The Island of Knowledge : The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
Overview - Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth? To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what's "out there." In The Island of Knowledge , physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. Read more...
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More About The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser
Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth?
To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what's "out there." In The Island of Knowledge
, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited.
These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Recognizing limits in this way, Gleiser argues, is not a deterrent to progress or a surrendering to religion. Rather, it frees us to question the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life and ourselves in it. Science can and must go on, but recognizing its limits reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves.
Telling the dramatic story of our quest for understanding, The Island of Knowledge
offers a highly original exploration of the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers in history, from Plato to Einstein, and how they affect us today. An authoritative, broad-ranging intellectual history of our search for knowledge and meaning, The Island of Knowledge
is a unique view of what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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Humans have worked to understand and explain the universe for millennia, but Gleiser (A Tear at the Edge of Creation), Appleton professor of natural philosophy and professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College, says we’ll never know it all—and proceeds to explain why. We are driven “to make sense of the world” and our place in it, and advances in mathematics and technology, from geometry and lenses to calculus and computers, have expanded our reach, revealing details of the very small and the very large. But as that “island of knowledge” grows, Gleiser says, “so do the shores of our ignorance.” From Copernicus’s proof that the Earth orbited the Sun to Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion, and quantum theory’s uncertainty principle, solutions that solved major problems also made many uncomfortable because they revealed deeper mysteries, showing “the true vastness of space and time.” Gleiser covers a broad swath of subjects—from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses—with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers’ imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world. (June)