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Infinite in All Directions Paperback – Jan 1989

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Product details

  • Paperback: 331 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; Reprint edition (Jan 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060915692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060915698
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 15 Mar 2010
Format: Hardcover
The book is based on a series of Gilford lectures, given by Freeman Dyson. He arranged them, expanded and made a very interesting book. The span of topics is mind boggling: nuclear disarmament, science of space bodies, appearance of life on earth and other planets and biotechnological future. All topics are clearly but concise, which makes a book not so easy to read. The author places provides a lot of interesting insight, so one has to stop every few pages to think about how one personally feels about it. I particularly enjoyed nuclear disarmament, as I was a heavy pronuclear person. In the end of reading I had to admit myself that nuclear weapons are just useless. To this I thank Dyson for the good reading he provided to me.

And - Freeman has an amazing imagination - one has to read and think, how could he come with that. Some things are simply too fantastic, so one just have to admit, that great things are bound to happen in future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Obtained this on the strength of the Prof mentioning in a magazine article that it compared Athens and Manchester as key times and places in the history of mankind. Thought provoking and worth a read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett on 16 Jun 2013
Format: Paperback
Great science writing, like great writing of any description, need not, should not date, but being a great scientist and an all-round decent chap does not of necessity a great writer make. These lectures left me feeling faintly queasy with their tincture of spirituality. 'The world of biology is full of miracles.' Is that helpful, enlightening or even informative? 'To explain butterflies is unnecessary because everyone has seen them' might have been true(ish) in 1985 but is less so now. Today's under 30s will all have seen stunning footage, but how many will have had that sensation of a butterfly fluttering around them - and anyway wouldn't they rather be bungee-jumping? Hoping for a village explainer à la Haldane (who gets a couple of name-checks) I was disappointed to come up gainst emotion-fudged Chestertonian weasel-speak

And Freeman, lapsed Christian as you are, is exposing an infant to both the creator-god and the Jesus-god - not as hypotheses but as full-blown 'facts' - almost as soon as she can speak not both behaviour ethically improper to a scientist (who, as you would readily concede, should always keep her mind open) and philosophically unsound? Where does everything come from? From God. What is God? That-from-which-everything-comes. And to any objections to this mother of all tautologies: 'You'll find out when you're older'. Finding out, for example, that although not a person, God is distinctly masculine. In what way exactly? Queasy-making. (Of course it may have been Mrs Dyson who was to blame, but the eminent peace-loving scientist-cum-sentimentalist plainly raises no objections)

On the subject of lies ('lazy answers') we tell to children, The Science of Discworld is instructive. The remainder of these essays are dated. Space travel? How very quaint
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Another absorbing journey with Freeman Dyson. 12 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Mr. Dyson is one of the most respected and distinguished physicists in the world. He is also a great science writer for the layman. Although a gentle and gracious man by nature, Dyson is not afraid to take on the sacred cows and unfashionable areas of science, and it is obvious that there is little beyond his powers of comprehension. When I read Freeman Dyson, I feel as though I am in the presence of supreme, but very kindly intellect. This is a collection of 17 lectures that touch on many subjects, including 6 on biology. Unplug the phone, lock the door--whatever it takes to have some quiet time to yourself--and read this absorbing and thoughtful book. It will change the way you look at the universe around you. This book will also introduce the you other fascinating books that you've never heard about but will wish that you had.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A Meaning for Scientific Thought by a Master 12 Aug 2007
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As always with Freeman Dyson, this book is a provocative exploration of a set of interesting and often unusual themes in nature, thoughtfully related to the larger issues of the day. In "Infinite in All Directions" Dyson searches for meaning on the diversity of the Earth's ecosystem, the inner workings of the universe, and the place of humanity in our larger cosmological structure. Presented originally as a set of lectures at Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1985, the chapters of this book have a familiarity and sensitivity to events of the time that one might expect. This is both a strength and weakness of this book.

Dyson's interest in the origins and evolution of life emerges clearly in this volume, and this discussion sparked in part by the debates over abortion and creationism is most welcome. His concern for cold war issues, especially a lengthy discussion of the place of Austria, seems someone archaic more than twenty years later.

Somewhere in the middle is Dyson's admittedly important perspective and provocative essay on "nuclear winter," a theory advanced by Carl Sagan and others in the 1980s that suggested that a nuclear exchange between the superpowers would trigger a worldwide ice age. He questioned the theory with some excellent points drawn, as he said, from his background. Indeed, science may be autobiographical, Dyson writes, for Carl Sagan drew his analogies for "nuclear winter" from his studies of the cold, dry environment of Mars and the dust particles in its thin atmosphere. This is one approach, Dyson concludes, but not the only one and he drew his analogies from the London fog. "We both use the same mathematics and both work with the same laws of physics. Why then do we reach different conclusions?" (p. 262). As he notes: "If the atmosphere after a nuclear war is filled with dry soot, the temperature on the ground will fall and the Earth will experience nuclear winter. If the atmosphere is filled with wet soot, the temperature on the ground will stay roughly constant as it used to do under a London fog. The severity of a nuclear winter depends on whether the soot-laden atmosphere is predominantly dry or predominantly wet" (p. 263). Moreover, since we live on a water-dominated planet Dyson believes that such a nuclear exchange would not trigger the type of ice age that Sagan advanced.

This does not mean that Dyson saw no threat to humanity in nuclear weapons. He certainly did. In fact, he spent considerable space ruminating on the choices that scientists must make in confronting such scientific questions. In all cases, the mode of science is to seek to disprove or at least modify any new theory. Doing so helps to self-correct the state of knowledge, and there is no higher calling in science. "Every new theory has to fight for its existence against intense and often bitter criticism," Dyson comments (p. 258). He then adds, "On the other hand, nuclear winter is not just a theory. It is also a political statement with profound moral implications" (p. 259). In such a situation scientists face a dilemma that cannot be minimized. They may take their normal approach as scientists and seek to disprove the theory, which Dyson believed in the case of nuclear winter would be successful, but doing so would provide the decision makers with cover for belligerent actions. As he wrote: "So my instinct as a scientist comes into sharp conflict with my instinct as a human being...What does a scientist do when science and humanity pull in opposite directions" (p. 259). He offered three possible solutions, one ignoring humanity and seeking to disprove the theory, another embracing humanity and nuclear winter as a theory. A third option, one followed by most scientists in the "nuclear winter" debate, was to privately seek to disprove but publicly to support the theory. He offered this succinct statement of this third approach: "it will not do us any good in the long run to believe a wrong theory, but it will not do us any good in the short run to attack it publicly, so let us keep silent and reserve judgment until the facts become clear" (p. 260). Dyson, like many others, chose that third option in the "nuclear winter" debate.

Dyson's discussion of "nuclear winter" is an especially useful object lesson in the nature and conundrums of scientific thought and practice. Those who hold the mistaken belief that scientific understanding is objective and linear will be well served in reading this case study. Scientific understanding is infinitely more complex, convoluted, interesting, and significant than most believe. Apply this issue to the major scientific debates of the present, of which there are many, and it is apparent that there are few easy answers.

As always, Freeman Dyson's work is challenging and thoughtful. "Infinite in All Directions," despite some essays that are a bit out of date, is a worthy contribution which all would profit by reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Freeman John Dyson (born 1923) is a British theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. He has written other popular books such as Disturbing The Universe, and The Scientist as Rebel.

He states in the Preface, "Boiled down to one sentence, my message is the unbounded prodigality of life and the consequent unboundedness of human destiny. As a working hypothesis to explain the riddle of our existence, I propose that our universe is the most interesting of all possible universes, and our fate as human beings is to make it so."

One perhaps surprising aspect of this book is the amount of attention that he gives to religious topics. He states that many scientists are, "like me, loosely attached to Christian beliefs by birth and habit but not committed to any particular dogma." Surprisingly, he states, "(A)s I listen to the arguments raging in recent years between biologists and creationists over the teaching of biology in American schools, I am shocked to hear voices among the scientists sounding as arrogant as the voices of the creationists."

Concerning origin-of-life theories, he writes, "Directed panspermia is only a hypothesis on the wilder fringe of speculation, not quite science and not quite science fiction. It belongs with Newton's celestial zoo in the borderland where science and mythology meet." Concerning Russian scientist Alexander Oparin's theory of a chemical origin of life, Dyson comments, "The Oparin picture was generally accepted by biologists for half a century. It was popular not because there was any evidence to support it, but rather because it seemed to be the only alternative to biblical creationism."

He finds some ideas of Charles Hartshorne's Process Philosophy "congenial, and consistent with scientific common sense. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be considered to be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. We are the chief inlets of God on this planet at the present stage of his development. We may later grow with him as he grows, or we may be left behind."

He concludes the book with a discussion of "five specific points at which faith and reason may appear to clash. The five points are the origin of life, the human experience of free will, the prohibition of teleological explanations in science, the argument from design as an explanatory principle, and the question of ultimate aims."

It should also be noted that in 2000, Dyson was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
POetic Writing with an Internal Contradiction 6 Dec 2003
By Avid Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It has been noted that some of the best writing around can be found in the scientific world and this book is a confirmation. It is divided into two sections that the author describes as reflecting two meanings of the title - the infinite quality of the universe and the infinite responsibility of mankind. The essays are erudite, entertaining, informative and more than anything (especially in the "universe" section) demonstrate that the nature of science and humanity's involvement in it is complex, sometimes contradictory and at times perplexing.
Life is explored in all its variations - how it started, why it's complex, how it will end, what it means. Then the second part falters a bit. The author can be forgiven some of his remarks due to the date of publication as he goes on about the (former) Soviet Union, peace, NATO, Star Wars, Nuclear Winter, etc.
The problem with non-political types formulating policy is that over time the perception grows that Barbra Streisand is as knowledgable as Colin Powell or Freeman Dyson knows something that Madelaine Albright doesn't or that Jerry Falwell or Dr. Ruth or some college professor has the answer to the complex social problems of the day.
The peaceful manner in which the potentially explosive end of the Cold War was guided by those familiar with the situation is a rebuke to all the talking heads. A good essay on "Star Wars" and its meaning and potential was followed by some out of the box speculation on ways of dealing with the Soviet State. What was infuriating was the notion pushed by Dyson that scientists and intellectuals are peculiarly inclined toward peace. Do farmers, steel workers, bankers, programmers and chefs desire a nuclear war? Who created those weapons if not scientists? He, like many, dreams of a Star Trek world of universal peace, an end to racial and religious strife and a focus on scientific and artistic achievment. It sounds noble but in no way reflects our evolutionary heritage.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Infinitely Intereting 27 April 2009
By coastalkate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
dyson is such fun to read. Makes you think about abstract and abstruse things that - maybe we all should be paying attention to - even if they are not possible to solve. Wish I could have dinner with him. Maybe in another universe.
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