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Science and the Modern World

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684836393
ISBN-10: 0684836394
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

An English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead provided the foundation for the shool of thought known as process philosophy. With an academic career that spanned from Cambridge to Harvard, Whitehead wrote extensively on mathematics, metaphysis, and philosophy. He died in Massachusetts in 1947.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (August 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684836394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684836393
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. M. Dale on February 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
Naturally, a book written in the midst (or even aftermath) of the relativity revolution is going to be both insightful and limited. Whitehead's book is, in this regard, a child of its age. Yet this is not the entire story, since Whitehead possessed the gift of being able to contextualize his own thought and thus leave it open-ended.

The technical aspects of the book are, of course, sparse on facts. There is evidence that Whitehead (who, in 1925, had been at Harvard for only a year and was now engaged full-time with philosophy, less so with the mathematics of his earlier career) was aware of the sweeping changes in the world brought on by the quantum physics. He was certainly aware of its potential. Niels Bohr said that anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it; on this definition, Whitehead did indeed understand it, because the new physics never ceased to amaze him. He grew up, after all, and was edicated as a mathematician, in a very Newtonian world. But it is important to situate the book: the theories that shape what we today know as quantum mechanics were still being debated and worked out in the 20s. Most of the most stiking information has been theorized since that time, certainly long after Whitehead's death. Two examples are Bell's work on separated systems (60s) and Wheeler's discussion of a self-observing universe (1979!).

Whitehead's book is most useful as a book on the philosophy of science, as well as a succinct and accurate appraisal of science in the modern world (modern meaning 17th-19th centuries, historically speaking).
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Format: Paperback
In short: A serious and thoughtful book about the meaning and impact of science. This is not light, popular science reading. (If you're looking for that, I highly recommend the works of folks like Freeman Dyson or Stephen Jay Gould.)
_Science and the Modern World_ has some stunning, timeless insights, and many things I'm fond of quoting. Here's a favorite, from the last chapter:
"Modern science has imposed upon humanity the necessity for wandering. Its progressive thought and its progressive
technology make the transition through time, from generation to generation, a true migration into uncharted seas of adventure.
The very benefit of wandering is that it is dangerous and needs skill to avert evils. We must expect, therefore, that the future
will disclose dangers."
(Here it comes:)
"It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties."
"The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon the placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities for intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge."
(Same as it ever was!)
"The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages."
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Format: Paperback
I cannot make a good summary of this book, for I do not know it well enough. I do have a sense of its great depth and beauty. Whitehead seems to me not only a profound thinker but a humble person who stands in certain awe before the Universe. He opens by describing the way a few people in a small part of Europe caused a great revolution in human thinking. He argues that this Scientific Revolution will amount to the triumph of Reason in the world. His chapters are on, The Origins of Modern Science, Mathematics as Element in the History of Thought, The Century ofGenius, The Eighteenth Century, The Romantic Reaction, The Nineteenth Century, Relativity, The Quantum Theory ,Science and Philosophy, Abstraction, God, Religion and Science, Requisites for Social Progress.

I was moved by the concluding words of his book .

" I have endeavoured in these lectures to give a record of a great adventure in the region of thought. It was shared in by all the races of Western Europe .It developed with the slowness of a mass movement. Half a century is its unit of time. The tale is the epic of an episode in the manifestation of reason. It tells how a particular direction of reason emerges in a race by the long preparation of antecedent epochs, how after its birth its subject- matter gradually unfolds itself, howit attains its triumphs, how its influence moulds the very springs of action of mankind ,and finally how at its moment of supreme success its limitations disclose themselves and call for a renewed exercise of the creative imagination. The moral of the tale is the power of reason ,its decisive influence on the life of humanity. The great conquerors from Caesar to Napoleon, influenced profoundly the lives of subsequent generations.
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