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Other titles in the New York Review Collections series:
The Scientist as Rebelby Freeman Dyson
"In this highly readable compilation of previously published essays and book reviews written over nearly four decades, Dyson...rebels against the idea that scientists should only concern themselves with the problems of the laboratory....What really fills this book is wisdom — wisdom that helps us understand how scientists think and work and how science, properly understood, can help us make better sense of our world." Gregory M. Lamb, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
Synopses & Reviews
An illuminating collection of essays by an award-winning scientist whom the London Times calls "one of the world's most original minds."
In the view of the prize-winning physicist Freeman J. Dyson, science, wherever it practiced, is characterized by its rebellion against the restrictions of local cultures. Like art and poetry, it resists authority. The scientist is thus by nature a rebel, loyal not to social demands but only to reason and the imagination.
Dyson believes that the best way to understand science is by understanding those who practice it. In these essays, he recounts fascinating episodes from the history of science, interspersed with reminiscences from his own life and career. His topics fall into four groups. The first takes up contemporary issues in science, from cosmology to nanotechnology to global warming. The second group deals with questions of war and peace, particularly questions of nuclear weapons and disarmament. The third group is concerned with the history of science, especially physics, with essays ranging from Isaac Newton, to Sir Ernst Rutherford and the discovery of the structure of the atom, to Einstein and Raymond Poincar, to Norbert Wiener, Richard Feynmann, and string theory. The final section contains more personal and philosophical essays, dealing with such questions as the differences between science and religion, and the relation between science and the paranormal — surprisingly, Dyson argues that paranormal phenomena may actually exist yet be inaccessible to scientific verification.
This collection, by a renowned scientist who is also a lively and distinguished writer, offers fresh and often unexpected perspectives on the history, methods, and ethics of science, as well as informative and accessible ways of thinking about contentious current debates on the relations between science, religion, literature, and society.
From Galileo to today's amateur astronomers, scientists have been rebels, writes Freeman Dyson. Like artists and poets, they are free spirits who resist the restrictions their cultures impose on them. In their pursuit of Nature's truths, they are guided as much by imagination as by reason, and their greatest theories have the uniqueness and beauty of great works of art.
Dyson argues that the best way to understand science is by understanding those who practice it. He tells stories of scientists at work, ranging from Isaac Newton's absorption in physics, alchemy, theology, and politics, to Ernest Rutherford's discovery of the structure of the atom, to Albert Einstein's stubborn hostility to the idea of black holes. His descriptions of brilliant physicists like Edward Teller and Richard Feynman are enlivened by his own reminiscences of them. He looks with a skeptical eye at fashionable scientific fads and fantasies, and speculates on the future of climate prediction, genetic engineering, the colonization of space, and the possibility that paranormal phenomena may exist yet not be scientifically verifiable.
Dyson also looks beyond particular scientific questions to reflect on broader philosophical issues, such as the limits of reductionism, the morality of strategic bombing and nuclear weapons, the preservation of the environment, and the relationship between science and religion. These essays, by a distinguished physicist who is also a lovely writer, offer informed insights into the history of science and fresh perspectives on contentious current debates about science, ethics, and faith.
FREEMAN DYSON is Professor Emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. He is the author of Disturbing the Universe, Imagined Worlds, Origins of Life, and numerous other books. He is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Weapons and Hope, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science for Infinite in All Directions, as well as many other honors. Throughout his career he has worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
About the Author
Freeman Dyson has spent most of his life as a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, taking time off to advise the US government and write books for the general public. He was born in England and worked as a civilian scientist for the Royal Air Force during World War II. He came to Cornell University as a graduate student in 1947 and worked with Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman, producing a user-friendly way to calculate the behavior of atoms and radiation. He also worked on nuclear reactors, solid-state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology, looking for problems where elegant mathematics could be usefully applied.
Dyson's books include Disturbing the Universe (1979), Weapons and Hope (1984), Infinite in All Directions (1988), Origins of Life (1986, second edition 1999), and The Sun, the Genome and the Internet (1999). He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
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