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The Sun, the Genome and the Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolutions (Nypl/Oup Lectures) [Hardcover]

Freeman J. Dyson
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

3 Jun 1999 Nypl/Oup Lectures
In this visionary look into the future, Freeman Dyson argues that technological changes fundamentally alter our ethical and social arrangements and that three rapidly advancing new technologies-solar energy, genetic engineering, and world-wide communication-together have the potential to create a more equal distribution of the world's wealth. Dyson begins by rejecting the idea that scientific revolutions are primarily concept-driven. He shows rather that new tools are more often the sparks that ignite scientific discovery. Such tool-driven revolutions have profound social consequences: the invention of the telescope turning the Medieval world view upside down, the widespread use of household appliances in the 1950s replacing servants, to cite just two examples. In looking ahead, Dyson suggests that solar energy, genetics, and the Internet will have similarly transformative effects, with the potential to produce a more just and equitable society. Solar power could bring electricity to even the poorest, most remote areas of third world nations, allowing everyone access to the vast stores of information on the Internet and effectively ending the cultural isolation of the poorest countries. Similarly, breakthroughs in genetics may well enable us to give our children healthier lives and grow more efficient crops, thus restoring the economic and human vitality of village cultures devalued and dislocated by the global market. Written with passionate conviction about the ethical uses of science, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet is both a brilliant reinterpretation of the scientific process and a challenge to use new technologies to close, rather than widen, the gap between rich and poor.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 142 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc (3 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195129423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195129427
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Freeman Dyson, a legendary figure in the sciences, has given us a thoughtful and thought-provoking glimpse into the 21st century. The Sun, The Genome, and The Internet is a must-read for anyone who wants a sneak preview into the future. Only Dyson could weave together this rich tapestry, blending ethics, ideology, science, and technology into a coherent vision of the future. Michio Kaku --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Freeman Dyson is Professor Emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. He is the author of Disturbing the Universe, Infinite in All Directions, Weapons and Hope, and many other books. He is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Phi Beta Kappa Award in science, among many other honors. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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John Randall was in 1939 a thirty-four-year-old English physicist who had made an undistinguished career in solid-state physics. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deceitful 6 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I've read other books from the same author and I liked them, but not this one. I bought it because the title is really catchy. I was deceived because the book is a (too sort) compilation of several talks and articles, may be not very carefully arranged. I did not see a real line of discourse, or conclusions.
Positive aspects of the book are the strong ethical content of Freeman's attitude towards science and his provocative predictions for the future (very much in the line of Freeman's style). You may like them or not, but you cannot deny his originality.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Low-key, mostly closer-to-home essays 16 Jun 1999
By Stefan Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Adapted from a lecture series hosted by the New York Public Library, the essays in this slender volume cover traditional Dyson subjects (ethics and technology, the politics and "sociology" of scientific research, the settlement of the solar system) plus something new; speculation on how the three titular entities might be used to bring prosperity and dynamism back to village life in the Third World.
In addition to being an awfully short book, with great wide margins, there's disappointingly little meat on these bones. The chapters in past collections, like the incomparable _Disturbing the Universe_, started out as essays and articles; these transcribed lectures don't quite compare.
If you haven't read anything by Dyson, you might want to start here. Otherwise, my recommendation is to buy it, and loan it to people who need beach reading or an airline book.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaching the web from the Congo! Prebuilt homes on Mars! 16 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dyson focuses on how scientific revolutions are made and suggests the best strategies, considering cost and politics, of making important progress. He spells out ways that technologies can improve our quality of life and, not incidentally, reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Looking ahead to the next 100 years he gives us a feel for the kind of thing humankind might expect when we begin to apply new technologies to the poor, underpopulated parts of the world and we begin to populate the other bodies in the universe. He sees the power of the sun directly harnessed to providing access to the internet for everyone in the world through revolutions in the understanding of genes.
Dyson, emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, is a legendary figure in the sciences. He writes with passionate conviction, style and a profound knowledge of the people and the work, and a deep understanding of how scientific things get done.
Even though I'm not specially interested in the sun or the genome, I found this book riveting. It will appeal to any curious person. There is no science prerequisite beyond knowing the difference between a telescope and a gene.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Practical Vision, Actionable Predictions 24 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The books shelves are full of millenium views and prognostications. But none with the scientific support and historical perspective of this book. Surprisingly easy to read, Dyson puts these three socio-techno forces in an order that is not only logical, but also quite inspiring. (Wait until you read that we only need two inventions to break the next big DNA code. . .and what they are!) The downside of the book is the intermittant rambling antecdotes of personal stories. They simply don't seem to connect either to each other or to the point. Fortunately, you can skim over these and not lose much. This book is quite digestable -- I'll be quoting it tomorrow and using it in my "future world" presentations.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Dyson gem! 16 July 2000
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is yet another wonderful book written by the physicist / mathematician Freeman J. Dyson of Princeton university. In this book he discusses at length his views on scientific revolutions. He also articulates how his thoughts both overlap and differ from other authorities on the subject (such as Thomas Kuhn on MIT).
Specifically, Dyson looks at the three things found in the title and how they influence scientific advancements. He elucidates the different approaches that astronomers use vs. biologists to find what they are "after." He also describes how biologists could learn a lot from their astronomer brethren. Dyson points out how the Internet has provided an excellent tool for science as it has "shrunk" the size of the Earth. The ways in which it has been able to speed up research protocals and methods have made an incredible impact on the world of science.
Dyson also writes at length about the implications of discerning the properties of the entire human genome. He argues that it will not, as some have said, lead to a 2-tier society of those who can afford to genetically maniuplate their children, and those who cannot. This is a significant subject in this day and age of bio-technology. For if things go awry (which Dyson assures us they won't) we could end up with one group of people with the ability to pave the road for their children before they are even born; they could genetically arrange for them to be admitted to the best schools, get the best jobs and make the most $$$$. Meanwhile, the children of the "have nots" would become a sort of slave race to their "superiors." They would be restricted to only the most menial and lowest paying jobs & would be denied higher education by default. It would be somewhat akin to the societal situation found in the movie "Gattaca." However, Dyson vehemently suggests that there is reason for optimism concerning this rather horrifying concept.
As is usual with Dyson books, this one is a must-read for those who have a love (or even a like) of science and the machinery of scientific revolutions. I would admonish everyone to read one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century; none other than Freeman Dyson.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A model of the future by a contemporary visionary 8 Aug 2001
By Manny Hernandez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This superb book by Freeman Dyson was largely based on the 'Three Faces of Science' lectures he gave at the New York Public Library in 1997. It consists of three chapters.
CHAPTER 1: SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION
Dyson revisits scientific disciplines that have come about as a result of brilliant minds exploring a previously unexisting path of research. In doing so, he makes an effort to extrapolate out of today's most rapidly growing areas of science (molecular biology and astronomy) what the future scientific revolutions might be like, and gives wise words of advise to medical scientists and biologists on how to make faster progress in their disciplines by changing some of their fundamental research paradigms, learning from the ways of astronomers.
CHAPTER 2: TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
In more than one way, it reminds me of a very pivotal article written not too long ago by Sun Microsystem's Bill Joy in Wired Magazine, which dealt with genetic engineering, robotics and nanotechnology, and their ethical implications.
Dyson's new list of important things for us to 'worry' about gave way to the book's title. He looks "for ways in which technology may contribute to social justice..." by mitigating evils such as rural poverty. This chapter is a brilliant exercise in which Dyson puts his mind to fly and actually makes his vision very easy to grasp by non-technical readers. When you read through the chapter you can almost feel that his vision is happening already, although there are some very real and respectable hurdles still separating us from it, which need to be overcome.
CHAPTER 3: THE HIGH ROAD
Although the book consists of three chapters, the reason for the title is more aptly dealt with in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 3 is a little out of context with respect to the original intention of the book, yet doesn't make the reader loose interest.
In this chapter, Dyson makes an incredible analysis and extrapolation about the elements surrounding our ability to find life beyond the boundaries of our planet. He believes, on the other hand, that as much as one hundred years would have to pass before we're near being able to send a significant amount of human explorers to space. But he doesn't leave readers without hope for this 'distant' future, as he lets his mind fly once again: He explains some of the exciting possible technologies he sees making massive human space exploration happen.
Finally, he wraps up chapter 3 with an ethical dissertation on the topics of cloning and reprogenetics (substituting chunks of live DNA with new, supposedly 'more desirable' chunks), closing it with the following brilliant yet slightly frightening words:
"To give us room to explore the varieties of mind and body into which our genome can evolve, one planet is not enough."
After such as closing sentence in chapter 3, I have to admit that the epilogue seemed a little weak, going back to topics already well discussed in chapter 2.
It is very easy throughout the entire book (which happens to take very little time to read, by the way) to be humbled by the ease with which Dyson deals with new scientific topics (for being a theoretical physicist, he jumps very easily, for example, from genetic engineering to space science) and the clarity he has (where some scientifics lack) in terms of the importance of maintaining the feet on the ground in the light of new scientific discoveries: how expensive will a new technology coming out of a discovery will be like, how many people will use it, etc.
After the death of Richard Feynman (some of whose books are among the 'scientific' books I've enjoyed the most) I thought the world had been deprived of its most brilliant teacher of science. Now I know Dyson is still with us, and this one only promises to become the first of his books I will read.
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