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The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty

by

The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In today's unpredictable and chaotic world, we look to science to provide certainty and answers — and often blame it when things go wrong. The Blind Spot reveals why our faith in scientific certainty is a dangerous illusion, and how only by embracing science's inherent ambiguities and paradoxes can we truly appreciate its beauty and harness its potential.

Crackling with insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas, from climate change to the global financial meltdown, this book challenges our most sacredly held beliefs about science, technology, and progress. At the same time, it shows how the secret to better science can be found where we least expect it — in the uncertain, the ambiguous, and the inevitably unpredictable. William Byers explains why the subjective element in scientific inquiry is in fact what makes it so dynamic, and deftly balances the need for certainty and rigor in science with the equally important need for creativity, freedom, and downright wonder. Drawing on an array of fascinating examples — from Wall Street's overreliance on algorithms to provide certainty in uncertain markets, to undecidable problems in mathematics and computer science, to Georg Cantor's paradoxical but true assertion about infinity — Byers demonstrates how we can and must learn from the existence of blind spots in our scientific and mathematical understanding.

The Blind Spot offers an entirely new way of thinking about science, one that highlights its strengths and limitations, its unrealized promise, and, above all, its unavoidable ambiguity. It also points to a more sophisticated approach to the most intractable problems of our time.

Review:

"Science has been under siege during the last quarter century, first by critics who charge that science itself is a cultural construct and that scientists import their own belief systems into their research. Retired math professor Byers (How Mathematicians Think) argues that much of the problem lies in what he calls the 'science of certainty,' 'in which the need for certainty, power, and control are dominant.' Instead, Byers says, scientists need to recognize 'uncertainty, incompleteness, and ambiguity, the ungraspable, the blind spot, or the limits to reason.' These blind spots are embedded in the scientific method, because the world itself is ambiguous and cannot be seen clearly. Scientists ignore this at their peril. Ancient Greek mathematics, for instance, suffered from a refusal to accept the ambiguous concept of the square root of 2. Byers parses his subject methodically, although his dense subject and style may appeal more to students of the philosophy of science than average science buffs. Star Trek's Spock probably best summed up the fallacy of scientific certainty: 'Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.' 5 b&w illus. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)

Review:

"The myth of absolute predictability has polluted our society and led to a lack of flexibility and imagination. Byers takes on the difficult challenge of formulating a better worldview, in effect a new kind of philosophy of science and mathematics that emphasizes creativity and wonder. He sees more deeply than others into the profoundly and richly ambiguous nature of mathematical and scientific concepts." Gregory J. Chaitin, author of Thinking about Godel and Turing

Review:

"Byers incorporates many brilliant thinkers and seminal scientific breakthroughs into his discussion, offering the cogent, invigorating argument that only by embracing uncertainty can we truly progress." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Byers has taken on a tremendously challenging task, one so daunting that it is hardly conceivable that it could be accomplished. The Blind Spot represents a serious advance, which in itself is very important and impressive." Reuben Hersh, National Book Award-winning coauthor of The Mathematical Experience

Review:

"But this book has ramifications outside the world of science. It argues against rigid thinking, complicated ideas (as opposed to complex ideas), and reductionism. It encourages metaphor, wonder, and unity. It is a rich book." --Seeking Alpha

Synopsis:

"Byers has taken on a tremendously challenging task, one so daunting that it is hardly conceivable that it could be accomplished. The Blind Spot represents a serious advance, which in itself is very important and impressive."--Reuben Hersh, National Book Award-winning coauthor of The Mathematical Experience

"The myth of absolute predictability has polluted our society and led to a lack of flexibility and imagination. Byers takes on the difficult challenge of formulating a better worldview, in effect a new kind of philosophy of science and mathematics that emphasizes creativity and wonder. He sees more deeply than others into the profoundly and richly ambiguous nature of mathematical and scientific concepts."--Gregory J. Chaitin, author of Thinking about Gödel and Turing

"This is an extremely ambitious book. In addition to science and mathematics, Byers brings to bear insights from literature, philosophy, religion, history, anthropology, medicine, and psychology. The Blind Spot breaks new ground, and represents a major step forward in the philosophy of science. The book is also a page-turner, which is rare for this topic."--Joseph Auslander, professor emeritus, University of Maryland

Synopsis:

In today's unpredictable and chaotic world, we look to science to provide certainty and answers--and often blame it when things go wrong. The Blind Spot reveals why our faith in scientific certainty is a dangerous illusion, and how only by embracing science's inherent ambiguities and paradoxes can we truly appreciate its beauty and harness its potential.

Crackling with insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas, from climate change to the global financial meltdown, this book challenges our most sacredly held beliefs about science, technology, and progress. At the same time, it shows how the secret to better science can be found where we least expect it--in the uncertain, the ambiguous, and the inevitably unpredictable. William Byers explains why the subjective element in scientific inquiry is in fact what makes it so dynamic, and deftly balances the need for certainty and rigor in science with the equally important need for creativity, freedom, and downright wonder. Drawing on an array of fascinating examples--from Wall Street's overreliance on algorithms to provide certainty in uncertain markets, to undecidable problems in mathematics and computer science, to Georg Cantor's paradoxical but true assertion about infinity--Byers demonstrates how we can and must learn from the existence of blind spots in our scientific and mathematical understanding.

The Blind Spot offers an entirely new way of thinking about science, one that highlights its strengths and limitations, its unrealized promise, and, above all, its unavoidable ambiguity. It also points to a more sophisticated approach to the most intractable problems of our time.

About the Author

William Byers is professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics at Concordia University in Montreal. He is the author of How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics (Princeton).

Table of Contents

Preface: The Revelation of Uncertainty vii

  • Chapter 1: The Blind Spot 1
  • Chapter 2: The Blind Spot Revealed 17
  • Chapter 3: Certainty or Wonder? 38
  • Chapter 4: A World in Crisis! 59
  • Chapter 5: Ambiguity 69
  • Chapter 6: Self-Reference: The Human Element in Science 91
  • Chapter 7: The Mystery of Number 106
  • Chapter 8: Science as the Ambiguous Search for Unity 124
  • Chapter 9: The Still Point 156
  • Chapter 10: Conclusion: Living in a World of Uncertainty 179

Acknowledgments 187
Notes 189
References 197
Index 203

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691146843
Author:
Byers, William
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Subject:
Philosophy & Aspects
Subject:
Mathematics
Subject:
History of Science and Medicine, Philosophy of Science
Subject:
Political Science and International Relations
Subject:
Cognitive science
Subject:
Biological Sciences.
Subject:
Economics
Subject:
Philosophy
Subject:
Science Reference-Philosophy of Science
Publication Date:
20110431
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
2 halftones. 3 line illus.
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 16 oz

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Related Subjects

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The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691146843 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Science has been under siege during the last quarter century, first by critics who charge that science itself is a cultural construct and that scientists import their own belief systems into their research. Retired math professor Byers (How Mathematicians Think) argues that much of the problem lies in what he calls the 'science of certainty,' 'in which the need for certainty, power, and control are dominant.' Instead, Byers says, scientists need to recognize 'uncertainty, incompleteness, and ambiguity, the ungraspable, the blind spot, or the limits to reason.' These blind spots are embedded in the scientific method, because the world itself is ambiguous and cannot be seen clearly. Scientists ignore this at their peril. Ancient Greek mathematics, for instance, suffered from a refusal to accept the ambiguous concept of the square root of 2. Byers parses his subject methodically, although his dense subject and style may appeal more to students of the philosophy of science than average science buffs. Star Trek's Spock probably best summed up the fallacy of scientific certainty: 'Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.' 5 b&w illus. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review" by , "The myth of absolute predictability has polluted our society and led to a lack of flexibility and imagination. Byers takes on the difficult challenge of formulating a better worldview, in effect a new kind of philosophy of science and mathematics that emphasizes creativity and wonder. He sees more deeply than others into the profoundly and richly ambiguous nature of mathematical and scientific concepts."
"Review" by , "Byers incorporates many brilliant thinkers and seminal scientific breakthroughs into his discussion, offering the cogent, invigorating argument that only by embracing uncertainty can we truly progress."
"Review" by , "Byers has taken on a tremendously challenging task, one so daunting that it is hardly conceivable that it could be accomplished. The Blind Spot represents a serious advance, which in itself is very important and impressive."
"Review" by , "But this book has ramifications outside the world of science. It argues against rigid thinking, complicated ideas (as opposed to complex ideas), and reductionism. It encourages metaphor, wonder, and unity. It is a rich book." --
"Synopsis" by ,

"Byers has taken on a tremendously challenging task, one so daunting that it is hardly conceivable that it could be accomplished. The Blind Spot represents a serious advance, which in itself is very important and impressive."--Reuben Hersh, National Book Award-winning coauthor of The Mathematical Experience

"The myth of absolute predictability has polluted our society and led to a lack of flexibility and imagination. Byers takes on the difficult challenge of formulating a better worldview, in effect a new kind of philosophy of science and mathematics that emphasizes creativity and wonder. He sees more deeply than others into the profoundly and richly ambiguous nature of mathematical and scientific concepts."--Gregory J. Chaitin, author of Thinking about Gödel and Turing

"This is an extremely ambitious book. In addition to science and mathematics, Byers brings to bear insights from literature, philosophy, religion, history, anthropology, medicine, and psychology. The Blind Spot breaks new ground, and represents a major step forward in the philosophy of science. The book is also a page-turner, which is rare for this topic."--Joseph Auslander, professor emeritus, University of Maryland

"Synopsis" by ,

In today's unpredictable and chaotic world, we look to science to provide certainty and answers--and often blame it when things go wrong. The Blind Spot reveals why our faith in scientific certainty is a dangerous illusion, and how only by embracing science's inherent ambiguities and paradoxes can we truly appreciate its beauty and harness its potential.

Crackling with insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas, from climate change to the global financial meltdown, this book challenges our most sacredly held beliefs about science, technology, and progress. At the same time, it shows how the secret to better science can be found where we least expect it--in the uncertain, the ambiguous, and the inevitably unpredictable. William Byers explains why the subjective element in scientific inquiry is in fact what makes it so dynamic, and deftly balances the need for certainty and rigor in science with the equally important need for creativity, freedom, and downright wonder. Drawing on an array of fascinating examples--from Wall Street's overreliance on algorithms to provide certainty in uncertain markets, to undecidable problems in mathematics and computer science, to Georg Cantor's paradoxical but true assertion about infinity--Byers demonstrates how we can and must learn from the existence of blind spots in our scientific and mathematical understanding.

The Blind Spot offers an entirely new way of thinking about science, one that highlights its strengths and limitations, its unrealized promise, and, above all, its unavoidable ambiguity. It also points to a more sophisticated approach to the most intractable problems of our time.

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