In The End of Science, John Horgan makes the case that the era of truly profound scientific revelations about the universe and our place in it is over. Interviewing scientific luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Crick, and Richard Dawkins, he demonstrates that all the big questions that can be answered have been answered, as science bumps up against fundamental limits. The world cannot give us a theory of everything,” and modern endeavors such as string theory are ironic” and theological” in nature, not scientific, because they are impossible to confirm. Horgan’s argument was controversial in 1996, and it remains so today, still firing up debates in labs and on the internet, not least becauseas Horgan details in a lengthy new introductionironic science is more prevalent than ever. Still, while Horgan offers his critique, grounded in the thinking of the world’s leading researchers, he offers homage, too. If science is ending, he maintains, it is only because it has done its work so well.
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In support of a daring postulate, certain to enrage a myriad of scientists, the author harvested a cohort of interesting interviews that provide interesting perspectives. Given what’s at stake, one would have expected little support for such a subjective and aggressive proposition, but pessimists will be delighted to discover that they are in good company.more
The end of science, or the Star Trek Factor?In “The end of science” John Horgan is pursuing provocative questions.Has science been entered an era of diminishing returns?Is physics moving towards absolute truth?Would be able physicists to prove a final theory in the same way that mathematicians prove theorems?John Horgan’s thesis is that we are coming to an era where all the fundamental scientific theories have been discovered and science as we know it today is coming altogether in an end. Horgan considers fundamental, theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, Einstein’s general relativity and quantum electrodynamics. That means theories that can apply, to the best of our knowledge, throughout the entire universe at all times since its birth.In order to prove his thesis, Horgan has interviewed interesting scientists and philosophers from the entire scientific and social-philosophical landscape. Roger Penrose, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Popper, David Bohm, Edward Wilson, John Wheeler, Lynn Margulis, Andrei Linde, Daniel Dennet and many others.I must say that I disagree with Horgan’s argument and I find his view very shortsighted. Horgan is not the first or the last person to argue over the-end-of-science-era. At the end of the nineteen century, physicists also thought they knew everything. But only two decades later Einstein and other physicists discovered relativity theory and quantum mechanics. These theories transformed physics and opened up vast new vistas for modern physics and other branches of science.The end-of-science argument and timing (millennium and link with Fucuyama’s End of History) have caused wide-range and “confusing” reactions and responses form science critics, scientists themselves, and even from Clinton’s Science Advisor who publicly repudiated Horgan’s argument. We can safely say that it is a discussion/debate that still goes on.In my personal opinion the value of the book is not in the message and if we are/ or not denouncing it. Horgan is a science journalist with an education in literature. I think, his background makes the difference in the way he writes about science. With his prose style, he manages to fill gaps that other science writers fail to do, and make scientific writing an interesting adventure. He has the gift not only to make scientific theories understandable for the non-scientists readers but also to reveal beautifully his interviewee’s personalities. These interviews, the presentation of scientists as human beings, are the most interesting insight for me in the book.Reading the book I had the feeling that Horgan tried to construct a psychological and ideological profile of each one person and it was fascinating to “discover” the eccentricities of the scientists who invented?/developed? some of the most interesting scientific and philosophical theories in the 20th century.As for the end of science? As a scientist I am optimistic. The best in science are still to come. But my view (as a Star Trek fun) is possibly distorted by what Horgan call in his book (p.244-245) the Star Trek factor.“How can science be approaching a culmination when we haven’t invented spaceships that travel at warp speed yet?”more
The most interesting insights here are into the scientists themselves as human beings - I value this as psychological information which helps shed light on their thinking. I highly recommend Horgan as a science writer, he seems to be able to cut through the crap as few others do! What I'm not clear about is the true nature of his central argument - he says that science will continue in an 'ironic' mode - to me he could be saying that we'll realize that knowledge is ultimately subjective - in which case I'm with him. If he's saying that the limits of knowledge have been reached then I disagree.more
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