Doubt and Certainty

Doubt and Certainty

Doubt and Certainty

Doubt and Certainty


When physicists and others construct models to explain the phenomena and laws of nature, do those models actually simulate what's really out there in the world, or do they only synthesize the way we think the world is? And how does our cultural upbringing affect the way we think about the world? In this far-reaching yet penetrating book, two world-class physicists, one born and raised in the West, the other in the Far East, examine these and many other intriguing questions not yet resolved by modern scientists.


But scientists, who ought to know
Assure us that it must be so.
Oh, let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about.

-- Hilaire Belloc

If you have recently walked through the nearest Barnes and Noble superstore or equivalent, you may have noticed that its bookshelves hold various descriptions of the universe: one aisle displays scientific discussions; poetic and legendary accounts are found to the east of the café; Western religious treatises occupy a far wall, gradually being squeezed out by Eastern philosophy and the New Age. But the fact that the varying descriptions are scattered over the four corners of the vast store induces a sense of fragmentation, not unlike the puzzlement you experience in a supermarket when you discover low-cal sweetener is in "diet foods" and not next to sugar.

The superstore is of course a microcosm, a reflection of society at large. Although in recent years the science section has been greatly expanded, at the same time we have witnessed a general dissatisfaction with traditional science's inability to provide a spiritual foundation for life. a decade ago, in his Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote: "All that is human, all that is of concern to us, lies outside of natural science.'

For those of us schooled in the scientific outlook, it is a harsh judgment, but Bloom's discontent--or similar ones--seems rife with the public. To our nonscientist friends, the rules of science evidently appear arbitrary, merely the general consensus of a fraternity of dead white European males. in that case the rules aren't to be taken too seriously. and so a large number of people have come to regard science as just another belief system, neither more nor less sound than astrology, alchemy or esp. the problem has been compounded over the years by repeatedly exaggerated claims on the part of scientists for what science can deliver in the way of ultimate understanding or happiness. As a result, the public has become largely agnostic about science.

All this has led at millennium's close to widespread attempts to make science more spiritually meaningful. This is most evident in the "New Age" section of the superstore, where writers combine scientific terminology with, typically, "Eastern" mystical thought. But it is also evident in the science aisle, where one can find--under "physics"--books on synchronicity, not to mention treatises on the compatibility of the Bible with general relativity. Scientists tend to turn pale--sometimes crimson--at such . . .

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