Much of my working life has been devoted to trying to get across the point that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge. To begin with, I wanted to understand the nature of the universe. When still a boy I struggled with the baffling mysteries of theoretical physics – and failed the 11-plus exam twice! (This is an exam one had to pass in the UK when I was young in order to continue with one’s education, unless one’s parents could pay school fees. Fortunately, mine could.) Then, with adolescence, I began to feel it was much more important to understand the hearts and souls of people, and the way to do that was by means of the novel. I plunged into the worlds of Dostoevsky, Kafka, Stendhal, Chekhov, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Flaubert. My real education began. I would become a novelist and dare to reveal dark secrets of the human heart no one before had uttered.
But I never learnt how to fabricate in order to tell the truth. So, after failures, mystical experiences, and other travails, I became a philosopher. I acquired a BA and MA in philosophy at Manchester University, where I taught philosophy of science for a year. I then moved to University College London, where I taught philosophy of science for nearly thirty years, and where I am now Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science.
In all my work I have struggled with two basic problems: (1) How can human life exist – conscious, free, meaningful and of value – if the world really is more or less as modern physical science tells us it is? (2) What ought to be the overall aims and methods of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, granted that the basic task is to help humanity achieve what is of value in life? One might sum it up in one problem: How can life of value exist and best flourish in the physical universe?
I have published six books on this theme: What’s Wrong With Science? (Bran's Head Books, 1976; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2009), From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2007), The Comprehensibility of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Human World in the Physical Universe (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, December 2004), and Cutting God in Half – And Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy (Pentire Press, London, 2010). I have also contributed to a number of other books, and have published numerous papers in science and philosophy journals on problems that range from consciousness to quantum theory. I have given lectures at Universities and Conferences all over Britain, Europe and north America, and I have taken part in the BBC Programme “Start the Week” on Radio 4. In 2009 a book was published devoted to my work, edited by Leemon McHenry, called Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom (Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt). A few years ago I founded an organization called Friends of Wisdom, which promotes the idea that we need to bring about a revolution in our universities, so they come to help humanity learn how to create as good, as wise, a world as possible. My website URL, where more information about my life and work may be found, is: www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk. Almost all my papers are available online at: http://philpapers.org/profile/17092. An interview with me about my work, broadcast on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is available at: www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1---24-listen/#episode24.