sense of Evolution encourages further development of the Modern Synthesis and outlines what might be necessary for the continued refinement of this evolving field.

Phenotypic IntegrationPhenotypic Integration: Studying the Ecology and Evolution of Complex Phenotypes, co-edited with Katherine Preston, Oxford University Press, 2004. A new voice in the nature-nurture debate can be heard at the interface between evolution and development. Phenotypic integration–or, how large numbers of characteristics are related to make up the whole organism, and how these relationships evolve and change their function–is a major growth area in research, attracting the attention of evolutionary biologists, developmental biologists, and geneticists, as well as, more broadly, ecologists, physiologists, and paleontologists. This edited collection presents much of the best and most recent work the topic.

Denying EvolutionDenying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science, Sinauer, 2002. Denying Evolution aims at taking a fresh look at the evolution–creation controversy. It presents a truly balanced treatment, not in the sense of treating creationism as a legitimate scientific theory (it demonstrably is not), but in the sense of dividing the blame for the controversy equally between creationists and scientists—the former for subscribing to various forms of anti-intellectualism, the latter for discounting science education and presenting science as scientism to the public and the media. The central part of the book focuses on a series of creationist fallacies (aimed at showing errors of thought, not at deriding) and of mistakes by scientists and science educators. The last part of the book discusses long-term solutions to the problem, from better science teaching at all levels to the necessity of widespread understanding of how the brain works and why people have difficulties with critical thinking.

Phenotypic PlasticityPhenotypic Plasticity: Beyond Nature and Nurture, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. This is the first work to synthesize the burgeoning area of plasticity studies, providing a conceptual overview as well as a technical treatment of its major components. Phenotypic plasticity integrates the insights of ecological genetics, developmental biology, and evolutionary theory. Plasticity research asks foundational questions about how living organisms are capable of variation in their genetic makeup and in their responses to environmental factors. For instance, how do novel adaptive phenotypes originate? How do organisms detect and respond to stressful environments? What is the balance between genetic or natural constraints (such as gravity) and natural selection? The author begins by defining phenotypic plasticity and detailing its history, including important experiments and methods of statistical and graphical analysis. He then provides extended examples of the molecular basis of plasticity, the plasticity of development, the ecology of plastic responses, and the role of costs and constraints in the evolution of plasticity. A brief epilogue looks at how plasticity studies shed light on the nature/nurture debate in the popular media.

Tales of the RationalTales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science. Freethought Press, 2000. Engaging, compelling, witty essays that put in perspective some of the most fascinating scientific and pseudo-scientific claims of the 20th century. Includes discussions of: atheism, straw-man arguments, creationism, debating creationists and theists, evolutionary biology, Christian apologetics, critiques of modern science, the search for extraterrestial life, the search for the origins of life, chaos theory, and much more.

Phenotypic EvolutionPhenotypic Evolution: A Reaction Norm Perspective, with Carl D. Schlichting, Sinauer, 1998. Understanding the process of adaptive evolution of phenotypes is a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology. In the last decade, there has been an explosion of research on phenotypic plasticity (the environmentally induced production of different phenotypes by a single genotype) as well as on the molecular details of development, reflecting the increased recognition of their importance in shaping phenotypic evolution. Phenotypic Evolution explicitly recognizes organisms as complex genetic-epigenetic systems developing in response to changing internal and external environments. As a key to a better understanding of how phenotypes evolve, the authors have developed a framework that centers on the concept of the Developmental Reaction Norm. This encompasses their views: (1) that organisms are better considered as integrated units than as disconnected parts; (2) that an understanding of ontogeny is vital for evaluating evolution of adult forms; and (3) that environmental heterogeneity is ubiquitous and must be acknowledged for its pervasive role in phenotypic expression.