How can science be approaching a culmination when we haven’t invented spaceships that travel at warp speed yet?
John Horgan is pursuing some provocative questions.
- Has science been entered an era of diminishing returns?
- Is physics moving towards absolute truth?
- Would be able physicists to prove a final theory in the same way that mathematicians prove theorems?
His thesis is that we are coming to an era where all the fundamental scientific theories have been discovered and science as we know today is coming altogether in an end. Horgan considers fundamental, theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, Einstein’s general relativity and quantum electrodynamics. That means theories that can apply, to the best of our knowledge, throughout the entire universe at all times since its birth.
In order to prove his thesis, Horgan has interviewed interesting scientists and philosophers from the entire scientific and social-philosophical landscape. Roger Penrose, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Popper, David Bohm, Edward Wilson, John Wheeler, Lynn Margulis, Andrei Linde, Daniel Dennet and many
Horgan is not the first or the last person to argue over the-end-of-science-era. At the end of the nineteen century, physicists also thought they knew everything. But only two decades later Einstein and other physicists discovered relativity theory and quantum mechanics. These theories transformed physics and opened up vast new vistas for modern physics and other branches of science.
The end-of-science argument and timing (millennium and link with Fucuyama’s End of History) have caused wide-range and “confusing” reactions and responses form science critics, scientists themselves, and even from Clinton’s Science Advisor who publicly repudiated Horgan’s argument. We can safely say that it is a discussion/debate that still goes on.
The value of the book is not in the message and if we are/ or not denouncing it. Horgan is a science journalist with an education in literature and his background makes the difference in the way he writes about science. With his prose style, he manages to fill gaps that other science writers fail to do, and make scientific writing an interesting adventure. He has the gift not only to make scientific theories understandable for the non-scientists readers but also to reveal beautifully his interviewee’s personalities. These interviews, the presentation of scientists as human beings, are the most interesting insight for me in the book.
Reading the book I had the feeling that Horgan tried to construct a psychological and ideological profile of each one person and it was fascinating to “discover” the eccentricities of the scientists who invented?/developed? some of the most interesting scientific and philosophical theories in the 20th century.
As for the end of science, I am optimistic. The best in science are still to come. But my view is possibly distorted by what Horgan call in his book the Star Trek factor.