Kirkus Reviews

Matter Over Mind: Cosmos, Chaos, and Curiosity
by Elaine Walker ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 15, 2016

A panoramic account of the cosmos infers political and moral lessons for the whole of humanity. Trained as a musician and raised by mathematicians, first-time author Walker merged the two interests in her master’s thesis, which explored the possibility of composing music based on chaos dynamics. Her interest in the intersection of physics and human creativity pervades her book, in which the author investigates the distance that separates the constitution of nature and the cognitive processes whereby human beings attempt to apprehend it. She finds that the universe turns out to be infinitely rich in character, comprised of patterns so multitudinous and complex as to elude any comprehensive human perception. In her view, abstract thought, while the root cause of humans’ progress as a species, employs the imposition of limited categories far too narrowly curtailed to comprehend the vastness of the cosmos. After providing a brief biographical account of her own developing interest in physics, Walker takes the reader on a tour of the universe, touching on a broad spectrum of topics, including dark matter and energy, the relativity of space and time, and the Big Bang theory. She then turns to humanity’s place within that tableau, considering the nature of consciousness, morality, and politics. Walker’s erudition is astounding—there is very little of intellectual interest that is not covered by this book, and she provides one of the most accessible introductions to chaos theory available. But that virtue doubles as a vice, since the volume stalls under the weight of its own ambitions; the author simply covers too much too briefly. In addition, her knowledge of moral and political theory is not on the same level as her impressive expertise in physics; for example, her account of the theoretical foundations of American government is respectable but not searching. There’s also a touch of naiveté in her optimism that a certain understanding of physics can transcend the ideological divisions of the left and the right: “We can even merge them into one holistic philosophy. And there is a way to accomplish this which is so simple and natural and good natured that I don’t understand why it isn’t staring us all in the face more plainly.” The prose is admirably clear, and the challenging but approachable accounts of modern physics avoid being overly “mathy.” While the author overreaches, her wonderfully lucid explanations of modern physics often hit their marks.

  • Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2016
  • ISBN: 978-1-4575-4359-3
  • Page Count: 294
  • Publisher: Dog Ear
  • Review Posted Online: June 15, 2016
  • Review Program: Kirkus Indie

Amazon Reviews

R. M.
5.0 out of 5 stars, Thought provoking piece
Reviewed in the United States on 28 May 2017

This is a thought-provoking and optimistic book that covers a lot of material in a fairly small space. It gives a broad overview of the interconnected nature of everything, from smallest to largest. After laying a foundation with discussion of the cosmos, fractals, chaos theory, the bulk of the book discusses a sort of natural philosophy about nature and the human place in it, and how things could be improved by re-thinking a lot of activities. I think it’s well worth reading and pondering more than once. Some readers might find it too broad and not deep enough, but it I think it is intended this way as an introduction; and there are plenty of fields the author could follow up with in other books.

5.0 out of 5 stars, Amazingly powerful concepts, yet still readable
Reviewed in the United States on 18 September 2017

This is really an amazing book – it’s breadth of concept is quite stunning. Elaine Walker introduces chaos mathematics (non-mathematically) and illustrates how it embodies the underlying organizational principles for all of reality, using the cosmos at different scales (including our familiar daily world) to illustrate it. After establishing the idea that space-time itself, and everything in it, is a kind of fractal, she then turns to consciousness and argues that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, emerging from complex feedback loops, and can also be described using the ideas of chaos theory. Finally, she looks at our own perception and shows that we are not constructed to perceive the complexity of the world around us; we instead make dramatic simplifications like geometric shapes (a child draws a tree as a circle and a cylinder, but a tree is really a fractal entity). There are incredible ideas in this book – and improbably enough, they are presented in an easily-digestible manner. The real importance of this work is not yet broadly realized. I think it is one of the few most powerful books I have ever read.

Bruce K.
5.0 out of 5 stars, Thought provoking…
Reviewed in the United States on 8 December 2019

Thought provoking overview and intro to chaos theory, and the apparent non-random randomness of nature and the universe.

5.0 out of 5 stars, her work in electronic, microtonal/xenharmonic music
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2016 Format: Paperback

I became aware of the author by way of her work in electronic, microtonal/xenharmonic music (which I also recommend that you listen to as something of an audio companion piece to this book, for a more thorough experience and understanding of the depth of intellect and humour from which this volume was mined).

The word “unique” has been so exhausted in the English language since the turn of the 21st century that it has essentially become valueless, yet I am not hesitant to use it here because I believe that this is a truly unique work of accessible scientific and philosophical writing on a range of topics which can certainly seem a bit intimidating to the casual, yet curious reader who is interested in getting his/her feet wet in, among other things, contemporary theoretical physics, consciousness, sociology, morality, the cosmos and even cryogenics. Unique in that all of this is approached from the perspective of an electronic musician with deep and profound interests in science, education and philosophy along with having the street cred with NASA and others to back her up.

Walker writes both eloquently and playfully with ease over a multitude topics which are more often than not obscured by impenetrable, overly academic language by most writers – usually reflecting a certain amount of insecurity, thus consequentially sucking the life out of the very subjects themselves and extinguishing the reader’s enthusiasm to learn. Walker does not do this. Nor is she condescending or doubtful about the ability of her audience to keep up with her as she transitions effortlessly from chapter to chapter, subject to subject. She knows and understands what she is writing about and she wants you, the reader, to care and to share in her passion for knowledge. She wants to ignite a spark in each of you to learn and to share in the excitement and good fortune that we all have to be alive in this exciting, fascinating and, yes, sometimes terrifying time.

This book is perfect for anyone who is intrigued by dueling, contemporary opinions concerning the beginnings of the cosmos, dark matter, dark energy, chaos theory, fractal geometry, transhumanism, the real technologically-enabled possibility of immortality and a myriad of other modern topics which are usually buried in the ephemeral headlines, sound-bytes and blurbs of today’s excruciatingly superficial and vapid mass media culture.

In short, Elaine wants you to know that there is a lot of incredible sh*t going on in the world right now and you should know about it. Read this book, take notes, be inspired and keep learning.

4.0 out of 5 stars, All-rounded book on the beauty of the Universe
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2017 Format: Kindle Edition

I was not acquainted with any theories in the book: chaos theory, for example, as well as the author’s works, so I was confused while reading this book.

The author writes widely on many topics, from mathematics to philosophy to the everyday life, and I can make out the usefulness of mathematics and physics in things we never thought deeply about… although, to the end, I am still overwhelmed. Yet, I appreciated the images included in the book, for they helped me visualize the concepts in a better way. I found great joy in looking at the pictures of the fractals, relating them to our heartbeats in the book, and go: “Now I know.”

I will be re-reading the book so that I can understand the concepts better. *I got a free copy in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley

4.0 out of 5 stars, Such an interesting book so easily written and explained
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2016 Format: Kindle Edition

Such an interesting book so easily written and explained it’s not so easy to find. Everything from universe to morality (going trough fractals and biology) or anything you are wondering right now, I was so happy to read this book that I’m going to recommend it to everybody I know.

Un libro chiarissmo e decisamente molto interessante non é poi cosí facile da trovare, quindi sono entusiasta di aver avuto la possibilitá di leggere questo, che spazia dall’universo alla morale, passando per i frattali e la biologia senza sluzione di continuitá e offre una seplice panoramica sul tutto, tanto che lo consiglieró a chiunqe.

Robert C. Schwarz
5.0 out of 5 stars, Wild tour of topics with compelling common theme
Reviewed in the United States on September 21, 2017 Format: Paperback

I found the book via the Kickstarter campaign and was already aware of the many topics it covers from the author’s diverse interests. At the time, I could not imagine how she would connect them, or even add to a superficial treatment of each. I was happy to see that it was both accessible but still offered new perspectives in many places. In particular, I had not thought deeply about one of the central themes of the book: The human “urge” to abstract, categorize and control, in opposition to the self-regulation that we can observe in many areas of nature.

One of my favorite paragraphs in the book featured the observation about how many worry about their “ecological footprint” and the “destruction of nature” that happens through human action, but at the same don’t hesitate to heavily regulation human action itself.

GoodReads Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars, it was amazing

Sep 03, 2016

I am pleased to announce that (according to Elaine Walker) I am now a member of the 1% of the population who thought about hyperspheres.

The credit goes to her. With the book “Mind over Matter” she drew a remarkable and very interesting picture (maybe controversial, but original and well built) of the entire universe. And by “universe” I mean space time energy lifetime conscience morality intelligence abstraction curiosity evolution… A very long list, reflecting the depth of thought and the formidable erudition of the Author.

This book has literally opened before me a new way to consider the universe (by “universe” I mean … see the above list!) and the everyday reality (whatever it is).

Thank you, Elaine Walker, for the depth of your thoughts and your kindness in sharing them through a clear and understandable language.

4.0 out of 5 stars, really liked it

May 26, 2017

Let’s have full disclosure at the outset, shall we? Elaine Walker first crossed my radar in 2001 when I began hearing about her work in microtonal and electronic music. (OK, this isn’t a review about me, but I looked this up today, so I’ll inflict it upon you… I had read about her microtonal work and heard a sample somewhere; then I described the work to someone on a music-related mail list, and almost instantly got a pointer to her name and her band Zia, on May 29, 2001.)

So I’ve been occasionally following her career for quite a while (through binoculars from a distance as one does when traveling out in the field), and I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund this book’s production, starting in 2014. I cherish my signed copy, by the way, so I bought the Kindle version to actually read and I keep the paperback copy pristine. I guess that’s an endorsement.

This is apparently Ms Walker’s first book, aside from academic work. It is a very interesting and broad look at the Cosmos and the place of humanity in it, from sub-atomic particles to the large scale structure of space-time; from fractals and non-linear systems to human consciousness and curiosity. The writing is excellent, and the copy-editing is good.

The book is presumably written for the educated, curious lay-person. It offers basic explanations of chaos theory and a number of areas important to the philosophical outlook. It provokes thought in many areas. But the reader is also kind of expected to know a tiny bit about recursion, stochastic processes, basic algebra, and (LOL) what “noise floor” means.

I’m not sure that after only one reading I can make any kind of capsule explanation of what it’s about, except to say that it’s about the natural interconnectedness of absolutely everything, and the kinds of processes that are happening everywhere all the time at every level, and how humans abstract them. As I was reading through it, I found myself agreeing with pretty much all of her observations about humanity and societies. (Well, we may differ some on opinions about economics and private capital, but we won’t go into that here.) Throughout the book she is vastly more optimistic than I am about the future of humanity, and life on our planet in general.

She covers a lot of ground, and space, with a bird’s eye view, pointing the way for readers to make their own deeper journey through the territory. I view this book as a good starting point for the author to further develop this philosophical outlook, and I hope she follows up with perhaps some essays on specific areas that could be fleshed out with more detailed treatment, or even another book.

I could also see this as being a good foundational text for some kind of college-level interdisciplinary course, perhaps in a Philosophy or general Humanities department.