Book picks similar to
Hidden Histories of Science by Robert B. Silvers
Eureka: The Birth of Science
Andrew Gregory - 1997
Medicine, anatomy, astronomy, mathematics and cosmology were all invented in their world. Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes and Hippocrates were amongst its stars, master architects all of the modern as well as the ancient.
Convergence: The Idea at the Heart of Science
Peter Watson - 2016
Various scientific disciplines, despite their very different beginnings, have been coming together over the past 150 years, converging and coalescing. Intimate connections have been discovered between physics and chemistry, psychology and biology, genetics and linguistics. In this groundbreaking book, Peter Watson identifies one extraordinary master narrative, capturing how the sciences are slowly resolving into one overwhelming, interlocking story about the universe. Watson begins his narrative in the 1850s, the decade when, he argues, the convergence of the sciences began. The idea of the conservation of energy was introduced in this decade, as was Darwin’s theory of evolution—both of which rocketed the sciences forward and revealed unimagined interconnections and overlaps between disciplines. The story then proceeds from each major breakthrough and major scientist to the next, leaping between fields and linking them together. Decade after decade, the story captures every major scientific advance en route to the present, proceeding like a cosmic detective story, or the world’s most massive code-breaking effort. Watson’s is a thrilling new approach to the history of science, revealing how each piece falls into place, and how each uncovers an “emerging order.” Convergence is, as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has put it, “The deepest thing about the universe.” And Watson’s comprehensive and eye-opening book argues that all our scientific efforts are indeed approaching unity. Told through the eyes of the scientists themselves, charting each discovery and breakthrough, it is a gripping way to learn what we now know about the universe and where our inquiries are heading.
Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It
Steven L. Goldman - 2006
(B) Scientific knowledge is always provisional and tells us nothing that is universal, necessary, or certain about the world. Welcome to the science wars—a long-running battle over the status of scientific knowledge that began in ancient Greece, raged furiously among scientists, social scientists, and humanists during the 1990s, and has re-emerged in today's conflict between science and religion over issues such as evolution.Professor Steven L. Goldman, whose Teaching Company course on Science in the 20th Century was praised by customers as "a scholarly achievement of the highest order" and "excellent in every way," leads you on a quest for the nature of scientific reasoning in this intellectually pathbreaking lecture series, Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It.Those who have taken Professor Goldman's previous course, which is an intensive survey of the revolution in scientific knowledge from 1900 to 2000, may have wondered: if what counts as scientific knowledge can transform so dramatically within only 100 years, what exactly is scientific knowledge? Science Wars addresses this surprisingly difficult question.Five Centuries of the Science WarsIn 24 half-hour lectures, Science Wars explores the history of competing conceptions of scientific knowledge and their implications for science and society from the onset of the Scientific Revolution in the 1600s to the present. It may seem that the accelerating pace of discoveries, inventions, and unexpected insights into nature during this period guarantees the secure foundations of scientific inquiry, but that is far from true. Consider these cases:The scientific method: In the 1600s the English philosopher Francis Bacon defined the scientific method in its classic form: the use of inductive reasoning to draw conclusions from an exhaustive body of facts. But "no scientist has ever been a strict Baconian," says Professor Goldman. "If you followed that, you would get nowhere."A "heated" debate: Around 1800 the dispute over the nature of heat was resolved in favor of the theory that heat is motion and not a substance given off during burning. But then the French mathematical physicist Joseph Fourier wrote a set of equations that accurately described how heat behaves regardless of what it "really" is, which, Fourier contended, was not a scientific question at all.Paradigm shifts: The publication in 1962 of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions precipitated a radical change in attitudes toward scientific knowledge, prompted by Kuhn's insight that science is not an entirely rational enterprise, and that its well-established theories (or paradigms) are overturned in a revolutionary, nonlogical process.Postmodern putdown: The postmodern attack on science as a privileged mode of inquiry made some headway in the late 20th century. But the credibility of the movement wilted in 1996, when a postmodern journal unwittingly published a spoof by physicist Alan Sokal, purporting to prove that physical theory was socially constructed. Sokal then exposed his piece as a parody.In the penultimate lecture of the course, Professor Goldman considers intelligent design—the argument that evolution can't account for the immense complexity of life and that a master designer must be at work. He approaches this topical debate by asking: What are the minimum criteria that define a hypothesis as scientific, and does intelligent design qualify? Having already covered five centuries of the science wars in the previous lectures, you will analyze this controversy with a set of tools that allows you to see the issues in a sharp, new light.What Is Reality?"Fasten your seatbelts," says Professor Goldman at the outset of Lecture 21—an advisory that applies equally to the whole course, which covers an astonishing array of ideas and thinkers. Throughout, Professor Goldman never loses his narrative thread, which begins 2,400 years ago with Plato's allegorical battle between "the gods" and "the earth giants"—between those for whom knowledge is universal, necessary, and certain; and those for whom it cannot be so and is based wholly on experience.The problem of what constitutes scientific knowledge can be illustrated with one of the most famous and widely accepted scientific theories of all time, Nicolaus Copernicus's heliostatic (stationary sun) theory of the solar system, which has undergone continual change since it was first proposed in 1543: Copernicus called for the planets to move in uniform circular motion around the sun, slightly displaced from the center. Using observations by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler revised the Copernican model, discarding the ancient dogma of circular motion, which did not fit the data. Instead, he guessed that the planets in fact move in elliptical orbits. In his influential work endorsing the Copernican theory, Galileo ignored Kepler's corrections and opted for circular motion. Notoriously, the Catholic Church condemned Galileo for heresy. But the church was actually correct that he had no basis for claiming the heliocentric theory was true, rather than simply an interpretation of experience. Galileo's picture of space was superseded by Newton's and later by Einstein's, which also will doubtless be revised. Even something as basic as the elliptical motion of the planets is a vast oversimplification. There are no closed curves in space, since the solar system is moving around the center of the galaxy; the galaxy is moving within the local cluster; and the local cluster is also moving. Although we still call the conventional picture of the solar system Copernican astronomy, there is effectively no resemblance between astronomy today and Copernicus's 1543 theory of the heavens. The same is also true of other theories, such as the atomic theory of matter. All scientific theories are in a state of ceaseless revision, which raises the question of what reality "really" is. As the contemporary philosopher of science Mary Hesse has pointed out, the lesson of the history of science seems to be that the theories we currently hold to be true are as likely to be overturned as the theories they replaced!Sharpen Your Understanding of What Science IsThe uncertainty about the status of scientific knowledge and about the objectivity of the scientific enterprise led to a broad assault on science in the late 20th century by sociologists, philosophers, and historians, many connected with the postmodern movement. The lectures covering this attack and the ensuing counterattack by scientists are some of the most thrilling in the course and involve a number of figures whom Professor Goldman knows personally.Of one of the firebrands in this conflict, the late Viennese philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, Professor Goldman says, "I myself took a seminar with Feyerabend when he was teaching at Berkeley in the early 1960s. … Feyerabend was not really off the wall, although he was often depicted that way. … He too recognized, as everyone must, that after all, science does work and science is knowledge of a sort. It's just not the absolute knowledge that scientists and philosophers have historically claimed that it is."By the time you reach the end of this course, you will understand exactly what science is, and you will be enlightened about a fascinating problem that perhaps you didn't even know existed. "There have been a raft of popular books about what scientists know," says Professor Goldman, "but to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single one of these popular books that focuses centrally on the question of how scientists know what they know."This course serves as that book.Course Lecture Titles1. Knowledge and Truth Are Age-Old Problems 2. Competing Visions of the Scientific Method 3. Galileo, the Catholic Church, and Truth 4. Isaac Newtons Theory of the Universe 5. Science vs. Philosophy in the 17th Century 6. Locke, Hume, and the Path to Skepticism 7. Kant Restores Certainty 8. Science, Society, and the Age of Reason 9. Science Comes of Age in the 19th Century 10. Theories Need Not Explain 11. Knowledge as a Product of the Active Mind 12. Trading Reality for Experience 13. Scientific Truth in the Early 20th Century 14. Two New Theories of Scientific Knowledge 15. Einstein and Bohr Redefine Reality 16. Truth, Ideology, and Thought Collectives 17. Kuhn's Revolutionary Image of Science 18. Challenging Mainstream Science from Within 19. Objectivity Under Attack 20. Scientific Knowledge as Social Construct 21. New Definitions of Objectivity 22. Science Wars of the Late 20th Century 23. Intelligent Design and the Scope of Science 24. Truth, History, and Citizenship12 Audio CDs(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)
What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology
Ed Regis - 2008
Today, more than sixty years later, members of a new generation of scientists are attempting to create life from the ground up. Science has moved forward in leaps and bounds since Schr dinger's time, but our understanding of what does and does not constitute life has only grown more complex. An era that has already seen computer chip-implanted human brains, genetically engineered organisms, genetically modified foods, cloned mammals, and brain-dead humans kept "alive" by machines is one that demands fresh thinking about the concept of life. While a segment of our national debate remains stubbornly mired in moral quandaries over abortion, euthanasia, and other "right to life" issues, the science writer Ed Regis demonstrates how science can and does provide us with a detailed understanding of the nature of life. Written in a lively and accessible style, and synthesizing a wide range of contemporary research, "What Is Life? "is a brief and illuminating contribution to an age-old debate.
Ideas That Changed the World
Felipe Fernández-Armesto - 2003
One of the most respected historians writing today, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto offers an unashamedly personal analysis on a wide range of ideas--from the afterlife to taboo foods--that will keep readers enthralled.
A Natural History of Human Morality
Michael Tomasello - 2016
Based on extensive experimental data comparing great apes and human children, Michael Tomasello reconstructs how early humans gradually became an ultra-cooperative and, eventually, a moral species.There were two key evolutionary steps, each founded on a new way that individuals could act together as a plural agent “we”. The first step occurred as ecological challenges forced early humans to forage together collaboratively or die. To coordinate these collaborative activities, humans evolved cognitive skills of joint intentionality, ensuring that both partners knew together the normative standards governing each role. To reduce risk, individuals could make an explicit joint commitment that “we” forage together and share the spoils together as equally deserving partners, based on shared senses of trust, respect, and responsibility. The second step occurred as human populations grew and the division of labor became more complex. Distinct cultural groups emerged that demanded from members loyalty, conformity, and cultural identity. In becoming members of a new cultural “we”, modern humans evolved cognitive skills of collective intentionality, resulting in culturally created and objectified norms of right and wrong that everyone in the group saw as legitimate morals for anyone who would be one of “us”.As a result of this two-stage process, contemporary humans possess both a second-personal morality for face-to-face engagement with individuals and a group-minded “objective” morality that obliges them to the moral community as a whole.
One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought
Ernst W. Mayr - 1991
Its effects on our view of life have been wide and deep. One of the most world-shaking books ever published, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, first appeared in print over 130 years ago, and it touched off a debate that rages to this day.Every modern evolutionist turns to Darwin's work again and again. Current controversies in the life sciences very often have as their starting point some vagueness in Darwin's writings or some question Darwin was unable to answer owing to the insufficient biological knowledge available during his time. Despite the intense study of Darwin's life and work, however, many of us cannot explain his theories (he had several separate ones) and the evidence and reasoning behind them, nor do we appreciate the modifications of the Darwinian paradigm that have kept it viable throughout the twentieth century.Who could elucidate the subtleties of Darwin's thought and that of his contemporaries and intellectual heirs--A. R. Wallace, T. H. Huxley, August Weismann, Asa Gray--better than Ernst Mayr, a man considered by many to be the greatest evolutionist of the century? In this gem of historical scholarship, Mayr has achieved a remarkable distillation of Charles Darwin's scientific thought and his enormous legacy to twentieth-century biology. Here we have an accessible account of the revolutionary ideas that Darwin thrust upon the world. Describing his treatise as "one long argument," Darwin definitively refuted the belief in the divine creation of each individual species, establishing in its place the concept that all of life descended from a common ancestor. He proposed the idea that humans were not the special products of creation but evolved according to principles that operate everywhere else in the living world; he upset current notions of a perfectly designed, benign natural world and substituted in their place the concept of a struggle for survival; and he introduced probability, chance, and uniqueness into scientific discourse.This is an important book for students, biologists, and general readers interested in the history of ideas--especially ideas that have radically altered our worldview. Here is a book by a grand master that spells out in simple terms the historical issues and presents the controversies in a manner that makes them understandable from a modern perspective.
The Ascent of Science
Brian L. Silver - 1990
Silver translates our most important, and often most obscure, scientific developments into a vernacular that is not only accessible and illuminating but also enjoyable. Silver makes his comprehensive case with much clarity and insight; his book aptly locates science as the apex of human reason, and reason as our best path to the truth. For all readers curious about--or else perhaps intimidated by--what Silver calls "the scientific campaign up to now" in his Preface, The Ascent of Science will be fresh, vivid, and fascinating reading.
Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World
Amir Alexander - 2014
With the stroke of a pen the Jesuit fathers banned the doctrine of infinitesimals, announcing that it could never be taught or even mentioned. The concept was deemed dangerous and subversive, a threat to the belief that the world was an orderly place, governed by a strict and unchanging set of rules. If infinitesimals were ever accepted, the Jesuits feared, the entire world would be plunged into chaos.In Infinitesimal, the award-winning historian Amir Alexander exposes the deep-seated reasons behind the rulings of the Jesuits and shows how the doctrine persisted, becoming the foundation of calculus and much of modern mathematics and technology. Indeed, not everyone agreed with the Jesuits. Philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians across Europe embraced infinitesimals as the key to scientific progress, freedom of thought, and a more tolerant society. As Alexander reveals, it wasn't long before the two camps set off on a war that pitted Europe's forces of hierarchy and order against those of pluralism and change.The story takes us from the bloody battlefields of Europe's religious wars and the English Civil War and into the lives of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of the day, including Galileo and Isaac Newton, Cardinal Bellarmine and Thomas Hobbes, and Christopher Clavius and John Wallis. In Italy, the defeat of the infinitely small signaled an end to that land's reign as the cultural heart of Europe, and in England, the triumph of infinitesimals helped launch the island nation on a course that would make it the world's first modern state.From the imperial cities of Germany to the green hills of Surrey, from the papal palace in Rome to the halls of the Royal Society of London, Alexander demonstrates how a disagreement over a mathematical concept became a contest over the heavens and the earth. The legitimacy of popes and kings, as well as our beliefs in human liberty and progressive science, were at stake-the soul of the modern world hinged on the infinitesimal.
Mathematics and Its History
John Stillwell - 1997
Even when dealing with standard material, Stillwell manages to dramatize it and to make it worth rethinking. In short, his book is a splendid addition to the genre of works that build royal roads to mathematical culture for the many." (Mathematical Intelligencer)This second edition includes new chapters on Chinese and Indian number theory, on hypercomplex numbers, and on algebraic number theory. Many more exercises have been added, as well as commentary to the exercises explaining how they relate to the preceding section, and how they foreshadow later topics.
The kingdom of infinite space : a fantastical journey around your head
Raymond Tallis - 2008
In this unique combination of biological science and philosophical interrogation, Raymond Tallis takes the head apart, piece by piece, in search of the place where our souls, and consciousness, reside.From the act of blushing and the amount of manganese in our tears (tears of pain contain more than tears of distress) to the curiousness of a kiss, "The Kingdom of Infinite Space" explores the astonishing range of activities that go on inside our heads, most of which are entirely beyond our control. After escorting his readers on a fantastic voyage through every chamber of the head and brain, Raymond Tallis demonstrates that not only does consciousness not reside between our ears, but that our heads are infinitely cleverer than we are.