The Limits of Science Paperback – 14 Jan 1988
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Top customer reviews
The writing is stylised and old fashioned. PM uses words that even Martin Amis would avoid. asymptote, ultima Thule, banausic and postural (which, in PM's use, has nothing to do with posture). PM brings in wide ranging contempory and historical references, comparisons and allusions. He is a great fan of Karl Popper, the philosophers of the middle ages and Francis Bacon. He is very defensive of science, roundly rejecting all criticisms that suggest science rather than man is to blame for everything.
He is what I call an understanding aetheist. Interestingly he writes as if he is at fault or at a loss because he doesn't believe in a god. This impression is a function of the gentle way in which PM writes. But beneath his words are a very firm belief in, and requirement of and for, reason. He does not believe (a) god watches over us 'much as I would like to do so'. He believes that substituting the rule of reason for 'an authentication of belief by the intentness and degree of conviction with which we can hold it (the belief' is dangerous and destructive.
All in all a dignified and fine series of observations, views and comment on science and religion. Well worth the effort of reading, with a dictionary at one's side.
I would recommend this to anyone considering taking an undergraduate degree in any science. It is a real gem; concise, clear, passionate and well thought-through.
The second essay has as its title a very straightforward question: "Can scientific discovery be premeditated?" This is an even shorter essay, at just 8 pages. Medawar uses 3 examples to demonstrate his argument that the answer to the question is "no." His main target seems to be the industrialisation of science in modern academia where research is often only funded if an application of the science is foreseen. This goes very much against the spirit of science that prevailed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
His final essay is the culmination of these, where the main question posed is that of whether or not there are questions that science cannot answer. Specifically he has in mind "childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things - questions such as "How did everything begin?" "What are we here for?" "What is the point of living?""
He rejects the school of positivism as put forth by AJ Ayer and the Vienna Circle, by accepting that such questions do make sense, but recognises that answers to these may be beyond the means answerable my scientific methodologies.
Probably the most interesting part of the essay which I had not previously considered was his consideration of `The Law of Conservation of Information' which is stated thus: "No process of logical reasoning - no mere act of mind or computer-programmable operation - can enlarge the information content of the axioms and premises or observation statements from which it proceeds."
He finishes the essay with a consideration of `The Question of the Existence of God' - a subject that tends to divide opinions like few others. I shan't tell you what his conclusion is on this. I would heartily recommend that you read it for yourself.
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