The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning

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Basic Books, Jun 3, 2014 - Philosophy - 368 pages
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Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth?

To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what's “out there.” In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited.

These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Recognizing limits in this way, Gleiser argues, is not a deterrent to progress or a surrendering to religion. Rather, it frees us to question the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life and ourselves in it. Science can and must go on, but recognizing its limits reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves.

Telling the dramatic story of our quest for understanding, The Island of Knowledge offers a highly original exploration of the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers in history, from Plato to Einstein, and how they affect us today. An authoritative, broad-ranging intellectual history of our search for knowledge and meaning, The Island of Knowledge is a unique view of what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - fpagan - LibraryThing

Physicist Gleiser draws upon the history of his subject, especially quantum mechanics, (and a little astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, and neuroscience), to make a case for the position ... Read full review

THE ISLAND OF KNOWLEDGE: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Gleiser (Natural Philosophy, Physics and Astronomy/Dartmouth Coll.; A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe, 2010, etc.) seeks an answer to the question ... Read full review

Contents

BEYOND SPACE AND TIME
9
TO BE OR TO BECOME? THAT
15
LESSONS FROM PLATOS DREAM
25
OF A NEW OBSERVATIONAL TOOL
37
CRACKING OPEN THE DOME OF HEAVEN
49
SCIENCE AS NATURES GRAND NARRATIVE
55
THE PLASTICITY OF SPACE
61
THE RESTLESS UNIVERSE
67
THE ELUSIVE NATURE OF HEAT
151
MYSTERIOUS LIGHT
157
LEARNING TO LET GO
167
THE TALE OF THE INTREPID ANTHROPOLOGIST
175
CAN WE KNOW WHAT IS REAL?
189
WHO ISAFRAID OF QUANTUM GHOSTS?
203
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
207
CONSCIOUSNESS AND
217

THERE IS NO NOW
73
COSMIC BLINDNESS
79
SPLITTING INFINITIES
93
ROLLING DOWNHILL
101
COUNTING UNIVERSES
107
A PROMENADE ALONG
117
CAN WE TEST THE MULTIVERSE
125
Part II
135
ADMIRABLE FORCE AND EFFICACY
141
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
231
ON THE LAWS OF HUMANS AND THE LAWS
241
INCOMPLETENESS
253
AWE AND MEANING
279
Acknowledgments
285
Bibliography
313
Index
319
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About the author (2014)

Marcelo Gleiser is Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He has published numerous popular works, including an essay, ?Emergent Realities in the Cosmos,” which was featured in 2003's Best American Science Writing, and three previous books: The Dancing Universe, The Prophet and the Astronomer, and A Tear at the Edge of Creation.

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