Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision

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9780198517757: Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision
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"A person is not explainable in molecular, field-theoretical, or physiological terms alone." With that declaration, Nobel laureate Gerald M. Edelman goes straight to the heart of Nature's Imagination, a vibrant and important collection of essays by some of the world's foremost scientists. Ever since the Enlightenment, the authors write, science has pursued reductionism: the idea that the whole can be understood by examining and explaining each of its parts. But as this book shows, scientists in every discipline are reaching for a new paradigm that accounts for the whole--from the individual person to the universe itself.

Nature's Imagination gathers together the work of thirteen leading mathematicians, astronomers, neuroscientists, and philosophers, as they discuss the revolution sweeping the sciences. Here Roger Penrose, Oliver Sacks, John Barrow, Gregory Chaitin, Maragret Boden, and others explore how and why classic reductionism is falling by the wayside in their own fields. As Freeman Dyson writes in the introduction, science is an art form, not a philosophical method, and it is always in search of new tools. Reductionism has done its work, and scientists are in search of another. Roger Penrose offers a fascinating account of irreducibility in mathematics, starting with the example of an impossible triangle--a drawing of a triangular object twisted so that could not exist in three dimensions. He breaks the triangle into three parts, showing that each corner is physically possible; only in combination is the triangle impossible. Both Penrose and mathematician Gregory Chaitin explore Godel's incompleteness theorem--as does John Barrow, who explains that Chaitin's proof of the theorem shows that, if we ever arrive at a Theory of Everything, there may be a still deeper and simpler unifying theory beyond that. Other contributors discuss the changing thinking in neuroscience, and the limitations of a mechanical view of the mind: as Oliver Sacks writes, "if we are to have a model or theory of mind as this actually occurs in living creatures in the world, it may have to be radically different from anything like a computational one." In addition, this volume includes staunch defenders of the classic scientific approach, such as Peter Atkins ("The omnicompetence of science, and in particular the simplicity its reductionist insight reveals, should be accepted as a working hypothesis until, if ever, it is proved inadequate").

The advance of science has been so startlingly swift in the last century that it has begun to approach limits never dreamed of before. This remarkable volume captures the latest thinking on where we must turn if we are to truly understand oursevles and the universe we live in.

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About the Author:


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John Cornwell is Director of the Science and Human Dimension Project, Jesus College, Cambridge University.

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These 13 essays critically explore the advantages and disadvantages of classic reductionism in terms of understanding and appreciating computer mathematics, the ongoing mind-body problem, and the ultimate nature of this evolving universe. Against the background of Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem and Gerald Edelman's neuroscience research, the reader learns about those new concepts, models, and issues that surround modern scientific and mathematical inquiry. The dynamic relationship between the complex brain and the flow of self-consciousness still eludes an empirical explanation, but continued advances in computer science and holistic biology may shed more light on this enigma. Of special interest are the contributions of Peter W. Atkins on the omnicompetence of science, John D. Barrow on the challenge of a phsyical theory of everything, and Roger Penrose on irreducibility in mathematics. Other topics treated include memory, randomness, neural Darwinism, and artifical intelligence. Recommended for all academic history and philosophy of science collections.?H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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