Category Archives: Physics

My Rating:
4.0 rating

Science of Liberty

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Really enjoyed this as I did Timothy Ferris’s other book “Coming of Age in the Milky Way.” Part science, part history, part philosophy this book explores the connection between advances in scientific discovery and democratic liberalism. His thesis is that one cannot exist without the other, each feeding off the other as they progress. He believes society can only prosper in such an environment.

Most of the book cites examples that illustrate this, from Newton to the present day. He explores the relative freedom of liberal democratic societies comparing them with those that have tried to suppress it. He cites fascism, communism, religious fanaticism and postmodernism as culprits that inhibit this progress. Each he says, substitutes scientific objectivity with a relativism that encourages abuses of power and causes backwardness.

He levels some of his most pointed criticisms at the wave of postmodern deconstruction that has become fashionable at academic institutions in the 20th century. He views this trend with alarm as scholars make claims about the relativism of scientific discovery; asserting there is no objective scientific truth, and that any discovery that makes that claim is inherently tainted by the bias of the discoverer. A notion he views as beyond ridiculous – and dangerous. By assuming all scientific discovery is thus subject to disproof, students aren’t encouraged to actually learn the science they have been trained to criticize.

Ferris even takes on one of the most influential works describing the history of science – Thomas Kuhn’s landmark work “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn’s assertion in that work is that scientific truth is not based on objective criteria, but is defined by the consensus of the scientific community. As such it consists not only of objective observation, but of the subjective perceptions of those forming that consensus. Discovery that comes into conflict with this consensus and breaks through it to form a new consensus are said to have initiated “paradigm shifts” – a term Kuhn coined to describe this sudden and successful change in that consensus. Since scientific truth cannot be ascertained objectively, there can be no such thing as an assertion of scientific truth.

Ferris views this as nonsense and simply another way to inject relativism and subjectivity into perceptions of scientific discovery. In this way those who have agendas other than the search for truth can assert that flaws in the scientific method are no different than flaws in any other system. They can thus conform their view of scientific discovery with whatever ideology they have constructed (e.g. “Socialist Science”).

He also describes the ideological spectrum as a triangle. Instead of progressive and conservative at two ends of a line, they populate two vertices of a triangle, with liberalism at the other. As societies implement policies they move along these vertices toward more or less liberalism…and that these shifts can validly come from either the progressive or conservative side. Liberal democratic societies thus oscillate between them constantly trying to find the right balance of freedom and regulation to maximize progress. (this is a very quick and crude explanation of what Ferris describes in the book).

All of this is very well written in a smooth and non technical way. While reading it I found I suddenly understood concepts I had only a dim comprehension of before. It’s only weakness in my opinion is the scrupulous effort made to balance any criticism of conservative ideology with one of progressivism…even if that attempt was strained. I also think he is too dismissive of criticisms of globalization, income inequality, and corporate power.

Highly recommended!

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My Rating:
5.0 rating


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Just read this again after having read it the first time about 20 years ago. It really is a beautiful book that hasn’t lost any of its relevance even with 20 years of additional discovery (which it deals with in an afterwards).

It tells the story of the Universe while also telling the story of telling the story of the Universe, from the first decipherable cave paintings to up to date discoveries in the field of particle physics – all in a way that can be understood by folks like me that have an interest in science and discovery but have no aptitude for it!

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Currently Reading: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Current Audio Book: The Free State of Jones by Victoria Bynum

On Deck: Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood

In the Bullpen: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson

Last Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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