The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the

The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the

The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning ❴PDF / Epub❵ ★ The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning Author Marcelo Gleiser – Do all uestions have answers How much can we know about the world Is there such a thing as an ultimate truthTo be human is to want to know but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of wha Do all uestions have of Knowledge: PDF/EPUB ¿ answers How much can we know about the world Is there such a thing as an ultimate truthTo 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 The Island PDF/EPUB or most fundamental uestions of existence In so doing he reaches a provocative conclusion science the main tool we use to find answers is fundamentally limitedThese 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 Island of Knowledge: PDF ↠ 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 uestion the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life Island of Knowledge: The Limits PDF or and ourselves in it Science can and must go on but recognizing its limits reveals Island of Knowledge: The Limits PDF or its true mission to know the universe is to know ourselvesTelling the dramatic story of our uest 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 uniue view of what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.

10 thoughts on “The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning

  1. Ethan Ethan says:

    Given the philosophy bashing we've seen lately from celebrity scientists like Stephen Hawking Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson Gleiser is breath of fresh air Some of what he says about philosophy is a bit sophomoric by professional standards his treatment of ancient Greek philosophy is okay for a popular book but some of his comments on morality would be mediocre in Philosophy 101 A lot of the middle of the book gets a bit bogged down on details about uantum physics which is interesting but goes on a bit longer than needed to make Gleiser's point I almost went with a three star ratingBut I can forgive the faults of this book and give it four stars for the fact that Gleiser is a scientist who is willing to uestion the sort of dogmatic scientism that seems to be gaining popularity these days Besides I'll go easy on him because I'm sure everything I say about science sounds sophomoric to a professional scientist Thought experiment on my scientism point imagine a literature professor with no scientific training denigrating physics would the media take that person seriously? I'm particularly thrilled to read a scientist who admits that the history of science shows that we ought to be uite a bit less confident we've gotten things right today than most of us are Gleiser's metaphor of the island of knowledge in fact reuires that every expansion of knowledge also involves an expansion of the boundaries between knowledge and ignorance Not that I'm science bashing I love science But what I love about science is what Gleiser seems to love about it too science is not a dry collection of facts or data sets or even a mere source of economically lucrative technology it's one of the ways we as humans brush up against our own ignorance and expand our minds On this point science and philosophy while not exactly the same have a lot in common It's refreshing to read a scientist who understands thisMore on my blog

  2. John Gribbin John Gribbin says:

    Here is the original version of a review that appeared in edited form in the WSJ 7 June 2014The Island of KnowledgeMarcelo GleiserBasic Books In the words of the Lovin’ Spoonful song She is Still a Mystery written by John B Sebastian “the I see the I see there is to see”This should be Marcelo Gleiser’s theme tune since as a refreshing antidote to those pessimists who argue that the end of physics is in sight he claims that there are no limits to science and that there will always be unknowable things “The we know”he says “the exposed we are to our ignorance and the we know to ask”This is a liberating insight which makes science an open ended pursuit a “romance with the unknown” This is brought home by the allegory implicit in the title of his book What we know according to Gleiser is like an island in a sea of the unknown As we learn the island grows; but as the island grows its circumference the boundary between what is known and what is unknown also grows The we see indeed the we see there is to see If the sea is infinite this process will continue forever; and the message we take away from the book is that the sea is indeed infinite All this is set in the context of a relatively conventional but very accessibly presented resume of the development of science in particular physics from ancient times to the present day The story is presented in three parts First what might loosely be called cosmology the study of the Universe at large This is good Secondly we have the story of the very small essentially the story of uantum physics This is excellent Finally we have some speculations about mind and matter This is the weakest part of the book but only in comparison with the uality of the earlier sections One of the key features of the story he tells is a point that I often emphasise when discussing how science works with non scientists It is a common misconception that scientists are interested above all in getting confirmation of the predictions of their existing theories —in physics the so called “standard model” which among other things predicted the existence of the Higgs particle Physicists were of course uite pleased that the particle was indeed found But they even Peter Higgs himself would have been a lot pleased if the theory had been found to be incomplete and there was no sign of the predicted particle That would have given them the opportunity to learn new things —to expand the island of knowledge For example Newton’s theory of gravity failed to explain details of the orbit of Mercury around the Sun pointing the way towards Einstein’s general theory of relativity Newton’s theory still works within its limitations but there is to gravity than Newton knew Perhaps there is to gravity than Einstein knew Gleiser’s assessment of the future of science is distinctly different from that of many —perhaps a majority of scientists and commentators Back in 1996 John Horgan made a splash with his book proclaiming “The End of Science” His argument was that the foundations of science such as the Big Bang theory the structure of DNA and evolution by natural selection were well established and not going to be changed except in detail by new discoveries Deliciously just a couple of years later astronomers were surprised to discover that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating that two thirds of the Universe is composed of mysterious “dark energy” that the stuff we are made of atoms makes up only 5 per cent of the Universe and the Big Bang theory is not as complete as we thought But that has not stopped people repeating essentially the same argument as Horgan in the present century For example in 2009 CHECK the science journal Nature hosted a debate on the future of science where Lewis Wolpert of University College argued that fundamental biology is essentially complete and unlikely to spring any major surprises Although important things remain to be discovered such as details of the process of the development of an adult organism from a single cell the “fundamental architecture” is not going to change I would guess that Gleiser’s counter argument would involve the puzzle of the interplay between mind and matter discussed towards the end of his book Until we know what consciousness is how can we claim to understand biology? At the same meeting Alison Wright editor of the journal Nature Physics took a marginally less extreme position admitting that although physics is in a very satisfactory state it is a subject in which the adage “never say never”applies with full force to the prospects for a revolutionary change She was no doubt aware of the comment often attributed to William Thomson Lord Kelvin who is reported as saying in 1900 that “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now All that remains is and precise measurement” There is some doubt about the attribution but no doubt that just after this was allegedly said at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science physics was shaken by not one but two revolutionary developments —uantum physics and relativity theory Perhaps with this in mind and referring to the present Holy Grail uest for a “Theory of Everything” Gleiser sums up“Notions of final theories are incompatible with the scientific method Given that we can only accrue scientific knowledge from measurements of natural processes it is by definition impossible to be certain that we know all the forces of Nature or the fundamental particles that exist; at any point in time new technological tools may reveal the new and unexpected and thus force a revision of our current knowledge” There may be such a revision or revolution in progress at present Astronomers of today will tell you with great confidence that the Universe as we know it was born 1382 billion years ago; the natural uestion to ask then is “what happened before that?”Until recently that was regarded as either unanswerable or meaningless There was no “before” we were told Time itself began at the moment the Universe was born When I was a student I was told that it was meaningless to ask what happened before the time when the entire Universe had the density of an atomic nucleus —the time of the Big Bang But now cosmologists also talk confidently about the inflation that preceded the Big Bang earlier than one ten thousandth of a second after the birth of the Universe from something like a singularity a point in spacetime This involves the process known as inflation which took a a tiny seed —a “uantum fluctuation”and blew it up to become the Big Bang Inflation theory has recently received a great boost from the apparent discovery of gravitational ripples produced in this process although I should caution that these results have not yet been independently confirmed And inflation theory does tell us what happened “before the beginning” According to the euations this inflating spacetime would be just one bubble in an infinitely large and eternal metaverse with no beginning and no end Within this metaverse the story goes there are regions which form inflating bubbles Our Universe is such a bubble and the implication is that there are other universes other bubbles far away across the inflating sea like the bubbles that form in the liuid when a bottle of champagne is opened This seemingly speculative idea counts as a genuine scientific hypothesis because it makes testable predictions If other “bubble universes”exist in the metaverse it is possible that long ago one or of them may have collided with our Universe like two soap bubbles touching and moving apart One effect of such a collision Gleiser points out would be to make ripples in the space of both bubble universes that would leave a distinctive but faint ring shaped pattern known as a “cosmic wake”in the background radiation that fills the Universe The Planck satellite is testing this prediction right now Is the metaverse real? “We should know”says Gleiser “by mid 2015” One way or the other this will not bring an end to the cosmological uest which itself is just one aspect of the scientific uest This is to my mind an upbeat conclusion The uest goes on always presenting us with new things to wonder about and to wonder at Without that sense of wonder as this excellent book makes clear there would be no point in doing science at all John Gribbin is a Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussexand author of In Search of the Multiverse

  3. Jafar Jafar says:

    Gleiser wants to show the inherent limitation of human knowledge due to factors like our being confined to our cosmic horizon the uncertainty and randomness of uantum mechanics and the undecidability in mathematics according to Gödel's theorems As a result he spends two thirds of the book giving you an overview of cosmology and uantum mechanics Nothing new that can't be found in any other pop physics books Of course there's a limit to what we can observe and measure as physics itself tells us However this doesn't mean that the fundamental laws of the universe are unknowable This is Gleiser's main claim and even though I agree with him that it's naive and arrogant of us to think that we can understand the nature of reality and the laws governing it he doesn't offer anything as a proof He presents an interesting analogy of knowledge being an island in the ocean of unknowns The bigger the island gets the it comes in contact with the surrounding ocean Nice analogy but not than that

  4. Michael Michael says:

    Although not enthralled with Gleiser as a writer I did enjoy thinking about some of the uestions he raised in regard to the limits of what we can know about the universe and about ourselves His book inspired me to reread Max Weber's excellent essay Wissenschaft als Beruf Science as Profession a lecture given in Munich in 1918 and published in the following year in which Weber considers the role of science in the modern world Including relevant excerpts from Weber's essay would have been a nice addition to Gleiser's book Weber makes an excellent point about the disparity in modern civilized societies between what scientists know and what lay people know about the way the world works and contrasts this with the holistic knowledge of those living in traditional primitive societiesMachen wir uns zunächst klar was denn eigentlich diese intellektualistische Rationalisierung durch Wissenschaft und wissenschaftlich orientierte Technik praktisch bedeutet Etwa daß wir heute jeder z B der hier im Saale sitzt eine größere Kenntnis der Lebensbedingungen hat unter denen er existiert als ein Indianer oder ein Hottentotte? Schwerlich Wer von uns auf der Straßenbahn fährt hat – wenn er nicht Fachphysiker ist – keine Ahnung wie sie das macht sich in Bewegung zu setzen Er braucht auch nichts davon zu wissen Es genügt ihm daß er auf das Verhalten des Straßenbahnwagens „rechnen“ kann er orientiert sein Verhalten daran; aber wie man eine Trambahn so herstellt daß sie sich bewegt davon weiß er nichts Der Wilde weiß das von seinen Werkzeugen ungleich besser Wenn wir heute Geld ausgeben so wette ich dass sogar wenn nationalökonomische Fachkollegen im Saale 16 sind fast jeder eine andere Antwort bereit halten wird auf die Frage Wie macht das Geld es daß man dafür etwas – bald viel bald wenig – kaufen kann? Wie der Wilde es macht um zu seiner täglichen Nahrung zu kommen und welche Institutionen ihm dabei dienen das weiß er Die zunehmende Intellektualisierung und Rationalisierung bedeutet also nicht eine zunehmende allgemeine Kenntnis der Lebensbedingungen unter denen man steht Sondern sie bedeutet etwas anderes das Wissen davon oder den Glauben daran daß man wenn man nur wollte es jederzeit erfahren könnte daß es also prinzipiell keine geheimnisvollen unberechenbare Mächte gebe die da hineinspielen daß man vielmehr alle Dinge – im Prinzip – durch Berechnen beherrschen könne Das aber bedeutet die Entzauberung der Welt Nicht mehr wie der Wilde für den es solche Mächte gab muß man zu magischen Mitteln greifen um die Geister zu beherrschen oder zu erbitten Sondern technische Mittel und Berechnung leisten das Dies vor allem bedeutet die Intellektualisierung als solcheFor Weber the disenchantment Entzauberung and intellectualization of the world consists not in everyone knowing how things work but rather in the belief that there are rational answers and that through study anyone can have access thereto Gleiser suggests the possibility even the probability that this is not the case There may be limits to our ability to know both technical and biological He does however agree with Weber that the provision of meaning is not the purpose of science For that we must look within ourselves

  5. Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin says:

    Very readable and interesting book on the history and philosophy of science and the limits of knowledge I liked the sections on Astronomy and Cosmology and the history of science My only gripe is the discussion of uantum Mechanics which I felt left too much of an opening for uantum woo woo but on balance an enjoyable book

  6. Nikhil Iyengar Nikhil Iyengar says:

    I'm inspired to begin this review by citing Plato's Allegory of the Cave as well I believe that most readers who are not familiar with than basic physics would see the same shadows upon the wall as the author presents his expertise in the field by stating a couple principles and theories and the person who proposed them in his textbook like fashion and sticking the title of the book towards the end in the brittle candlelight This is not how the entire book is though When talking about fields like philosophy astronomy AI and mathematics the author is uite down to earth and doesn't cause the reader to swipe a few pages forward to escape the tedium Many chapters are uite engaging and if one were to carefully dissect the good veggies from the spoilt ones I'd be inclined to rate it higher But I think that the reader should be spared the effort at least for the most part I enjoyed the analogies and the attempts to make physics fun here and there but it's still mostly a slog that no reader should have to endure

  7. Melora Melora says:

    Okay not giving this an “official” star rating as it seems unfair to drag the book down when others undoubtedly cleverer or with stronger scientific backgrounds or both enjoyed it very much Still for my own reference I'll note that I'd rate this with three stars There were long two star sections where I was lost or bored Much here seems to me to be so spectacularly speculative that it barely merits the label “science” and other sections or sometimes the same sections seemed somewhat repetitive though that might just reflect my failure to grasp the nuances in what Gleiser was explaining There were some bits that were uite interesting though Four star sections So my unofficial rating averages to three starsI'm not sure how much of my issue here is attributable to having listened to this as an Audible recording rather than reading a physical copy In hindsight that was a really dumb choice I somehow expected this to be philosophical and less physics It's got a Lot of physics Philosophy too and Gleiser does do a lovely job of exploring what various scientific concepts as I said largely physics related might mean to us in a “what can we know about our place in the cosmos” sense Still I'd have done better to tackle this as a physical book where I could read slowly and reread the trickier bits Actually I have it as a physical book as well but it's been sitting in my TBR stack for over a year looking intriguing but also than a little intimidating That's my problem with this sort of book – the speculative far out sort of physics that seems as much fantasy as science Every so often I'll watch a science documentary show hosted by someone brilliant but with a knack for presenting difficult concepts to the average viewer like Carl Sagan or Brian Greene and I find the notions of things like strings and multiple universes to be fascinating While the charming host is explaining the things it almost feels like I can grasp them but later when I try to articulate what I found so neat it turns out that I really didn't So I buy the book And inevitably find that what seemed interesting on television when offered up with clever graphics and special effects is really pretty complicated and I get muddled and put the book aside Which is why I tried this as an audio but as it turns out that doesn't work for me either Anyway despite all the bits where I was lost there is a reasonable amount here that is engaging Gleiser offers a nice overview of the history of physics with an eye especially to how the “limits” of science have changed over time depending of the accuracy of our tools on what we can measure and on what we can conceive of measuring He points to the ways that recognizing limits is valuable in terms of appreciating what we don't know and also of surmounting those limits ”The knowledge that we have defines the knowledge that we can have Still this is just what a physicist might call the initial condition a few steps from the beginning the game is open ended and unpredictable As knowledge shifts we ask new kinds of uestions that couldn't have been anticipated”This is a thought provoking exploration of where physics has been and of what things look like today at its cutting edge and sometimes a bit over that edge it seemed to me Lots of interesting material particularly for readers comfortable with ideas like uantum nonlocality Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle entangled pairs and so on For less scientifically minded readers I would suggest that this is best enjoyed slowly in physical book format and at a point in the day when your brain is firing on all cylinders rather than as an audio book after the evening's first cocktail and while walking a rambunctious young golden retriever

  8. Gary Beauregard Bottomley Gary Beauregard Bottomley says:

    This author has done it again I read books in order to find out about our universe and our place in it and this book does better than any other book since his last book A Tear at the Edge of Creation I have no idea why his books do not become instant classics and aren't widely read He really relates well to my way of thinking and leaves no stone untold while telling his story And what a story he tells with this bookYes we are in Plato's Cave but we do manage to get out from time to time It is our ignorance that leads us to knowledge It is the things we don't know that leads to our further understanding Our very foundations of reality are based on the constructs that we use to explain the patterns we see in data Particles are made of matter electrons uarks and forces Fields describes these forces and matter and their interactions The definition of the field is not precise but we continue to use it in our explanationsThe author covers all of the physics that's exciting to me The Greeks lay the foundations by using intuition and argumentation but never uite adding the empirical It becomes the void verse matter the being verse becoming which leads to matter verse energy Before Einstein matter needed matter to travel through giving us the aether The aether makes sense until it's not needed The Morley Michelson experiments were at first explained by the natural compression of space as objects flow through the aether The narrative's we use change as our understanding improve and our scientific definitions expandThere is large problem with the understanding of physics The measurement problem the dual nature of light wave and particle double slit experiments that darn dead and alive cat and how does spooky action at a distance now known as real and called Entanglement fit into our narratives Einstein thought reality had to be understandable and that nature at the most fundamental level had to make sense and it must be our operational levels that were failing us David Bohm and Einstein thought there must be hidden variables to explain the cosmic complexity at the uantum level At the local levelthey have been shown to be wrongThis book covers all of the controversies associated with the Copenhagen Interruption and how the act of measuring does change the system being measured At the heart of understanding nature with the current narratives we have in place there are mysteries that can't be resolved The we find out we don't know the better stories we can end up tellingOur nexus of knowledge doesn't lie outside of us it lies within us We our the ones who determine how we understand and when a light flickers in our cave we find another way to describe what we seeHe's got a nice section on mathematics Godol's theorem and Turing's universal machine and the Halting Problem Plato with his cave says math is always discovered not invented The author will explain why it's best to think of it as being invented not discovered The incompleteness lack of coherence as proof for a system and the problem of the self realization for a finite solution 'Halting Problem' leads to a better understanding of math By the way the author does point out for my hero Mr Spock with his logical consistency and understanding will really never be attainableThis is a book that just keeps on giving He'll tell the reader about Higgs Bosons Dark Matter Dark Energy expanding universes what advanced AI can mean for us and a host of other just as interesting thingsNeedless to say I would strongly recommend this book and his other book available on Audible A Tear at the Edge of Creation Regretfully this author's books seem to be ignored by the public at large but if I can convince just one person to read this book I would have made the world just a little bit better

  9. Todd Allen Todd Allen says:

    Excellently written book that starts the reader off with a bit of a brain teaser The paradox of knowledge the we know the less we know Marcelo Gleiser is much elouent and inspiring that I in supporting this paradoxical yet empirically valid assertion mind you In it he interlaces the philosophical physical and human limitations relating to truth and knowledge Knowledge is presented as an island that is ever increasing its boundaries however unrhythmically in fits and starts and regressions Regardless the shape of the ever increasing perimeter that is the island’s shores that which is beyond the unknown increases in lock step; ergo the knowledge we gain the knowledge there is to be had Put another way as the reference section in our cummulateive library of knowledge grows so does the free space that will be reuired to contain what we don’t yet know but presumably will discover and add or not be able to discover and addRevisited is the powerful vision expressed by Plato who likened the human ability to understand to that of a fictional people whose reality is constrained to seeing shadows cast onto a wall from a fire behind them The source of the shadows totally invisible and inaccessible to them as they are constrained by nature and thus able to see only the two dimensional shadows in front of them as they flicker and dance Their truths are built upon the clever narratives stitched together by themselves or others capable of divining causal connections between the shadows and their everyday experiences In this world many find comfort in the predictability of the repetitive others remain skeptical Weaving together the personalities of scientist to whom we owe a great deal and the truths about the reality they discovered Gleiser reveals the limits that are imposed by the discovered rules of the universe by providing explanations of the developments in cosmology relativity and uantum mechanics and how our understanding of these very solid yet never immutable theories and the vast empirical evidence that supports them guarantees that the shores of knowledge in certain areas are dammed Never the pessimist or defeatist the author expresses humility at the incalculable vastness that is still awaiting discovery and refinementThis is the first book I’ve read by Marcelo Gleiser I must say that his ability to communicate complex ideas is unsurpassed My reference set of Sagan Dawkins Pinker Kahneman and other notables is limited of course That said I very much look forward to reading of his works

  10. Chimezie Ogbuji Chimezie Ogbuji says:

    This started off with some presumptions that annoyed me but ended up being one of the best philosophical analysis of science that I have readThe annoyance began with the author making the typical mistake westerners make of beginning their history of rational philosophy with the greeksThen the author proceeds to make a slow winding path to the heart of an argument that strongly resonates with me that science is limited and the hubris of thinking that there is an endpoint to science a point we can get to where we have an understanding of everything is ill fated But this is my subjective reason for liking this bookObjectively the strength of this book is the breadth of his analysis of science the major breakthroughs and fundamental limitations that are well known but often ignored by proponents of theories that are not experimentally verifiable such as string and multiverse theories His writing is strong and the strength of the book in my opinion is that he doesn't fall into the trap at least not excessively of using too much jargon and making the very interesting topics inaccessibleIf you enjoy philosophical and historical analysis of the study of science you will enjoy this book and will probably want a copy of it on your bookshelf

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