On the Wild Side Hardcover – March 1, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Prometheus Books (March 1, 1992)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 257 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0879757132
- ISBN-13 : 978-0879757137
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1 x 9.75 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,390,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
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The second essay, "Occam's Razor and the Nutshell Earth," deals with the strange, but apparently non-refutable idea that the earth is hollow and we live on the inside. It seems that it is mathematically possible to describe such a universe. Gardner asks on page 19, "Why then does science reject it?" The answer lies in Occam's Razor, one of the truly beautiful ideas in science, which states that given alternative explanations of phenomena, we must choose the one that is simplest. In this regard I must mention again my (fanciful!) idea that it is not space-time that is expanding, but matter that is contracting. I wonder if it is possible to chose which is really correct, or if such a choice has any meaning--or if, as Gardner's text might suggest, Occam's Razor might be applied.
Other essays deal with such delectable subjects as President Reagan and First Lady Nancy's reliance on astrologers for the timing of certain presidential events; the scientific basis of homeopathy, or actually, the lack thereof; geneticist (and author of the much anthologized essay, "On Being the Right Size") J. B. S. Haldane's embarrassing support of Stalin and the crackpot genetics of Lysenko; some stuff on Linus Pauling and the very weird Wilhelm Reich, etc. My favorite essays were on Frank Tipler's fantastic Omega Point "theology," which doesn't sit well with Gardner, and the essay "Relativism in Science" (Chapter 10), remarkable for the fairness that Gardner extends by reproducing astronomer Bruce Gregory's very effective rebuttal to Gardner's criticism of his book, Inventing Reality: Physics as a Language (1989).
But where I find myself in rare disagreement with Gardner is in his treatment of James E. Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis in the chapter entitled, "Gaiaism." His technical objection is stated on page 48, namely that Lovelock broadens the meaning of "alive" to the point where it is "what philosophers like to call a category mistake"; however Gardner's tone suggests that what really bothers him is the use of the Gaia hypothesis to further New Age pseudoscience, a concern I can certainly identify with. However, I think that Lovelock's hypothesis raises an interesting point that might be examined more closely, namely that our definition of life is needlessly restrictive. We humans, who exist at a certain narrow span and level of awareness have definitions of what is alive and what isn't that are heavily dependent upon our limited experience. Of course we have nothing else to go on, but a little imagination might suggest that life could take some very diverse forms. The stars, for example, might be "alive" in ways that we cannot appreciate. After all, they are born, grow, evolve, and die. And their life span dwarfs ours. They even reproduce themselves in the spewing of their elements into space (or in their nurturing of us!). To me it makes as much sense, maybe more, to say that the stars are "alive" than to say that viruses are alive. And there might even be something "beyond" being "alive," something marvelous that happens to matter and energy that we cannot yet imagine. Furthermore, our definitions of life, e.g., something that has a metabolism, that grows and reproduces, or, a more modern definition, "something that undergoes Darwinian evolution," break down at the extremes, and we can easily imagine entities outside our definitions that we may want to say are alive. Lovelock chose to include the entire earth within the definition of being alive. I don't think it's so far fetched.
This superior collection of essays reveals Gardner's extraordinary breath of learning and the lively frolic of his very fine intelligence.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
"On the Wild Side" is a collection of essays and reviews, primarily from Skeptical Inquirer and The New York Review of Books, of dozens of life's also-rans, who ignored, distorted, made up or ran from facts.
Here he skewers targets ranging from J.B.S. Haldane, once England's greatest geneticist, whose fatheaded communism led him to defend Stalin and Lysenkoism; to Jacques Benveniste, who thought an experiment would prove the validity of homeopathy but ending up proving only that he was dishonest and that homeopathy was just the kind of nonsense the rationalists had always said it was.
Gardner exposes them for what they are: frightened little people who don't want to think for themselves.