on January 6, 2001
This book shows the wide variety of subjects that Charles H. Townes explored and did substantive and original contributions. Then he is uniquely qualified for criticize excesses in unifying attempts in the frontiers of Physics and the overlaps of this discipline with other fields (Townes'Gathering of the Realms') when he say: "Scientists have now become a good deal more cautious and modest about extending scientific ideas into realms where they have not yet been throughly tested. We know today that the most sophisticated scientific theories, including quantum mechanics, are still incomplete". Reading these words one is like to ask: How much dose of caution and modesty a scientist must employ (e.g. extending quantum mechanical concepts to scientific anomalies 'no througly tested' or to theological thinking) for him/her starting a useful speculation on likely future explanatory theories of hypothetical consilient gatherings of realms?. In fact Townes himself is the first to break this advice of caution when he extends the uncertainty and complementarity principles to spiritual and ethical dimensions. All the contemporary attempts of scientific synthesis begin breaking this rule: Penrose extending quantum gravity theory into neurobiological realms still not 'throughly tested', Deutch stretching the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to computation, evolution and epistemology -realms where experiments still are in the long process of exploring the shocking implications of his insights-, Wolf dazzling extension of quantum vacuum physics to deep psychology and religion, fiels where of course testing is far of being 'throughly' examined, Jahn and Dunne 'metaphorical' generalization of QM to anomalous consciousness phenomena where both the theory and the claimed experimental results to be explained by the theory are by the time being far of 'unbiased' evidential scrutiny, and finally (we are distant of a complete review of synthesis-looking extrapolations) we have Wilson extension of non-quantum biological thinking to anthropology, psychology, religion, philosophy and the arts where the Townes'caution criteria is openly broken. May be the reason for wanting to extrapolate our 'still incomplete' scientific theories into still untested realms must to be looked in the last author (Wilson), in our yearning of "interlocking of causal explanations across disciplines", our "need to search for the proof that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws that comprise the principles underlying every branch of learning". Do not blame the generalists if their longing for consiliense outpace their caution and modesty. In these terms Townes book is a ideal complement to Wilson's "Consiliense".