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What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty (Edge Question Series) Paperback – February 28, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The title's question was posed on Edge.org (an online intellectual clearing house), challenging more than 100 intellectuals of every stripe—from Richard Dawkins to Ian McEwan—to confess the personal theories they cannot demonstrate with certainty. The results, gathered by literary agent and editor Brockman, is a stimulating collection of micro-essays (mainly by scientists) divulging many of today's big unanswered questions reaching across the plane of human existence. Susan Blackmore, a lecturer on evolutionary theory, believes "it is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will," and Daniel Goleman believes children today are "unintended victims of economic and technological progress." Other beliefs are more mundane and one is highly mathematically specific. Many contributors open with their discomfort at being asked to discuss unproven beliefs, which itself is an interesting reflection of the state of science. The similarity in form and tone of the responses makes this collection most enjoyable in small doses, which allow the answers to spark new questions and ideas in the reader's mind. It's unfortunate that the tone of most contributions isn't livelier and that there aren't explanations of some of the more esoteric concepts discussed; those limitations will keep these adroit musings from finding a wider audience. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this informative and often surprising book, more than 100 notable scientists and scholars answer the question, "What do you believe even though you cannot prove it?" The responses range from the thought-provoking to seemingly trivial (or just plain silly). Professor of cosmology and astrophysics Martin Rees, for example, admits that he believes intelligent life is unique to our world (in sharp contrast to many of his fellow contributors). Alun Anderson, senior consultant to New Scientist magazine, believes cockroaches are conscious. Mathematician and science-fiction novelist Rudy Rucker believes in a multiplicity of universes. Susan Blackmore, who has written widely on the subject of consciousness, appears to believe that she doesn't exist. The contributors touch on a broad spectrum of subjects, from religion to science and many points in between. Although some of the responses are arrogant or nitpicky, the majority are thoughtful, honest, and revelatory of the contributors' own intellectual and philosophical biases. And the book certainly gets us thinking about our own deeply held, if entirely unprovable, beliefs. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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That aside, as a book, this one has its pleasures and problems. The main pleasure is to hear emminent scientists speculate about things in their field--some humbly, some more brashly, but all with a great respect for what they do. It is always wonderful to hear people talk about things they really love, whether you agree with them or not. It is also interesting to see that great minds often differ in their feelings about where science will ultimately lead us. Again, it reminds us that science, self-correcting as it is, knowledge-widening as it is, by no means generates universal agreement, even among its practitioners. Most of the articles are quite brief, being at most a few pages, so a reader rarely gets overwhelmed or bogged down, even if one is not familiar with the ideas being discussed.
On the other hand, there are some themes hit upon repeatedly by the writers here that the repitition gets somewhat boring. I almost put the book down after the first 50 pages because reading about whether or not God exists or if there is life (intelligent or otherwise) somewhere else in the universe are old questions covered better elsewhere. However, things got better as the book went on (except for a brief digression into the mind/body problem), and some of the writers here addressed some questions I found very interesting, some outrageous and some that got me thinking, which is the highest compliment I can give.
Overall, it may not be a great book, but it's easy to read and has enough bright spots to make it worthwhile.
The late John Brockman of the Edge Institute produced a series of these books, with experts responding to different questions or propositions (one was "This Will Change Everything"). I've read three or four of them, but "What We Believe But Cannot Prove" is far and away the best. I carry a copy in the car, for reading at coffee shops or restaurants.
"What we believe but Cannot Prove". Essays from top scientists on topics such as Consciousness (is there such a thing, does language bring it about?), quantum mechanics (is the electron composed of any smaller particles?), astronomy (is there more than one universe), time (is everything predetermined) just to name a few from memory. I had gotten this book because i enjoyed "What is your most dangerous idea" so much from the same "edge dot com" group/ editor. I wasn't as into this book I believe because "What is your most dangerous idea" was just more interesting and similar. Some topics overlap. For example this book may have the argument that they believe consciousness does not exist while "dangerous idea" will have the dangerous idea that the soul does not exist. (This book did come out before "what is your most dangerous idea"). Some great ideas in here regardless to ponder.
The length of each author's contribution varies (some go the point very directly, and some others take the opportunity to be a little bit more poetic about their thoughts) and the way they approach the question also varies, whether they interpret it as a futuristic prediction or a more philosophical way of thinking about their respective fields remaining mysteries.
Most recent customer reviews
stimulating ideas. Should be in everyone's library. Good gift for an intellectual friend.