Acid comments on science’s endRemember the smart aleck you went to high school with? He always talked his way out of trouble and was so smart you had to admire him? Maybe he’s now a fund-raiser or a lobbyist; maybe he’s in jail ― or maybe he wrote a book about the end of science.
Why the ad hominem attack on an author? Well, he started it. The book, basically a series of interviews woven together to support the author’s contention, is filled with snide asides about his subjects.
Horgan asserts that science is ending for various reasons: Governments won’t fund it anymore; we’ve learned everything basic about most fields and we are incapable of understanding the principles that underlie others. The book is breathtaking in scope because it dwells near the hazy intersection of science, philosophy and theology. And the author takes so many potshots that you have to agree with him sometimes even when you don’t want to.
You don’t need a degree in mathematics to understand the book, although some familiarity with the broad concepts of science is helpful. There are also some fascinating glimpses into the philosophies that drive some proposals about how the world works; for example, some espouse superstring theory as a basic model of the universe simply because of its mathematical elegance.
The author says many of the core fields of science have been fully explored, but that the discovery of extraterrestrial life could “transform all of science and philosophy and human thought.” That assertion seems odd, given the statistical likelihood of other intelligent life in this vast universe.
The book is not a defining work, but it’s an interesting and provocative one. The kid that so irritated you in homeroom has pulled off another one.
by John Hoog