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all they want to do is remake science
on 3 July 2011
This is a witty and at times brilliant book. The authors argue that the reductionist approach to science, which has flourished over the last 300 years, for a more holistic or contrextual approach. In the reductionist approach, scientists have choped problems into manageable bits - lab experiments or discreet mathematical problems - that eventually they assume will be fit together into a coherent whole. Nature in this view functions as a vast machine they can reduce and separate into its component parts.
TO prove their point, the authors embark on a dazzling tour of biology, chemistry and physics. But something is missing say the authors. What we know, they claim, are tiny islands in a sea of ignorance; it is self limiting as the larger questions get neglected. It is the causes of simplicity, they say - the order that suddenly emerges - that researchers should explore.
So, they conclude, it is time for a new set of questions. Unfortunately, just when we expect something new, it is here that the book gets a bit vague, with the authors falling back on anecdotes and speculation. They try to coin a new vocabulary ("simplexity" for the old and "complicity" for theirs); offer some diagrams of what they want, including an odd picture of mixing smoke with a unicorn head; and they harp on strange and abrupt conclusions, such as the importance of squid fat to the evolution of the human brain. But they do not offer a coherent new paradigm.
An uneven effort, but fun and very funny at times.