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Imagined Worlds (Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) Hardcover – April 15, 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

With the millennium approaching, we can expect a glut of books about life in the 21st century and beyond. For Dyson, though, making predictions is nothing new. Over some 40 years, the honored physicist has written voluminously on future possibilities. The five longish essays in this collection explore future scenarios around the themes of "Stories," "Science," "Technology," "Evolution," and "Ethics." Probably the boldest predictions are in "Evolution," where Dyson looks ahead at several intervals, from ten years to infinity. Among other things, he envisions space colonization, galactic engineering projects, and the evolution of collective consciousness. As intriguing and readable as this book is, many of its ideas can be found in his other works (e.g., From Eros to Gaia, LJ 7/92). Libraries already owning a sampling of his writings can consider this an optional purchase. [Dyson is the father of computer guru Esther Dyson, and his son George is the author of Darwin Among the Machines, out this May from Helix.?Ed.]?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, Fl.
-?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, Fl.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Thanks to new technologies, researchers can see much farther into the galaxies, much deeper into the genetic structure of life, and more clearly into the heart of the atom than ever before. But envisioning our cultural future still requires the kind of probing, reflective human imagination we see at work in these pages. As this distinguished scientist contemplates a world in which genetic engineers create superbabies and pet dinosaurs, in which space colonies raise potatoes on Mars, in which radiotelepathy allows humans to communicate with dolphins and eagles, he weighs fear against hope. He fears that technological advances may exacerbate existing social inequities, so provoking conflict and violence. But he hopes that ethical progress will keep pace with science, making possible a future of universal prosperity and cooperation. With a rare breadth of literary and historical knowledge and with a wonderful lucidity of style, Dyson converts science from the intellectual property of specialists into a meaningful concern for everyone with a stake in our cultural future. Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Series: Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674539087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674539082
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #704,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on May 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Freeman Dyson is one of the most respected physicists and futurists in the United States. In this captivating book, based on a set of lectures he gave at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1995, Dyson explores possible futures in science, technology, evolution, and ethics. He argues that science and technology are offering the human race a myriad of exciting prospects, but that there are enormous challenges in harnessing them effectively. For example, he characterizes much of our most celebrated scientific and technological accomplishments as "ideologically driven" and therefore of lesser long-term value than intended. While they might boost national pride, they are too expensive and benefit too small a community to have significant effect on humanity. Ideologically driven technologies, furthermore, tend to leapfrog the type of rigorous experimentation so valuable in creating spin-off technologies of benefit to all.
Dyson is at his best when analyzing the ethical dimension of these technologies and what they portend for the future. Dyson offers this assessment: "Many of the technologies that are racing ahead most rapidly, replacing human workers in factories and machines, making stock-holders richer and workers poorer, are indeed tending to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth" (pp. 181-82). An object lesson is the proliferation of computer technology and the Internet. According to Dyson, since the poor have access neither to computers nor the Internet, and since jobs are increasingly being advertised on-line, they now no longer have access to many jobs. In this context, Dyson cries out for a commitment to social justice that would help mediate the widening gap between rich and poor.
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Format: Paperback
Freeman Dyson is an English American Physicist. His book, "Imagined Worlds" was borne from a series of lectures given in 1995. Throughout it's short 208 pages, Dyson has written a collection of insights into the possible futures for science and technology, and while easily accessible to a broad spectrum of readers it remains intellectually stimulating and thought provoking
Spawned from a truly remarkable imagination, some of those futures stretch far into timescapes populated by descendants who may be as unrecognizable to us as we might be to them. Where humankind has spread itself throughout the galaxy and joined in an alliance with other sentient beings. In the not so distant future, Dyson envisages the human colonization of Mars, DIY genetics where a child may be able to design their next pet, and how humankind (and animals) might one day be networked together at the mental level using a technology he calls "radio-telepathy".
Dyson has also included the past as an example of how we can begin to plan for these fantastic futures, emphasizing how the most successful technologies have started with humble beginnings and why a lot of the big, government sponsored, ideologically driven science is usually destined to failure. He effectively employs historical instances to illustrate his point.
From the disastrous failure of the British Airship the R101, the similarly inspired and equally calamitous BOAC Comet, through to the environmental nightmare that was (and still is!) Chernobyl. All were the result of the `Napoleonic' or politically driven technologies.
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Format: Paperback
There is little more fascinating then reading the thoughts of great minds. Dyson has seen and done much in his lifetime, and the chance to receive some of his wisdom should not be passed up.
This is a collection of ideas and thoughts (taken from a set of lectures), that cover a lot of ground, but are loosely based around the impact of science on society, how it can be abused when misused, but more importantly, some of the opportunities it offers us for the future if we use it well.
My only criticism on this book is its shortness. At just over two hundred rather spaced out pages, there is sadly a shortage of content, which is a great shame since Dyson clearly has a lot of ideas worth sharing. But I suppose that these are the ideas he wants to share the most, and by keeping it brief, he allows us to focus on them better, without being sidetracked by less important information.
While readable by just about anyone, those with some basic familiarity with science will get more out of it, while scientists will probably appreciate it even more. This book is more about the application of science then science itself, so understanding the science in it allows the reader to concentrate on what Dyson really wants to say.
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I always enjoy Freeman Dyson's books and essays, mostly because he is always willing to tackle the big questions in science and society. Not for him the pedestrian, the cynical, or the immediate--always the long view, with a certain passionate feeling for the possibilities of progress. His writing is refreshing and mind-expanding.
I especially enjoyed his discussion of early aviation, and the account he gives of the engineer, Nevil Shute Norway, one of my favorite authors of all time. The Darwinian perspective of the evolution of an artifact, the airplane, is right on, and one is tempted to see the phenomenon in other developing technologies as well.
The book is short, and is easy to read, especially considering the lofty ideas it contains.
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