2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Approaching knowledge through an understanding of limits
I've been reading this type of book since the 1970s, and there were still things that had confused me about some of the common topics. I found this one made many of them much clearer. I found the author's approach to his subject rather clever, because so few authors look at such topics from the point of view of limits. The mode is usually to imagine the possibilities...
Published on February 8, 2011 by Atheen M. Wilson
3 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A lost cause for a physicist to dwelve into Neuroscience
I just read the first few pages of the text and believe me it is a plain physicist's view of the concepts of mind and .....
I have degress in electical engineering , computer science and neuroscience and believe me the understanding of the brain has radically changed. What can I say ... I would recommend graduate level courses in Neuroscience to the author. The said...
Published on December 2, 2010 by Soulslayer
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Approaching knowledge through an understanding of limits,
This review is from: The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? (Hardcover)I've been reading this type of book since the 1970s, and there were still things that had confused me about some of the common topics. I found this one made many of them much clearer. I found the author's approach to his subject rather clever, because so few authors look at such topics from the point of view of limits. The mode is usually to imagine the possibilities as though there were no limits. Some of the topics upon which the author expounds have to do with the inherent limits of the human mind/brain to comprehend and some are bounded by what can be known or more than inferred. In this frame it is almost a philosophy of what is knowable.
While the book is probably a little oversimplified for anyone who has read on this topic for any length of time, it is a good place to start. The similes are clear and are rarely taken to extremes. It also reveals how physicists approach their subject and how, when and why breakthroughs occur.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honest and Practicle,
This review is from: The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? (Hardcover)Russell Stannard has done a great service that seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed by others given the lack of reviews (either volitionally or unintentionally). The service of which I am speaking is Stannard's very understandable and introductory presentation of science that focuses on areas such as cosmology, physics, high energy physics, quantum physics, and ending with string theory, or Ed Witten's M-theory that confers a two-dimensional property to strings which are now regarded as membranes or "branes."
Although the mathematics on string theory is in its genesis, that has not prevented cosmologists/cosmogonists from utilizing the mathematical capital from M-theory to build cosmological scenarios (they do not deserve the term "model") whereby some "branes" are stretched to the size of a universe (like a slice of bread in another dimension inaccecible to us), and when two branes collide every trillion years, they create something akin "Big Bangs."
[The diehard reader may want to review the updated websites of the inventors of these scenarios such as Paul Steinhardt who have admitted to their reservations about their own conjectures]. This is referred to as the Cyclical Ekpyrotic Brane scenario, which have their history in chaotic inflationary models of cosmology. The salient point here is that Stannard does not touch upon these issues, but Stannard does provide tools in which the reader can utilize when subsequently reading a book that presents such speculations.
And that is exactly what Stannard's book is about--the limits of science. In the quantum physics chapter, he explicitly makes reference to Hugh Everett, III's "many worlds" hypothesis and its use for anthropic cosmology. For Stannard this would count as an example of surpassing the limits of science. That is to say, Everett's view is unfalsifiable, ad hoc and speculative but popular among scientists (like M-theory), which has likewise been seized upon as a basis to undermine what we actually find in our universe. Everett's model (and he was an explicit an atheist) is used to do away with the issue of alleged fine-tuning arguments utilized by therists, and not for the revelations it presents in quantum physics. One can easily find this in a host of books released by the New Atheists or science books published in 2009 and 2010. That is, it is standard practice for many scientists and wannabe philosophers to use Everett's view, which provides us an infinite number of counterfactual people and universes, to do away with the alleged appearance of design in "our" universe (much like Darwinism does away with the appearance of design in biology).
For the diehard physicalist that has an extensive background on these issues, this book will probably borderline on the offensive as the most surprising aspect of the book is Stannard's honesty when it comes to certain issues in science (ontological issues) that present themselves as insurmountable despite two-hundred years of trying to come up with models that do not crumble under rebutting and undercutting defeaters (e.g., consciousness); hence, Stannard's subtitle "are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable?"
Stannard is no novice in writing introductory level books, and he is best known for popular level science books for children, and an introductory book to relativity theory. This would be a good and honest beginner's book for those of you who are not initiated into the fray of popular level science that begins from cosmology and ends in quantum theory, M-theory, world ensembles and extra-dimensions. If you are going to take a vacation, I would recommend purchasing Stannard's book versus 'Packing for Mars' if you plan on reading future books in any of the areas outlined in this review.
As a warning (because I know my village atheist friends will eventually look for any opportunity to call me names, and basically mimic Richard Dawkin's stunning philosophic prowess) Stannard has received Templeton foundation kudos which is a red-flag for the diehard atheist that would regard his introductory book to allow "a divine foot in the door" even though Stannard's book does not address the issue of theism in any meaningful way.
The favor for the honest scientist and the honest reader of science books, the main feature of Stannard's book is placing a series of dilemmas, queries, and yet-to-be-solved scientific questions outside the margins throughout his book. The village atheist or a scientist devoid of any substantial background in ontology or epistemology would likely label such queries as "science stoppers," because of their reductionist presuppositions. But, there is no need for a naturalism-of-the-gaps battle cry in the context of this book as Stannard is not advocating such views.
For the general reader not familiar with the wide range of issues written in popular level science books, Stannard's book is recommended given its honesty, brevity and ability to unpack many issues that are typically not found in more specialized books that have a smaller window of topics. That is to say, the book--although somewhat small--has much packed into its pages. There are many other books that do just as good as a job, but they do not come with the possible "limitations" of science in their margins.
The chapters are somewhat small which can be refreshing for the beginner (and even for those who always have something new to learn), and they are set out as follows:
1. Brain and consciousness
2. Creation and the cosmos
3. The laws of nature
4. The anthropic principle
5. The size of the cosmos
6. Extraterrestrial life
7. The nature of space
8. Space in relation to time
9. The nature of time
10. High energy physics (which is Stannard's field of practice)
11. The quantum world, and
12. Quantum gravity and string theory
Before anyone that reads this review runs off staying "stay away, it creationism," nothing could be further from the truth. The book, which is published by OUP, is merely honest about the present and future issues for which scientists have to grapple (if possible). It is not a philosophy book on arguments for the existence of God. As a complement to readers that are looking for Truth, I would recommend Stannard's book in conjunction with Bill Craig's Reasonable Faith or Robert Spitzer's New Proofs for the Existence of God, both of which deal directly with the same issues that Stannard raises. I would provide a 5-star rating but for the fact that these issues are covered in other books that present a wider range of the same topics.
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive overview of the limits of scientific inquiry,
This review is from: The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? (Hardcover)This is an ambitious yet accessible book that spans the universe from its creation to yesterday and includes pretty much everything in it. Physicist and professor Russell Stannard, a confident guide through this complex and, at times, contradictory territory, proves skilled at analogies and visualizations, and sympathetic over the difficulty of the questions he raises. These are mind-shattering inquiries: thoughts about thoughts and observations about observations. The author presents this confusion as the status quo and illuminates how all the contradictions of physics still come together to define a universe. Stannard also reminds the reader that everything he describes could be obsolete tomorrow. He provides perspective for - and getAbstract recommends this book to - all those interested in science, predictions of the future, philosophy and human nature.
5.0 out of 5 stars Is There a Limit to What We Can Know?,
Russell Stannard is a physicist and so he thinks like a physicist and in his recent book "The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable" he tackles the problem of limitations from a physicist's point of view. If I was writing such a book I would do so from the viewpoint of a biologist. However I think that I would come to similar conclusions. This is a well-thought out and well written book. Stannard tells us like it is in my opinion, not in the vain that we have come to the end of science- he envisions scientific discovery to continue into the next few decades or even several hundred years, but in that we humans may very well be incapable of solving the stickiest philosophical problems, most of which have been debated for hundreds of years, if not millennia. In many ways some scientists who take a "fundamentalist" scientism view and run with it are much like radical religious leaders. Stannard notes a few string theorists who claim that we should throw out the usually rules of evidence in order to accommodate their version of string theory. This way, as Stannard says, is madness, as it redefines science to make it non-science. It is in my opinion better to accept the possibility of limits to knowledge (and they may still allow a vast increase in human understanding) than to follow a very arrogant view that some day we will know it all! History has not been kind to people who held on to such hubris!
This is a very good book and it should be read by both scientist and knowledgeable layman alike!
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good brief summary,
It is therefore high time the issue of limits is addressed (as visible from the present). The author in brief chapters (the book as a whole is quite brief, being printed in larger type and just over 200 pp.) outlines the major ones: consciousness, big bang, laws of nature, anthropic principle, size of the universe, ET (unfortunately here he doesn't address Fermi's paradox), space and time, then quantum physics and the unfortunate status of string theory. A very very brief summary concludes, I'm not sure why more philosophical reflections were included in the end since the subject matter really calls for this. Throughout he outlines very clearly and simply and without any significant equations or hard science the actual limits. It's very refreshing to see him discuss the practical limits of physics, whether relating to astronomical issues (we will never really understand the big bang or what came before, probably, or what lies beyond our horizon of 13.7 billion light years) or to high-energy physics. In the latter case the limits are quite practical and quite obvious, there is a definite limit to how energetic an accelerator can be made by us humans here on earth. To claim otherwise is to confuse hope with reality I think. The supercollider in the US was cancelled for very strong reasons. At some point the whole population of the world will say, enough, this is too expensive, it's not worth it, and only a scientist can fail to see the nature and cogency of this social issue.
In the case of space and time it is possible theories will provide better 'explanations' for how they appear to us, but one area that will probably always remain suspect is the integration of laws of nature and universe itself, what exists. The author does not get too deeply into this issue the way Penrose did in many of his books, i.e., how does one reconcile on the one hand the equations, on the other hand, the actual existence of things?
The subject of the book is very similar to the earlier Horgan book End of Science, which he refers to briefly at the outset. The latter was more in-depth and philosophical and was different in that he actually interviewed famous scientists (Horgan was an editor for Sci. Am.) for their opinions, few of whom would even entertain the idea science has limits. I preferred the earlier book because it was more meaty and there were many gems of ideas in the interviews. I recall Chomsky I think mentioning there is no reason why evolution would have created a perfect brain capable of understanding everything. To me from a biol. background this argument is pretty impossible to refute. There is truly no reason why some ideas will not be impossible for humans to understand, and we will never know what those ideas are, by definition.
It is interesting to reflect on how science has advanced since the End of Science book from 15 years ago or so, I can think of only one major finding, which is the cosmological constant or dark energy-- far from being an advance, this has opened up a whole new 'universe' of mystery!! I can see the same thing happening in several years with the LHC-- findings which are unexpected and throw up very mysterious findings which highlight our current ignorance. Many believe that we are getting diminishing returns from the pursuit of science at this time... and this, when scientific budgets are being cut all over the world for other social reasons.
Social limits to science are an important part the author leaves out-- to what extent will the sci. enterprise continue if the population is against it? We see the first inklings of this in a lot of places currently in the world (I refer partly to the US) and this may get worse.
Excellent book but a bit brief and lacking in the philosophy aspect it leads into naturally.
3 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A lost cause for a physicist to dwelve into Neuroscience,
I have degress in electical engineering , computer science and neuroscience and believe me the understanding of the brain has radically changed. What can I say ... I would recommend graduate level courses in Neuroscience to the author. The said concepts and the reasoning is atleast 20 - 30 years old. As far as the central idea that there will be an end of discovery, I do not think so as sooner or later we will build machines more smarter and more capable than us. Machines which can evolve on there own. It can be agreed that with a fixed cognitive architecture we will never be able to see the full reality at the same point of time but we will always be able to observe in parts. What we will not be able to discover directly we will make machines which will do for us. Microscopes, telescopes , computers , calculators all fall into this category.... And yeah one final comment if the author has read any latest papers on the role of quantum mechanics and neural processing than he should know that there is no connection between the 2. I have observed that in every discussion of the brain and cognition physicists will bring quantum mechanics. Why cant this be understood in the most simple way. Quantum mechanics is the reality of "everything" at sub-atomic scale. Not only brain but also the stone , the clouds and the air... Does that mean that brain uses this property of sub-atomic scale in computation? It has been shown time and again that processing in the brain is performed by ion flows at a level much above quantum information processing. I hope this helps.
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The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? by Russell Stannard (Hardcover - October 7, 2010)