- Paperback: 322 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 5, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553061747
- ISBN-13: 978-0553061741
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,914,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age Reprint Edition
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In a series of interviews with luminaries of modern science, Scientific American senior editor John Horgan conducted a guided tour of the scientific world and where it might be headed in The End of Science. The book, which generated great controversy and became a bestseller, now appears in paperback with a new afterword by the author. Through a series of essays in which he visits with such figures as Roger Penrose, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, and others, Horgan captures the distinct personalities of his subjects while investigating whether science may indeed be reaching its end. While this book is in no way dumbed down, it is accessible and can take the general reader to the outer edges of scientific exploration.
From Publishers Weekly
Scientific American columnist Horgan here interviews an impressive array of scientists and philosophers, who seem sharply divided over the prospects and possibilities of science. Among the pessimists, molecular biologist Gunther Stent suggests that science is reaching a point of incremental, diminishing returns as it comes up against the limits of knowledge; philosopher Thomas Kuhn sees science as a nonrational process that does not converge with truth; Vienna-born thinker Paul Feyerabend objects to science's pretensions to certainty and its potential to stamp out the diversity of human thought and culture. More optimistic are particle physicist Edward Witten, pioneer of superstring theory (which posits a universe of 10 dimensions); robotics engineer Hans Moravec, who envisions superintelligent creative robots; and physicist Roger Penrose, who theorizes that quantum effects percolating through the brain underlie consciousness. Other interviewees are Francis Crick, Noam Chomsky, David Bohm, Karl Popper, Murray Gell-Mann, Sheldon Glashow, Ilya Prigogine and Clifford Geertz. Despite the dominant doomsaying tone, this colloquium leaves much room for optimism.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Once past the book's introduction, interestingly entitled "Searching for The Answer", the author begins to present his argument that science may continue in the sense of further advancements in technology, but that it holds no more prospect for providing us with any grand, revolutionary ideals. While not spelled out explicitly, Mr. Horgan implies that this means some kind of knowledge that will deepen our understanding of the universe in the sense of bringing us closer to knowing the meaning of life or existence.
The most bizarre, and perhaps revealing, part of the book is the epilogue. Here, Mr. Horgan describes his experience of "lying spread-eagled on a suburban lawn" while experiencing some kind of psychotic episode where he hurtled through "a dark limbo toward what I was sure was the ultimate secret of life" and perceiving himself to be the only consciousness in the universe who imagined all things into existence.
The abrupt way that he launches into this story, with no explanation whatsoever of how he came to be lying in the middle of someone's yard, is strange and the whole thing seems eerily suggestive of an LSD induced trip. For what it's worth, Horgan previously comments about asking Frank Tipler if he had ever used LSD during their conversation about "the Omega Point" and whether machines may one day transform the universe into a single, giant information-processing device.
After relating this strange incident, Horgan then explains that it led him to believe that he had discovered the secret of existence, namely that God's own fear of death causes him to create other beings (people, etc.) as some kind of distraction from his mortality and singularity of being, which he dubs the "terror-of-God" idea. Just to reiterate: Horgan's idea is that God is terrified by the thought that he alone is the single consciousness of the universe and that, if he were to die, all consciousness and hence all things would cease to exist and that God therefore orchestrates other things as a distraction from his fear. Furthermore, all of this stems from some kind of psychedelic event in which Mr. Horgan experienced these feelings during a hallucination while lying in the middle of someone's yard.
This edition of the book includes an addendum that the author wrote in 1997 to reflect on the book's reception and to tie up loose ends. He concludes by writing, "Let me be completely frank here. My real purpose in writing The End of Science was to found a new religion, `The Church of the Holy Horror'". While I generally regard this to be some attempt at deadpan humor, it is not immediately evident that Mr. Horgan is in fact joking.
Overall, I would say the book is worth reading due to the interesting conversations with various scientists that comprise the bulk of it. However, one should be aware of the ultimate point that Mr. Horgan is getting at, which can be lost in the details of his argument.
Science has limits. There is no "The Answer" to any of it. Science cannot help us see smaller things or look further into space than what we have now. And even if we could, it would change nothing.
Thank you Mr. Horgan for writing a wonderful book and saying what needed to be said.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1996 book, "I sought out other scientists who were butting their heads against the limits of knowledge: particle physicists who dreamed of a final theory of matter and energy; cosmologists trying to understand precisely how and even why our universe was created; evolutionary biologists seeking to determine how life began and what laws governed its subsequent unfolding; neuroscientists probing the processes in the brain that give rise to consciousness; explorers of chaos and complexity, who hoped that with computers and new mathematical techniques the could revitalize science... When I first thought about writing a book... I intended to leave it to readers to decide whose forecasts about the future of science made sense and whose did not... But gradually... I convinced myself that one particular scenario was more plausible than all the others. I decided to abandon any pretense of journalistic objectivity and write a book that was overtly judgmental, argumentative, and personal..." (Pg. 4-5)
He suggests, "My guess is that this narrative that scientists have woven from their knowledge, this modern myth of creation, will be as viable 100 or even 1,000 years from now as it is today. Why? Because it is true. Moreover, given cognitive limits constraining further research science is unlikely to make any significant additions to the knowledge it has already generated. There will be no great revelations in the future comparable to those bestowed upon us by Darwin or Einstein or Watson and Crick." (Pg. 16) He asserts, "Of course, science will continue to raise new questions, in that they concern details that do not affect our basic understanding of nature. Who really cares, expect specialists, about the precise mass of the top quark... after research costing billions of dollars? Other questions are profound but unanswerable. In fact, the most persistent foil to the completion of science... is the human ability to invent unanswerable questions." (Pg. 29-30)
He says, "The vast majority of physicists, those employed in industry and even academia, will continue to apply the knowledge they already have in hand---inventing more versatile lasers and superconductors and computing devices---without worrying about any underlying philosophical issues. A few diehards dedicated to truth rather than practicality will practice physics in a nonempirical, ironic mode, plumbing the magical realm of superstrings and other esoterica and fretting about the meaning of quantum mechanics. The conferences of these ironic physicists, whose disputes cannot be experimentally resolved, will become more and more like those of that bastion of literary criticism, the Modern Language Association." (Pg. 91)
He states, "We have learned one astounding, basic fact about the universe. We know that the universe is expanding, and may have been for 10 to 20 billion years, just as evolutionary biologists know that all life evolved from a common ancestor through natural selection. But cosmologists are as unlikely to transcend that basic understanding as evolutionary biologists are to leap beyond Darwinism. David Schramm was right. In the future, the late 1980s and early 1990s will be remembered as the golden age of cosmology, when the field achieved a perfect balance between knowledge and ignorance. As more data flood in years to come, cosmology may become more like botany, a vast collection of empirical facts only loosely bound by theory." (Pg. 111-112)
He observes, "Computer simulations represent a kind of metareality within which we can play with and even---to a limited degree---test scientific theories, but they are not reality itself... Moreover, by giving scientists more power to manipulate different symbols in different ways to simulate a natural phenomenon, computers may undermine scientists' faith that their theories are not only true but TRUE, exclusively and absolutely true. Computers may, if anything, hasten the end of empirical science." (Pg. 226)
He notes, "The demise of science will surely exacerbate our spiritual crisis. The cliché is inescapable. In science as in all else, the journey is what matters, not the destination. Science initially awakens our sense of wonder as it reveals some new, intelligible intricacy of the world. But any discovery becomes, eventually, anti-climactic... We cannot help but believe that we are actors in an epic drama dreamed up by some cosmic playwright, one with a taste for suspense, tragedy, comedy, and---ultimately, we hope---happy endings. The happiest ending would be no ending." (Pg. 245)
He admits in the book's Epilogue, "Years ago... I had what I suppose could be called a mystical experience. A psychiatrist would probably call it a psychotic episode... Subjectively, I was hurtling through a dazzling, dark limbo toward what I was sure was the ultimate secret of life... At the same time, I was gripped by an overwhelming solipsism. I became convinced... that I was the only conscious being in the universe... Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to this ecstasy, ti might consume me. If I alone existed, who could bring me back from oblivion?... With this realization my bliss turned into horror; I fled the same revelation I had so eagerly sought." (Pg. 261)
He concludes, "At the heart of reality lies not an answer, but a question: why is there something rather than noting? The Answer is that there is no answer, only a question... The world is a riddle that God has created in order to shield himself from his terrible solitude and fear of death." (Pg. 263) He adds, "I think the terror-of-God hypothesis has much to recommend it. It suggests why we humans, even as we are compelled to seek truth, also shrink from it... My practical, rational mind tells me this terror-of-God stuff is delusional nonsense. But I have other minds... This belief even gives me a strange kind of comfort. Our plight is God's plight. And now that science---true, pure, empirical science---has ended, what else is there to believe in?" (Pg. 265-266)
This controversial book will be "must reading" for those interested in science, the philosophy of science, and its social implications.
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