Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century

Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century

Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century

Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Gerald Holton uses the life and work of our century's greatest scientist to warn against today's gathering Romantic rebellion, one in which science is blamed for all our social ills, and in which reason is being replaced by New Age "ways of knowing." Through his rich exploration of Einstein's thought, the author shows how the best science depends on great intuitive leaps of imagination, and how science is indeed the creatice expression of the traditions of Western civilization. Wide-ranging and forecful, this book is must reading for anyone interested in the place of science in our world.

Excerpt

One of the burning questions of the day concerns the rightful place of science in our culture. The main purpose of this book is to make this debate more understandable—first by baring its historic roots and then by focusing, as a concrete example, on Albert Einstein's profound and lasting impact on our civilization. What can we learn about the powers and limitations of science by tracing Einstein's way of thinking, his view of the world, even his personal life?

Ours is an especially opportune time to examine these questions. In every society, the way in which science—as a body of knowledge, as a source of technical applications, as a generator of models for thinking and acting, as a troubling challenger of established ideas—is viewed and used affects its moral authority, much like the other significant components of a culture, such as religion and art. Indeed, in C. P. Snow's sharp formulation, science and its applications can determine human destiny, "that is, whether we live or die." It has been so throughout history. Sultan Muhammad II used technical innovations to pound Byzantium into submission in 1453; an Asian emperor in the nineteenth century made the fateful error of isolating his people from Western knowledge and might; in World War II, the perfection of radar provided a crucial edge for warding off the fascists' challenge to Western civilization itself. Equally essential has been the role of science and technology in mankind's ancient wars against ignorance, disease, and other blights and human burdens. Even the notion of human rights has been expanded by scientific findings; thus, modern anthropologists have exposed the falsity of the centuries-old idea about "inferior races," on which bigotry has long rested comfortably; and biomedical advances . . .

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