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The End of Discovery: Are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable?

The End of Discovery: Are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable? [Kindle Edition]

Russell Stannard
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Lucid and provocative, it is a very polite corrective to both superstitions of the layman and the triumphalism of the experts. (New Statesman)

A lucid tour. (Simon Mitton, THES)

Stannard takes readers on a tour of some of the deepest questions facing science. (The Independent)

Product Description

It is generally thought that science, by its very nature, must always progress. But this is not so. One day, fundamental science will come to an end. Not when we have discovered everything, but when we have discovered whatever is open to us to understand - which is not the same thing.

Limitations as to what the human brain can comprehend, together with practical considerations to do with the need for ever more elaborate and expensive equipment, are likely to ensure that our knowledge will remain for ever incomplete. A further indication that the world will ultimately retain some of its mystery is suggested by evidence that in certain directions, scientific enquiry might already have come up against the boundaries of the knowable.

Author and broadcaster Russell Stannard, himself a high-energy physicist and former Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Open University, introduces the general reader to the deepest questions facing us today - questions to do with consciousness, free will, the nature of space, time, and matter, the existence of extraterrestrial life, and why there should be a world at all. In doing so, he speculates as to whether some of these questions will never be answered.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 532 KB
  • Print Length: 237 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199585245
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (23 Sep 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005QMJ2BA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #567,953 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Russell Stannard is a prolific author of award-winning books for children and for adults. His Uncle Albert books have been translated into 20 languages, and one of them, 'Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest' was for a time the Number 1 UK paperback bestseller.
For his work in making science accessible to children and to the public in general, he was awarded an OBE by The Queen, and has received the Bragg Medal of the Institute of Physics.
He was involved in setting up the UK's Open University (the UK's largest university with over 250,000 students) where he headed the Department of Physics and Astronomy for 21 years.
His research field was high energy physics, which he conducted at the CERN laboratory in Geneva and in major US laboratories.
Besides his scientific work, he is a licensed lay minister in the Anglican Church, and a Member of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton, USA. Several of his books address the question as to how to reconcile science and religion.
He is also a sculptor in his spare time, his work in this area being the subject of a BBC TV documentary.
He has 16 grandchildren, and one great grandchild - so far.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scientific discovery - is the end in sight? 31 Dec 2010
The purpose of this book is to argue that at some time in the future, possibly the very distant future, fundamental scientific discovery will cease, because there are things, which either by their very nature, or for practical reasons, are unknowable. Russell Stannard steadily works his way through the difficulties, usually explaining complex ideas clearly, and compiles a list of the problems as he sees them. Some of these, such as `Is there a Higgs boson?' and `What is the nature of dark matter?' appear, even though the author himself believes they will be solved, `but I cannot be sure'. Few people would cite them as `show stoppers'. More serious are arguments based on the fact that to test current models in fundamental particle physics requires very large energies, orders of magnitude greater than available at present, although this is not always true. (For example, no mention is made of experiments to detect electric dipole moments.) However, all the arguments ultimately rest on the assumption that the techniques, theoretical and experimental, available in the future are those we have at present. Just as we may be unsure whether the problems of mass, or dark matter, will be solved, how can we be so certain of this? A good example to the contrary is actually given in the book. In 1935, Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky published their famous paradox questioning the completeness of quantum mechanics. This was for a long time considered untestable, but in 1968, to the surprise of the scientific world, such a test was devised, although it took a further 15 years to perform an experiment (that vindicated the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics). Read more ›
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and thoughtful 16 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Whilst there is nothing new in terms of content the author's approach is refreshing. Too often scientific knowledge is presented as universal truth only to be subject to subseqent revision. As this book suggests there may be limits to human knowledge, it may not be possible for us to find a 'theory of everything' or solve all the puzzles that science has not yet solved, such as what came before the 'big bang' or what exactly is consciousness. It's a slim, easy to read volume that's worth a few hours investment. Perhaps some of the scientists who grace our TV screens should read this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lucid account of some difficult science 19 Jan 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At first I thought the book was a rather plodding attempt to get scientific ideas across, but as I read on I found a beautifully balanced account of current ideas in almost every field of science. I have never read a clearer explanation of special relativity.
The book is a refreshing chnge from the deliberately obscure writings of Stephen Hawking who seems mainly interested in promoting his own ideas rather than taking a critical look at them. This book redresses the balance.
The author neatly avoids the trap of expressing opinions about religion, though I understand that he has religious beliefs. But don't let that put you off.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is an ambitious yet accessible book that spans the universe from its creation to yesterday and includes pretty much everything in it. Physicist and professor Russell Stannard, a confident guide through this complex and, at times, contradictory territory, proves skilled at analogies and visualizations, and sympathetic over the difficulty of the questions he raises. These are mind-shattering inquiries: thoughts about thoughts and observations about observations. The author presents this confusion as the status quo and illuminates how all the contradictions of physics still come together to define a universe. Stannard also reminds the reader that everything he describes could be obsolete tomorrow. He provides perspective for - and getAbstract recommends this book to - all those interested in science, predictions of the future, philosophy and human nature.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promises more than it delivers 8 Jan 2011
Text of my review as published in BBC Focus magazine:

One of the odd things about 21st century science is that ever more money seems to be spent on ever more spectacular projects, yet the ultimate answers seem to be getting ever further away. From the Human Genome Project to the Large Hadron Collider and the Very Large Telescope, scientists are doing their level best to push forward the frontier of knowledge, but it's increasingly pushing right back. Could science and its time-honoured methods finally be running out of steam ?
That's the intriguing possibility explored by Russell Stannard, professor emeritus of physics at the Open University. As a nuclear physicist, Stannard knows all too well the limitations put on the knowable by quantum theory, the laws of the sub-atomic world. Since the 1920s, it's been clear that it's not just hard to know everything about what's happening at these levels - it's literally impossible. But as Stannard shows, other limitations are starting to emerge too, which suggest we can't even know what the universe is "really" like.
Stannard puts a lot of work into explaining the basics before pondering the Big Questions - and the result is admirably clear and readable. But I suspect many people intrigued by the thesis at the heart of the book will get impatient with this Physics 101 approach - and then disappointed by the somewhat superficial treatment of the ideas at the cutting edge of science, like the many universes view of reality.
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