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Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195096361
ISBN-10: 0195096363
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Science is "heretical," according to Northeastern University physics professor Cromer, because its essence--objectivity--defies primitive human egocentrism. He suggests that objectivity is a very uncommon kind of thinking that evolved only in ancient Greece. Many countries established astrological systems, he points out, but only Greece produced solid geometry and number theory. Cromer nails his thesis against the doors of what he perceives as the current orthodoxies of New Age romanticism, political correctness and multiculturalism, reiterating his view that the core of scientifc thinking was a uniquely Western discovery and not a natural development latent in all evolving civilizations. He believes that this "uncommon sense" is easily overwhelmed by the persistent infantile appeal of such "magical" explanations of our observed world as UFOs, the paranormal and crystal channelings. Cromer and colleagues have conceived a science curriculum called SEED (Science Education Experiments & Demonstrations) for students and teachers in the middle school grades which is worthy of consideration by all educators. Illustrations.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Cromer (Physics/Northeastern) advances several agendas in this provocative, polemical work. For starters, he asserts that science isn't an inevitable development in advanced cultures. Rather, he sees most people at most times stuck in the egocentric/magical world that Piaget described as central to the early developmental stages of childhood. Had it not been for the Greeks--with their democratic penchant for dialogue and debate--and the brilliance of Euclid, Archimedes, et al. (but not Aristotle), we might still be animists or dependent on religious prophets for our cosmology and cosmogony. The author contends that it was the rebirth of Greek science in the Renaissance, combined with the age of exploration and the invention of movable type, that created today's world dominated by science and technology. We've arrived at a stage where we can talk about the completeness of science and, based on probabilities and calculations, Cromer concludes that there's no point in seeking extraterrestrial intelligence or dreaming of intergalactic travel. Moreover, if we're to improve the world, we'd better do something about our schools: Instead of making them substitutes for home, as well as vehicles for social policies, we need to incorporate dynamic hands-on science programs, pouring our resources into the eighth and ninth grades and eliminating the last two years of high school. Wow. Clearly he who credits the Greeks for the spirit of debate will himself invite debate. What of the history of technology...mathematics...inductive proofs...the (Indian) invention of zero? As for the completeness of science, that's what they said in 1900...and said again in the early days of the genetic code. Overall, then, a generous helping of hubris here--but not without redeeming insights on good and bad science, as well as examples of Cromer's own work in reforming middle-school science curricula. (Nineteen line drawings) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 24, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195096363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195096361
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.5 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 23, 1996
Format: Paperback
I found this book a paridigm shifter. It will permantly alter your thinking about
the puzzle of why seemingly rational people will accept irrational
attitudes. The author suggests that the rise of the "scientific
method" was a (happy) historical accident that we owe to the greeks.

His experience as a physics teacher is used as an example of the
difficulty in weening people away from subjective thinking.
The central idea of this book is that objective thinking is a
learned skill that does not come naturally to humans. While this may seem
inherently pessimistic it seems to me more realistic than
ignoring a major educational problem.
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Answering these questions, Alan Cromer has written a book that should certainly be read by every science educator. It should also be read by most people interested in the history and philosophy of science as all of these topics are covered.

Edward O. Wilson, in On Human Nature: Revised Edition writes that "No intellectual vice is more crippling than defiantly self-indulgent anthropocentrism." It seems Cromer would enthusiastically agree since a central argument in this book is that human thought is mired in unscientific egocentrism and that it took the specific circumstances of ancient Greece and later Europe to give us science.

This stands in contrast to the idea that science inevitably and naturally arises as knowledge progresses. I tend to agree with Cromer that this is incorrect and that it took a specific intellectual climate and historical circumstance for science to develop. Marshalling evidence from the cultures of China, India, and the Middle East where nearly all the ingredients to produce science were present -- such as literacy and mathematics -- Cromer argues that there was nevertheless something vital missing because science did not develop in those cultures. This vital missing element is the rejection of private knowledge or intuition as valid sources of knowledge. This would only come later with the independent European merchant class rediscovering Greek ideas and epitomized by Galileo.

My area of scholarly interest is in the cognitive science of religion and so abuts this topic closely. I would say that Cromer's conclusions are fairly sound.
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I was delighted with this wonderful book. The author gives an all around explanantion about the origins of science and its nature, pointing out the misconceptions that are distorting science education. A great book for the professional scientist that usually never has time to ponder how science is distinct from the intuitive creativity of common sense and the educated person that wants to understand this activity that permeates our society but is basically not understood.
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I'm not going to discover this book for anyone. It's one of those work that you should have read several years ago. It's a classic with just twenty years or so (it was published on 1995).

The book is about asking a very simple question: without the Greek civilization, would have been science as we know it today? What Alan Cromer answers is not, or if you prefer, not for sure. And even if you agree or not, the book is not only persuasive but also well thought, well pondered in exploring the doubts or grey zones that a question like that engenders. But as long as the author advances his insight you discover the depth of his thought which means that without knowing you he is in fact weaving with the threads of your own thinking. His question is so valid that is highly possible that you had try to answer it sometime. And if not, then he pushes you to the extreme of your convictions, where the certainties end and some form of light begins.

But that is just one aspect of this work. The other one being Cromer's prose. His sentences are all well done, he thought every single sentence as a closed construction. He simplifies but he never oversimplifies. And to explain a topic, say, the DNA molecule or the problem posed by a double pendulum, he takes his time to let you know what he is talking about and why is important to consider an example before continuing with the narration. The result is that nothing is superfluous. If you have to re-read something here you never think you're wasting your time.

In fact, for non American readers, the last chapter could be seen as one that is interesting just for US readers. But as long as you progress through the analysis professor Cromer does, you realize that the problem he treats is universal.
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Fascinating overview of intellectual development in human civilization. Cromer goes out on a limb with his remarks on the impossibility of exploring space, but he is right on target in his remarks on the abysmal state of American science education. With PC dumbing down education and people like Paul Feyerabend ridiculing the notion that science is of any use whatsoever, Cromer is a breath of fresh air.
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