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What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty [Paperback]

John Brockman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 July 2006
"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" This was the question posed by John Brockman to a group of leading scientists and thinkers via his website. The subsequent answers created a media storm and prompted a fiery debate about all aspects of science, technology and even the nature of "proof". WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE brings together the very best answers from the most eminent contributors. Here is Ian McEwan on the absence of an afterlife; Richard Dawkins on the relationship between design and evolution; and Jared Diamond on when humans first reached the Americas. Other contributions from luminaries like Steven Pinker, John Horgan and Martin Rees span the whole range of scientific endeavour and human experience, from the future of computing to the origins of intelligence; from insights into childhood behaviour to cutting-edge cosmology. Thought-provoking and hugely compelling, this collection is both a fascinating insight into the instinctive beliefs of some of the most brilliant minds alive today -- and an invitation to answer the question yourself ...

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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: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 206,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

John Brockman is a writer, agent and publisher of the 'Third Culture' website, 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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mundane question evokes stimulating responses 28 Aug 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and thought provoking 16 July 2008
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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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I was quite dissapointed with this. Many prominent thinkers present their view on the title subject, but we get only around one-maybe-two pages from each 'contributor'. Even if there is a bit of insight in each short piece of text, I don't feel that this covers any ground at all, or that the book ever really tackles the question of provable science. This book is probably great for hunting for quotes without bothering with the proper work of the scientists, or for 5 minutes of toilet-reading once in a while, but don't expect to learn anything new on the subject. For the casual reader, however, this might offer a glimpse of many of the most important researchers, writers and thinkers of the 21th century, and thus the second star in my evaluation.

It is impressive how many important people from my bookshelf on neuroscience, psychology and cultural studies contributed to this, but ultimately the book seemed like a waste of money. Buy one book by Dan Dennett, steven Pinker, Scott Atran, Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins or any other contributor instead.
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