Friday, August 7, 2020

Book Review- This Idea Must Die: Scientific Ideas That Are Blocking Progress

Science today is not merely about discovering new ways of thinking. Advancement in the field is much about offering new perspectives to solving problems as much as it is rebuking and better yet abandoning redundant ideas and concepts. This is precisely John Brockman’s message in his publication This Idea Must Die: Scientific Ideas That Are Blocking Progress. Scientific progress, according to Max Planck, was a state in which authentic and plausible scientific concepts do not triumph over redundant and questionable ones by simply exposing their weaknesses but by simply being. This is to say that “lame” scientific arguments will eventually wither out and be forgotten- paving the way for more meaningful ones that contribute to the advancement of the discipline. Planck’s theory was plausible, but the reality was and is still very different. For this reason, Brockman engages over 175 influential personalities in the field of science in an attempt to weed out scientific ideas and concepts that have outlived their usefulness. This group of contributors includes scientists (such as Eric J. Topol, Andrei Linde, Robert Sapolsky, and Sherry Turkle), thinkers and philosophers (such as Sam Harris, Martin Rees and Steven Pinker), economists (such as Hans Ulrich Obrist and Eric R. Weinstein), media personalities (such as Douglas Rushkoff), and psychologists (such as Nicholas Humprey, Susan Blackmore, Adam Waytz, Gary Klein, Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ernst Poppel amongst others). Each of these personalities has a unique stand on specific areas of science; for instance, Rushkoff in his “The Atheism Prerequisite” talks about godlessness while Susan Blackmore questions what we know about the brain and consciousness.  

Going through this book, every reader is bound to have a favorite part in the sense that it peaks interest and challenges one to be a more diverse and liberal thinker. For me, that part- just like my colleague Carrie Alpin was Lee Smolin’s “The Big Bang Was the First Moment of Time”. I have always been intrigued by our background-the origin of humanity and its external surrounding. Naturally, I have enjoyed studying related concepts as argued by renowned scientists and philosophers such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (through his theory of the transmutation of species) and Charles Darwin (through his theory of common descent). Here, however, the focus is on the origin of our world and universe. Smolin is transparent in acknowledging that the arguments of the Big Bang Theory is plausible on one part, the part that argues that what we see today is a result of a 13.8 billion-year expansion of the hot and dense primordial state. It is not merely a theory but one with the empirical backing to substantiate it. On the other part, Smolin is categorical in stating that the consequential explanation of the 13.8 billion-year evolution theory is not convincing enough-at least not from a scientific perspective. His main concern is that the explanation implies that the Big bang was the very first moment of time; that absolutely nothing existed before then-not even time. To him, this is far-fetched. Stating that the Bing Bang was the first moment of time discredits the theory’s arguments because in Smolin’s own words, “there was no “before” on which to base an explanation.” It is this flaw that sees the introduction of religious explanations that require nothing but faith to hold “true”. If Big bang was the first moment in time, then we have been relying on laws of nature we know nothing of. In terms of application to the modern context, this “weakness” of Big bang offers a plausible chance of linking general relativity and quantum physics.

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