A groundbreaking and timely analysis of how science works and how we can preserve its power to grow our knowledge
Over the last three centuries, huge leaps in our scientific understanding and, as a result, in our technology have completely transformed our way of life and our vision of the universe. Why is science so powerful? And why did we take so long to invent it – two thousand years after the invention of philosophy, mathematics and other disciplines that are the mark of civilization?
The Knowledge Machine gives a radical answer, exploring how science calls on its practitioners to do something not supremely rational but rather apparently irrational: strip away all previous knowledge – such as theological or metaphysical beliefs – in order to channel unprecedented energy into observation and experiment. Rich with tales of discovery and misadventure, like Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, Strevens's stimulating and highly original investigation reframes what we thought we knew about the origins of the modern world.
Michael Strevens is a professor of philosophy at New York University, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. He was born in New Zealand and has been writing about the philosophy of science for twenty-five years. He lives in New York.
"The best introduction to the scientific enterprise that I know. Its brevity and simplicity cannot conceal the boldness of its conception, the extraordinary scope of its ambition. A wonderful and important book."
– David Wootton, author of The Invention of Science
"A stylish and accessible investigation into the nature of the scientific method."
– Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Bites
"This elegant book takes us to the heart of the scientific enterprise."
– David Papineau, King's College London, author of Knowing the Score
"This book is a delight to read, richly illustrated with wonderfully told incidents from the history of natural science."
– Nancy Cartwright, University of California San Diego
"Powerful, bracingly argued and important. There is something here for everyone – for the expert, who will be challenged to rethink what science really is; for the layperson, who will rejoice in Strevens's deft and witty storytelling; and for the student, who will find a friendly and authoritative guide to Newton, Einstein, Popper, Kuhn, and all that."
– Jim Holt, author of Why Does the World Exist?
"Beautifully lucid and accessible. A rare achievement, it is entertaining and edifying all at once."
– Paul Boghassian, New York University
"An engaging must-read."
– Manjit Kumar, author of Quantum
"The most stunningly illuminating book of the last several decades regarding the all-important scientific enterprise. Not only profoundly insightful but rollicking good fun."
– Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex
"As thrilling to read as it is important. Captivating."
– Nathan Heller, New Yorker staff writer