Regis, Edward, Jr. 1944-
REGIS, Edward, Jr. 1944-
PERSONAL: Born January 7, 1944, in New York, NY; son of Edward J., Sr. (in business) and Doris (a homemaker; maiden name, Deloye) Regis; married Pamela Thompson (a college teacher), August 25, 1972. Education: Hunter College, B.A., 1965; New York University, M.A., 1969, Ph.D., 1972. Politics: Independent.
ADDRESSES: Home—Sabillasville, MD. Office—Western Maryland College, 2 College Hill, Westminster, MD 21157.
CAREER: Salisbury State College, Salisbury, MD, assistant professor of philosophy, 1971-72; Howard University, Washington, DC, assistant professor, 1972-76, associate professor of philosophy, 1976-87; Western Maryland College, Westminster, MD, college scholar, 1988—; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Reason Foundation fellow, 1980 and 1982; Earhart Foundation research grant, 1980-81, for work in ethical theory; annual Philosophy Club symposium prize, 1982, for "The Moral Status of Multigenerational Interstellar Exploration."
(Editor) Gewirth's Ethical Rationalism: Critical Essays with a Reply by Alan Gewirth, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
(Editor) Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1985.
(Under name Ed Regis) Who Got Einstein's Office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1987.
Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly over the Edge, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1990.
Nano: The Science of Nanotechnology: Remaking the World Molecule by Molecule, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.
Virus Ground Zero: Stalking the Killer Viruses with the Centers for Disease Control, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Biology of Doom: America's Greatest Germ Warfare Project, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
The Info Mesa: Science, Business, and New Age Alchemy on the Santa Fe Plateau, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience, edited by Eric M. Jones and Ben R. Finney, University of California Press, 1985; contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Air and Space, American Philosophical Quarterly, College English, Discover, Ethics, Journal of Critical Analysis, Journal of Philosophy, Metaphilosophy, New Scholasticism, Omni, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Religious Humanism, Review of Metaphysics, Science Digest, Smithsonian, Teaching Philosophy, Thomist, and Wired.
SIDELIGHTS: In a handful of books, philosophy professor and science writer Edward Regis, Jr., has managed to explicate complex scientific and theoretical issues and products for the lay reader. Regis makes topics from nanotechnology to the functioning of viruses and the intricacies of complexity-theory computer programs accessible and even entertaining to readers with little science background. He explores the workings of some of the greatest theoretical minds of the twentieth century in his book Who Got Einstein's Office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study. Funded by East Coast department store magnates Louis Bamberger and Caroline Bamberger Fuld and conceived by education expert Abraham Flexner, the Institute was designed to provide scientists with the ideal environment for purely theoretical pursuits. After reviewing the history of the Institute, Regis concentrates in his nonfiction study on the provocative theories and personalities of the scientists who have given the Institute its reputation as a refuge for eccentric geniuses. From the legendary quirks of physicist Albert Einstein to the flamboyant brilliance of Hungarian-born mathematician Johnny von Neumann, Regis creates an anecdotal chronicle of the scientists who have made the Institute a theoretical playground for more than fifty years.
Critics responded favorably to Who Got Einstein's Office. Jonathan Weiner, writing in New York Times Book Review, described the book as "entertaining" and praised the author's introductions to various scientific theories as being "among the best I have read." Though he felt that Regis might be "manipulating his material" and "reaching for effect," Washington Post contributor Robert Kanigel commended the author's competence as a science writer, adding that "readers grounded in science will be propelled through the text." And Los Angeles Times Book Review writer Malcolm C. MacPherson judged Regis a "science writer of the first magnitude" who has "a genius for bulldozing through dark thickets of scientific mumbo-jumbo."
In his next book Regis examines some of the more long-range possibilities of science and technology. Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly over the Edge derives the lead in its title from experiments conducted by Arthur Hamilton Milt in the early 1970s. Milt subjected chickens to increased gravity levels in centrifuges for months at a time. He discovered that the birds developed greater stamina and superior vascular and muscular systems. Some of the other scientists with speculative ideas that Regis portrays in his study include Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill, who envisions cities in space; Freeman Dyson, who projects an artificial biosphere that will completely encompass the solar system; cryonics pioneer Bob Ettinger, who speculates on the possibilities inherent in freezing the human body after death; and Hans Moravec, a robotics expert, who thinks the contents of a human brain,—knowledge, memories, beliefs, feelings—could someday be downloaded onto computer disks. A reviewer from the Futurist noted: "With an informal and entertaining style, Regis explores the different scientists' far-out ideas and their commitment to turning science fiction into science fact." Howard Rheingold felt that Regis is "never condescending to his subjects." The Whole Earth Review writer adds: "Regis evokes humor, awe, and continued reflection on the sheer chutzpah of Homo sapiens in this informal but well-informed joyride through the territory of high-tech high-hubrists."
In Nano: The Science of Nanotechnology: Remaking the World Molecule by Molecule, Regis devotes an entire book to one of the future technologies he touches upon in The Great Mambo Chicken. The science of nanotechnology, still in its barest infancy, considers the possibility of engineering atoms and molecules into self-replicating machines, known as "nanobots." Stanford scientist Eric Drexler and other proponents of this technology predict that nanobots could accomplish a nearly endless variety of wondrous tasks: the terra-forming of Mars, an end to human disease and aging, and even the transformation of matter (changing dirt into sides of beef or rocket engines). Of course there are also dangers to consider, the possibility of renegade nanobots self-replicating uncontrollably and transforming the entire earth into "grey goo" in a few days. Critics of the movement, such as MIT professor Robert Silbey, feel that Drexler and his supporters are way ahead of themselves. Silbey points out that there exists no means to engineer atoms to perform specifics tasks, either now or in the foreseeable future. The behavior of atoms, as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states, is unpredictable, and even slight changes in temperature could grossly deform the nanobots that Drexler envisions. Assessing Nano for Technology Review, Robert J. Crawford noted that Regis does not seriously consider such objections, but dismisses the critics of nanotechnology by accusing them of "'resisting' some new paradigm he never clearly defines." Further, Crawford dubbed Regis with the pejorative appellation of "techiecultest," and felt that his study represents "a tediously familiar formula: find a flamboyant researcher, broadcast that researcher's claims, explain a little about the technology behind it, and then move on." In contrast, a Publishers Weekly critic described Nano as an "engaging report on what may be tomorrow's alchemy."
In Virus Ground Zero: Stalking the Killer Viruses with the Centers for Disease Control, Regis relates the history of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and its battles against infectious disease from its birth as a malaria-eradication agency in the 1940s to its contemporary world-wide role as the planet's central disease-fighting organization. Although he praises the CDC for swift responses that have prevented many epidemics, such as the early recognition of the hanta virus on a Navajo reservation in 1993, it is also Regis's contention that the CDC has engaged in "empirebuilding" by exaggerating the public health threat of many viruses (such as Ebola and Lassa, both of which can be easily combated with traditional methods) in an attempt to increase its own budget and importance. He also points out that the CDC has expanded its purview in recent years to include health problems that do not fall under the category of infectious disease, such as smoking, car crashes, and obesity. A Publishers Weekly writer reviewing Virus Ground Zero remarked: "This balanced report makes an impressive counterweight to more cautionary books such as Richard Preston's The Hot Zone and Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague." Jacob Sullum of Reason found Regis's account to be "fast-paced and absorbing . . . lively, engaging, and often amusing." Sullum also seconded the book's concerns about the CDC's self-aggrandizing use of its power.
In his 1999 study, The Biology of Doom: America's Greatest Germ Warfare Project, Regis explores another history, that of the U.S. government's biological warfare program. Begun in the 1930s in response to the threat posed by Nazi Germany, the program was formally terminated by Richard Nixon in 1969. Regis discusses a good deal of information that has only surfaced in recent years, such as accidental sheep kills and the experimental use of psychotropic agents on individuals who did not know they had become human "guinea pigs." He also delineates the different methods explored to deliver biological weapons, including sprays, fleas, and underwater bombs. A writer for Publishers Weekly observed: "Regis writes for the layperson, and he is careful to depict the human drama behind the science." Gilbert Taylor of Booklist called The Biology of Doom "an objectively handled summary."
Regis examines the high tech industry in his 2003 title, The Info Mesa: Science, Business, and New Age Alchemy on the Santa Fe Plateau. The author shows how the Southwest has become the new seedbed for cutting edge software development, replacing California's Silicon Valley. Partly energized by talent from the weapons lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico, the computer start-ups in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico focus on "simulation and complexity theory," according to Steven Levy, writing in Newsweek. In profiles of almost forty such scientists, Regis takes a look at how these companies are helping businesses and researchers in all sorts of ways: from tracking their cargoes to aiding in identification of the types of proteins in substances that could help to make new medicine. Among the notables included in Regis's book are Dave Weininger and Stuart Kauffman. A contributor for Science News felt that Regis "paints compelling portraits of these sometimes-eccentric personalities." Similarly, writing in Booklist, Bryce Christensen noted that Regis "tells the story of how these often eccentric innovators—partial to flying saucer music and New Age mysticism—are developing complexity-theory programs to solve daunting scientific and business problems." And according to Levy, "Regis knows how to spin a good yarn, and better yet, can untangle nontrivial scientific subjects."
Regis is a member of the Extropians, described by Gary Chapman of the New Republic as "a high-tech human potential cult based in California." In an article in Wired, Regis stated: "No ambition, however extravagant, no fantasy, however outlandish, can any longer be dismissed as crazy or impossible....Suddenly, technology has given us powers with which we can manipulate not only external reality . . . but also, and much more portentously, ourselves."
Regis once noted, "I am a private pilot, and I live on a thirty-acre farm five miles from Camp David in rural Maryland."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1995, p. 1168; October 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Biology of Doom: America's Greatest Germ Warfare Project, p. 313; May 1, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of The Info Mesa: Science, Business, and New Age Alchemy on the Santa Fe Plateau, p. 1560.
Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 1987.
Futurist, May-June, 1991, review of Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly over the Edge, p. 43.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 13, 1987.
New Republic, January 9, 1995, Gary Chapman, review of Wired, p. 19.
Newsweek, September 29, 2003, Steven Levy, review of The Info Mesa, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, September 27, 1987.
Publishers Weekly, February 6, 1995, review of Nano: The Science of Nanotechnology: Remaking the World Molecule by Molecule, p. 69; November 20, 1995, Paul Nathan, "On the World Stage," p. 21; October 28, 1996, review of Virus Ground Zero: Stalking the Killer Viruses with the Centers for Disease Control, p. 70; October 25, 1999, review of The Biology of Doom, p. 61.
Reason, June, 1997, Jacob Sullum, review of Virus Ground Zero, p. 62.
Science News, September 20, 2003, review of The Info Mesa, p. 191.
Technology Review, May-June, 1996, Robert J. Crawford, review of Nano, p. 69.
Washington Post, September 22, 1987.
Whole Earth Review, fall, 1993, Howard Rheingold, review of Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, p. 115.
Hotwired Web site,http://hotwired.wired.com/talk/club/special/transcripts/96-11-15-regis.html (July 29, 2004), Andy Rozmiarek, "Ed Regis."
Nanotechnology Now Web site,http://nanotech-now.com/ed-regis-interview-122001.htm (December, 2001), "Ed Regis Interview." *