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What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty Paperback – 3 Jul 2006


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What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty + What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable + This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; New edition edition (3 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416522611
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416522614
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 240,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

John Brockman is a writer, agent and publisher of the 'Third Culture' website www.edge.org, the forum for leading scientists and thinkers to share their research with the general public. He is the author of THE THIRD CULTURE and the editor of several anthologies including WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE and WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?. He lives in New York.

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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 28 Aug 2006
Format: Paperback
The question posed by John Brockman was "What do you believe but cannot prove?" It might be classed as one of those Mediaeval "angels on the head of a pin" queries. However, this is the 21st Century and what we know of Nature now stands in stark contrast to what was known then. The responses show that serious questions remain to be resolved. Not all of them can be, as the issue concerned lies either in the past or is too remote for close study. Some, of course, lie in the realm of what we deem "consciousness". A vague term in its own right, made even more difficult when the various respondents offer their own definitions. That tactic, however, makes the answers more stimulating by creating fresh questions. By selecting novelist Ian McEwan to write the introduction, Brockman shows he doesn't consider the question limited to scientific speculation. McEwan demonstrates his knowledge of the scientific issues [would that more fiction writers matched that capacity!] and how "inspiration" has advanced our understanding of Nature.

Although he doesn't describe the process, the reader will soon learn that the editor has placed the responses in some general categories. The first area of interest is cosmology - who is out there? How might we learn of them? Can we ever reach worlds light years away? More to the point, how is the universe put together and why in that way and not another? Are there other universes we can't see? Since many of these questions touch on what we call "values", the next grouping addresses that sort of reply. What is "morality" and what are its origins? In this collection, the "divine" is bypassed, leaving only humans to provide the answer to those "eternals". Yet humans, the responders acknowledge, are the product of natural selection.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Amanda Kear on 16 July 2008
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. Because the essays are so short, I kept thinking "Oh, I'll just read another... and another... and another... and, oh dear, is that the time?!"

It is full of thought-provoking - and sometime contradictory - opinions on topics from the nature of matter, to economic theory, to consciousness. There were a few "D'oh! Of COURSE!" moments in there for me (e.g. you start dreaming before you are fully asleep), and I'm sure you will find a few of your own when reading it. I now have a burning urge to go track down more writings by several of the essayists!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Sep 2009
Format: Paperback
What we Believe but cannot Prove: Today's leading thinkers on science in the age of certainty, edited by John Brockman, Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster), 2006, 288 ff.

A polemic about scientism
By Howard A. Jones

Science has enabled us over the last four centuries to understand the way many aspects of the world function. But there are certain features of the natural world that may forever and in principle be beyond the capability of science to resolve. This book is a timely reminder of the limitations of scientism - the idea that science can, at least in principle, eventually solve the mechanism of any problem with which it is confronted concerning our natural environment, including human behaviour.

The contributions here are very short - no more than a couple of pages each, so there is no room to discuss any issue in depth: nor are all of the contributors scientists. This book is simply a `taster' of the kinds of problems that confront various disciplines and what experts in the respective fields think about them. Thus, philosopher Dennis Dutton speculates on aesthetic values, biologist Richard Dawkins rejects any idea of design in the universe, novelist Ian McEwan believes that death is the end, physicist William H. Calvin senses that the morality of humankind is improving . . . and there are many more - over a hundred in all.

This book is, by its very nature, speculative, so don't look here for any hard facts about anything. But as an indication of the sorts of conceptual challenges there are out there, in many different fields of human thought and endeavour, it makes a fascinating read.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 May 2007
Format: Paperback
This seemingly modest little book with a cartoon like cover is in my (in this case clearly) humble opinion one of the best books of 2006. John Brockman, who is a man with a gift for editing the scientific mind and for getting the most from people who are not necessarily at their best when writing for a general readership, is the force behind the idea for this book. The idea is something close to a stroke of genius: get an all-star line up of today's leading scientists and cultural mavens to go on record about what they believe but cannot prove. Simple idea. Profound consequences.

Normally if you ask scientists to describe the future or what they think is really happening at the edge of their discipline, or what they think is going on scientifically in fields outside their area of expertise, you are liable to get some carefully worded, very guarded opinions. But free the scientists from the responsibility of scientific rigor for the moment and just let them tell us what they think based on their unique knowledge and long experience, and guess what? You are liable to get the kind of candor that otherwise would not be forthcoming. And what is more, you are going to get, as it happens, some very significant predictions about the future. That is what happened here.

Some highlights:

Anthropologist Scott Atran writes, "There is no God that has existence apart from people's thoughts of God. There is certainly no Being that can simply suspend the (nomological) laws of the universe in order to satisfy our personal or collective yearnings and whims--like a stage director called on to improve a play." But, he adds, we can suspend belief in what we "see and take for obvious fact." He calls this the quest for "nonapparent truth." (p.
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