What is consciousness? Is evolution compatible with traditional religion? Does time exist or is it just our way of ordering experiences? Could a machine ever think? What do scientists really mean when they call something a fact?
Modern science has unravelled the mystery of life, seen back to the dawn of time, and peered down into the wierd world of quantum mechanics. Small wonder then that people now look to science to answer the big metaphysical questions.
In 'Falling for Science' Bernard Beckett shows this instinct of ours to be misguided. According to Beckett, the modern fashion for making scientists 'the High Priests of Everything' is mysticism in a lab coat. Here the author argues for a new model of scepticism, one which leaves scientists and storytellers to each get on with what they're best at.
Beckett is a powerful, persuasive communicator who writes in the contemporary vein of popular science writers like Matt ridley, Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond. With wit and not a little irreverence, Beckett offers a history of the ideas behind recent scientific development, and introduces the reader to arguments about the nature of consciousness, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence - and more. Brilliantly unsettling, 'Falling for Science' is compulsively readable.
At first glance, the back of the book had me wondering if I was picking up a trade paperback version of the whole Evolution vs Creationism/Intelligent Design debate... Thankfully, that impression was wrong.
With a definite tongue-in-cheek grin showing through, Beckett opens our minds to our historical desperation to find one leading light to look to for answers... be it a belief in an all-powerful creationist god, or in the ability of science to answer all the questions we throw at it... even the ones that cross the border between measureable and unmeasureable, between fact and faith.
He tackles the questions that bend the brains of even the brightest amongst us, but in a way that even "Joe Public" can follow along. Possibly my favourite section is where he tackles the whole 'Matrix mindset' which was also explored in the highly popular What the Bleep... documentaries, where the concept that 'reality' is actually nothing more than a method we have evolved (or were designed with) to cope with a 'Reality' of far greater scope than we can currently handle. I had to laugh at this rebuttal... when considering the quote in a documentary "There is no external reality. The only reality is inside our heads." he replies "Sure, the picture of the world we carry inside our heads is just an interpetation... [but]... A chef can't turn a carrot into an apricot, and even a person in a deep hallucinatory state would have their experience altered by a high force collosion with the tarmac." It brings to mind the sight of someone in a straightjacket yelling "Look, I can fly!" as they make a bee-line for the nearest rooftop edge...
The book is clearly entertaining as well as educational... with chapter and section titles like "Gene, Genie", "Popping Popper?" "Of cabbage and warthogs" and "Little god of pragmatism"... you can't help but feel at ease approaching this book with an open mind, even though you just know you're going to have to think thoughts that contradict you personal view of 'how it all works'... no matter which side of the theological fence you sit on.
Overall, if there is one book I felt should be subsidised by the government to the point where evry home had one, this would be it. (OK, this would be in the top 5... everyone should have a decent dictionary, the literacy levels of some sectors of society is deplorable!) Well worth a read for anyone who considers themselves open-minded and/or interested in getting multiple viewpoints on how our world really works.
Random listing from 'Books'...
Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What is the point, anyway. Life sucks. Nothing ever happens. Until Chloe Dow's body is pulled from a pond. Detective Inspector Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical he is determined to solve the mystery and get promoted. He does not need any assistance from notorious slacker, Smith. Or does he?
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