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Imagined Worlds (Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) [Paperback]

Freeman Dyson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Aug 1998 The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures (Book 6)
One hundred years after H. G. Wells visited the future in The Time Machine, Freeman Dyson marshals his uncommon gifts as a scientist and storyteller to take us once more to that ever-closer, ever-receding time to come. The stories he tells - about "Napoleonic" versus "Tolstoyan" styles of doing science; the coming era of radioneurology and radiotelepathy; the works of writers from Aldous Huxley to Michael Crichton to William Blake; Samuel Gompers and the American labor movement - come from science, science fiction, and history. Sharing in the joy and gloom of these sources, Dyson seeks out the lessons we must learn from all three if we are to understand out future and guide it in hopeful directions. Whether looking at the Gaia theory or the future of nuclear weapons, science fiction or the dangers of "science worship, " seagoing kayaks or the Pluto Express, Dyson is concerned with ethics, with how we might mitigate the evil consequences of technology and enhance the good.

Frequently Bought Together

Imagined Worlds (Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) + A Many-colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (Page-Barbour Lectures) (Page-Barbour and Richard Lecture Series) + Disturbing The Universe (Sloan Foundation Science)
Price For All Three: 36.80

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Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (28 Aug 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674539095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674539099
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 13.8 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 301,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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This is an extraordinary book, written in the wisdom of old age but with the hopeful courage of a man whose commitment to science, if not necessarily to its products, has kept him young. The New Yorker Imagined Worlds makes illuminating criticisms of what [Dyson] calls 'ideologically driven' technologies, which, because they symbolize national pride, are obliged to succeed...Ideologically driven technologies, Dyson argues, discourage the rigorous experimentation without which no technology can properly evolve. -- Timothy Ferris New York Review of Books Freeman Dyson is one of the last survivors of the heroic age of theoretical physics and contributed greatly to the standard theory of quantum electrodynamics. However...he does not suffer from tunnel vision. His imagination embraces the entire cosmos and all the possibilities of future technology...Imagined Worlds is one of those mind-stretching books that any intelligent reader can enjoy. -- Arthur C. Clarke Times Higher Education Supplement Dyson has a startlingly profound imagination, a willingness to take ideas as far as they can possibly go...In this book he provides a fascinatingly plausible view of artificial telepathy. He has helped to design extraordinary spaceships and advised the Pentagon on wild (and no doubt occasionally woolly) weapons. Best of all, from the science-fiction writer's point of view, he admires science-fiction writers. This book is, in part, a tribute to science-fiction; it is an attempt not to predict the future, but rather, through imagination, to bring some of its potential to life. -- Oliver Morton Nature In his new volume, Imagined Worlds, Freeman Dyson, following in the tradition of two of his heroes, novelist H. G. Wells and biologist J. B. S. Haldane, gives us a cautionary vision of where science and technology are taking us in the next century...Dyson's book is a fascinating romp through possible futures. -- Steven J. Dick Natural History [A] remarkable book. -- John Leslie London Review of Books Dyson, not just a distinguished scientist, but a fine writer about science...has produced a fascinating speculative work about future scientific developments--near- and far-future--and their likely impact on us. Toronto Globe & Mail [Dyson] constantly surprises and challenges us with his views...[His] independence of mind and his learning make his views on the future well worth reading. At first sight, Imagined Worlds may seem thin and insubstantial, but it actually contains more rewarding insights than most books 10 times its length. -- Graham Farmelo Sunday Telegraph [A] marvellous little book. -- Tim Radford The Guardian (Manchester, England) One of the books I enjoyed most last year...was Freeman Dyson's Imagined Worlds, in which the famed Princeton scientist speculated on the likely evolution of humanity over the next 10, 100, 1,000 10,000, 100,000 and 1 million years...Imagined Worlds...deserves to be read for its elegance and sagacity. -- Michael Thompson-Noel Financial Times [UK] As well as mind-boggling speculations [on our future], Imagined Worlds includes some good discussions of how science and technology relate to politics and ethics...The future? Freeman Dyson has it figured out. -- Rudy Rucker Washington Post Book World A leading scientist speculates on far-future scientific developments and their possible impact on the human condition. Dyson points out that our culture has apparently lost its long-range vision. Drawing on a fascinating cross-section of scientific and technological history, the professor emeritus at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study lays the groundwork for a longer view...At every turn, he illustrates his subject with reference to a wide range of writers and philosophers, making the book a delight to read. Essential reading for anyone who looks beyond the coming millennium. Kirkus Reviews Thanks to new technologies, researchers can see much farther into the galaxies, much deeper into the genetic structure of life, and more clearly into the heart of the atom than ever before. But envisioning our cultural future still requires the kind of probing, reflective human imagination we see at work in these pages. As this distinguished scientist contemplates a world in which genetic engineers create superbabies and pet dinosaurs, in which space colonies raise potatoes on Mars, in which radiotelepathy allows humans to communicate with dolphins and eagles, he weighs fear against hope...With a rare breadth of literary and historical knowledge and with a wonderful lucidity of style, Dyson converts science from the intellectual property of specialists into a meaningful concern for everyone with a stake in our cultural future. Booklist [I]ntriguing and readable. Library Journal Freeman Dyson is an expert rambler. Four or five digressions into an essay, just as you think he's lost his trail, he finds it again around the next bend...[He] describes himself as a 'problem solver,' drawn butterfly-like to nuclear energy, rocket propulsion, quantum electrodynamics, and astronomy, among other fields. This propensity serves his readers well. Dyson is not merely a scientist who can write but a scientist who thinks like a writer. In Imagined Worlds, he trains his thoughts on the world that science and technology are creating, showing how 'Tolstoyan science' (small and cheap) is preferable to 'Napoleonic science' (big and expensive). Discover Freeman Dyson...[is] brilliant and admirable: a physicist (now retired) of considerable accomplishment and a storyteller of delightful humanity and skill. -- Philip Gold Washington Times The world needs the kind of wisdom that Freeman Dyson has accumulated after a lifetime of theoretical physics at Cambridge and Princeton, and his contributions to the nuclear test ban treaty. -- Colin Tudge New Statesman One of the more daring theories in today's cosmology is that at the creation of our universe an infinite number of others were also brought into being, but that none can communicate with any other. Be that as it may, whenever I am in the presence of Freeman Dyson, a physicist and professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, I have the uncanny feeling that he is able, after all, to look around the corner into some of those other worlds from which we are cut off. Dyson claims to be a mathematical physicist interested in anatomy. But from his many writings, we know better. He is interested in any question whatever that might have a scientific solution, and in any imaginative idea that may help to anticipate the future...[E]ven while readers will disagree with this or that point, they will also most likely be swept up by the ambitious scope of the book, and Dyson's unwavering belief that our benighted species can improve. -- Gerald Holton Boston Sunday Globe [A]n engaging work that combines science ('my territory') and science fiction ('the landscape of my dreams'). Dyson ponders the triumphs and failures of scientists, using real and imagined stories--from the ill-fated Comet jetliner of 1952 to the technological nightmares of H.G. Wells and Huxley--to illustrate the dangers that surface when political ideology and science mix...Mostly this is a reminder that human consequences and human scale must be considered in the application of science and technology...Dyson's use of science fiction to illustrate and evaluate scientific fact is a refreshing and illuminating tool. Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Freeman Dyson is Professor Emeritus in the School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very perceptive look at science and scientists 18 Feb 2000
Format:Paperback
Freeman Dyson is quite possibly the best writer of science fact today. In this book he discusses the whole spectrum of science perceptively and tries to explain his view of technological development and the antagonism between scientific effort and progress, with fascinating looks at scientific events in history and intelligent discussion. This book is entertaining, informative and leaves any lover of science deeply fulfilled.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent distillation of Dyson's ideas 26 Nov 1997
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Physicist and philosopher Freeman Dyson based the five chapters in this book on a 1995 lecture series. The resulting essays are wonderfully written, profound, and convincing.
As the title suggests, Dyson uses scenarios from science fiction and futurism as starting points and milestones in his discussions. He manages to work both _Jurassic Park_ and Stapledon's _Last and First Men_ into Chapter 3, which is about genetic engineering.
Chapter 4, Evolution, is a jarring trip through history past and present.
Aw, hell. Just buy it. You won't be sorry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Freeman Dyson is a world famous physicist but his range of interests are rather wide: this book deals with evolution of technology, evolution itself, asteroid defense (Armageddon makers have not read this book), colonization of space, time scales in cosmology etc. These stories seem to be a bit unconnected but everyone of them is nice as a separte story. This should be marketed as airport non-fiction: easy reading (and very short) but full of original ideas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imagined Worlds 9 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback
An exceptionally well written book by a man who is obviously au fait with the subjects that he discusses. If its a realistic synopsis of what we are capable of predicting for our future from our current stand point, then this book will be of interest. If its fantastic predictions of humanity battling aliens in giant starships that you're after, stick to the sci-fi.
One bug bear I did have with the book however was its brevity. I polished it off in a couple of sittings.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Always, Dyson Challenges Humanity to Think More Broadly 20 May 2004
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Freeman Dyson is one of the most respected physicists and futurists in the United States. In this captivating book, based on a set of lectures he gave at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1995, Dyson explores possible futures in science, technology, evolution, and ethics. He argues that science and technology are offering the human race a myriad of exciting prospects, but that there are enormous challenges in harnessing them effectively. For example, he characterizes much of our most celebrated scientific and technological accomplishments as "ideologically driven" and therefore of lesser long-term value than intended. While they might boost national pride, they are too expensive and benefit too small a community to have significant effect on humanity. Ideologically driven technologies, furthermore, tend to leapfrog the type of rigorous experimentation so valuable in creating spin-off technologies of benefit to all.
Dyson is at his best when analyzing the ethical dimension of these technologies and what they portend for the future. Dyson offers this assessment: "Many of the technologies that are racing ahead most rapidly, replacing human workers in factories and machines, making stock-holders richer and workers poorer, are indeed tending to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth" (pp. 181-82). An object lesson is the proliferation of computer technology and the Internet. According to Dyson, since the poor have access neither to computers nor the Internet, and since jobs are increasingly being advertised on-line, they now no longer have access to many jobs. In this context, Dyson cries out for a commitment to social justice that would help mediate the widening gap between rich and poor. He also suggests that in the United States the commitment to "free market capitalism" is an ideology that has driven much technological development, playing as it does to the elites who can afford the technologies, to the detriment of humanity as a whole. It is a pointed, well-meaning warning for the future.
Dyson also seeks to look into the distant future, offering a fascinating portrait of what he calls the "seven ages of man." Here Dyson looks ahead at several levels, from ten years to infinity. First, looking out ten years he sees a time-scale with which are all familiar and one that dominates everyone's planning. In that decade we will see the rise of biotechnology and other breakthroughs just becoming a part of civilization's consciousness. Second, he looks out one hundred years and suggests that we can reasonably extrapolate from what is presently taking place. Here he sees humanity moving outward into space and grappling with numerous environmental issues on Earth. Third, one thousand years in the future humanity will have populate the Solar System and probably our corner of the Milky Way. But neither politics nor technology is predictable. Fourth, at ten thousand years Homo Sapiens will have evolved into a variety of subspecies or perhaps ceased to exist at all. Fifth, at one hundred thousand years we can only speculate on an entirely different civilization than anything imagined today. Sixth, at one million years in the future Dyson asks questions about life and its quality but is totally nonunderstandable to us. Seventh, Dyson explores the nature of infinity and the death of universe.
What does the future hold? No one knows for sure but Freeman Dyson offers a compelling set of possibilities in "Imagined Worlds." He quotes from Samuel L. Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, that this is what should happen in the future:
"We want more school houses and less jails,
More books and less guns,
More Learning and less greed,
More justice and less revenge,
We want more opportunities to cultivate our better nature" (p. 177).
Dyson believes this is fully achievable. If we can imagine it, we can accomplish it. This is a most uplifting and challenging read. Enjoy!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dyson's ideas on a grand future for Humankind. 16 Mar 1999
By Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Freeman Dyson is an English American Physicist. His book, "Imagined Worlds" was borne from a series of lectures given in 1995. Throughout it's short 208 pages, Dyson has written a collection of insights into the possible futures for science and technology, and while easily accessible to a broad spectrum of readers it remains intellectually stimulating and thought provoking
Spawned from a truly remarkable imagination, some of those futures stretch far into timescapes populated by descendants who may be as unrecognizable to us as we might be to them. Where humankind has spread itself throughout the galaxy and joined in an alliance with other sentient beings. In the not so distant future, Dyson envisages the human colonization of Mars, DIY genetics where a child may be able to design their next pet, and how humankind (and animals) might one day be networked together at the mental level using a technology he calls "radio-telepathy".
Dyson has also included the past as an example of how we can begin to plan for these fantastic futures, emphasizing how the most successful technologies have started with humble beginnings and why a lot of the big, government sponsored, ideologically driven science is usually destined to failure. He effectively employs historical instances to illustrate his point.
From the disastrous failure of the British Airship the R101, the similarly inspired and equally calamitous BOAC Comet, through to the environmental nightmare that was (and still is!) Chernobyl. All were the result of the `Napoleonic' or politically driven technologies.
Numerous historical examples are supplied to also demonstrate how "Tolstoyan" technologies, shining ideas brought to life in garages, backyards or small labs with lean funding and scarce resources are the source of the great majority of breakthroughs. One such example validates this by pointing out that a lot of the groundwork done in the field of particle physics was accomplished with improvised devices by a dedicated group of scientists. Now with drastically reduced funding, he proposes that this is the way forward for future discoveries and applications.
Most notably, his guidelines stress the importance of science as a vehicle to provide for the wellbeing of all peoples, not only a select few. Additionally while we must be ever watchful of the unethical or immoral applications of new technologies, we are also to be careful not to shackle human self-improvement with ignorance and fear.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Dyson. Need I say more? 30 Aug 2000
By Adam Rutkowski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There is little more fascinating then reading the thoughts of great minds. Dyson has seen and done much in his lifetime, and the chance to receive some of his wisdom should not be passed up.
This is a collection of ideas and thoughts (taken from a set of lectures), that cover a lot of ground, but are loosely based around the impact of science on society, how it can be abused when misused, but more importantly, some of the opportunities it offers us for the future if we use it well.
My only criticism on this book is its shortness. At just over two hundred rather spaced out pages, there is sadly a shortage of content, which is a great shame since Dyson clearly has a lot of ideas worth sharing. But I suppose that these are the ideas he wants to share the most, and by keeping it brief, he allows us to focus on them better, without being sidetracked by less important information.
While readable by just about anyone, those with some basic familiarity with science will get more out of it, while scientists will probably appreciate it even more. This book is more about the application of science then science itself, so understanding the science in it allows the reader to concentrate on what Dyson really wants to say.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-Expanding 2 Feb 2004
By Donald B. Siano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I always enjoy Freeman Dyson's books and essays, mostly because he is always willing to tackle the big questions in science and society. Not for him the pedestrian, the cynical, or the immediate--always the long view, with a certain passionate feeling for the possibilities of progress. His writing is refreshing and mind-expanding.
I especially enjoyed his discussion of early aviation, and the account he gives of the engineer, Nevil Shute Norway, one of my favorite authors of all time. The Darwinian perspective of the evolution of an artifact, the airplane, is right on, and one is tempted to see the phenomenon in other developing technologies as well.
The book is short, and is easy to read, especially considering the lofty ideas it contains.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flights of imagination 12 Sep 2006
By James Davison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Throughout his long career as a physicist, Freeman Dyson has always had a unique gift for elegantly summing things up. He was once a whisker away from winning the Nobel Prize for his brilliant reconciliation of Feynman's and Schwinger's theories of quantum electrodynamics (they gave it to Tomanaga instead) -- but today he is probably best known for his books of thoughtful and wide-ranging essays. In the tradition of his earlier works, this slim volume meditates upon the consequences of science and technology -- and sometimes reaches unexpected conclusions. Unfortunately, where he once discussed capturing the energy of stars within "Dyson Spheres" or details about interstellar travel -- he now restricts his speculation to rather banal warnings about the social consequences of technology and suggests that in the future children might design their own pets using a computer. I found many chapters --particularly the one concerning evolution -- to be elegant reading, but I still prefer his first book written over twenty years earlier -- "Disturbing the Universe."

--Auralgo
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