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Author Topic: The real wonder is that humans ever discovered science at all  (Read 1087 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: March 22, 2015, 09:15:44 PM »

How come that if they were so wise and acutely observant, scientists in ancient and as late as medieval times mistakenly believed (1) that the Sun revolved around Earth and not the other way around, which it does even if counterintuitively, and (2) that the rise and fall of the tides were caused by the Earth’s daily rotation and annual orbit around the Sun, instead of obviously being caused by the Moon’s rotation on its monthly orbit around the Earth? How could those people of great or at least above-average intelligence have entertained such downright wrongheaded ideas about the world?


In his new book To Explain the World (Harper/Harper Collins, 416 pages), Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg compellingly and sometimes irreverently explains that it was because science is actually an uncommonsensical way of regarding things, not a kind of codified common sense arrived at simply by dogged observation. Instead, the true nature and mechanisms of those two celestial phenomena—like those of electricity and magnetism, radio waves, radioactivity, and the quantum properties of matter at the atomic level—were not discovered in quick “Eureka!” fashion but actually forced upon scientists by accumulated physical evidence over the centuries, usually of unaccountable or baffling anomalies, and by the sheer logic of mathematical operations on physical properties.

Weinberg argues that the real wonder is not that humans lacked science for so long but that they ever discovered science at all. He relates that in ancient and medieval times, astute thinkers used only philosophical reasoning to attempt to explain the heavens and the Earth, with hardly any methodical system for verifying their conclusions. He says that it wasn’t until the 17th century, with the path-breaking experimental work of Galileo and Kepler that culminated in Newton’s formulation of the laws of motion and gravitation, that science in the modern sense came to existence. Indeed, by his own admission, Weinberg comes “close to dangerous ground” with his assessment that from the perspective of the present, Aristotle was “careless or stupid” on one point, Plato “sometimes silly,” and Descartes “overrated.”

Read Tim Radford’s review of Steven Weinberg’s To Explain the World in TheGuardian.com now!

Read Tom Siegfried's book review, "Steven Weinberg looks back at rise of scientific method," in ScienceNews.org now!  THIS PARTICULAR REVIEW IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE TO NON-SUBSCRIBERS OF SCIENCENEWS.ORG

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steven Weinberg is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. He holds the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments. His research on elementary particles and cosmology has been honored with numerous prizes and awards, including in 1979 the Nobel Prize in Physics and in 1991 the National Medal of Science. In 2004 he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society, with a citation that said he is “considered by many to be the preeminent theoretical physicist alive in the world today.” He has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society, as well as to the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2017, 02:20:34 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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