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

Popular Science
Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth?

By: Marcelo Gleiser

Basic Books

Paperback | Nov 2015 | #231299 | ISBN-13: 9780465049646
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £11.99 $15/€13 approx
Hardback | Oct 2013 | #224465 | ISBN-13: 9780465031719
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NHBS Price: £19.99 $26/€22 approx

About this book

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.


Prologue: The Island of Knowledge

PART I The Origin of the World and the Nature of the Heavens
1. The Will to Believe
2. Beyond Space and Time
3. To Be, or to Become? That is the Question
4. Lessons from Plato's Dream
5. The Transformative Power of a New Observational Tool
6. Cracking Open the Dome of Heaven
7. Science as Nature's Grand Narrative
8. The Plasticity of Space
9. The Restless Universe
10. There is No Now
11. Cosmic Blindness
12. Splitting Infinities
13. Rolling Downhill
14. Counting Universe
15. Interlude: A Promenade along the String Landscape
16. Can We Test the Multiverse Hypothesis?

PART II From Alchemy to the Quantum: The Elusive Nature of Reality
17. Everything Floats in Nothingness
18. Admirable Force and Efficacy of Art and Nature
19. The Elusive Nature of Heat
20. Mysterious Light
21. Learning to Let Go
22. The Tale of the Intrepid Anthropologist
23. What Waves in the Quantum Realm?
24. Can We Know What is Real?
25. Who is Afraid of Quantum Ghosts?
26. For Whom the Bell Tolls
27. Consciousness and the Quantum World
28. Back to the Beginning

PART III Mind and Meaning
29. On the Laws of Humans and the Laws of Nature
30. Incompleteness
31. Sinister Dreams of Transhuman Machines: Or, the World as Information
32. Awe and Meaning

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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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