Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: David Harriman's The Logical Leap

David Harriman makes some bold statements with this one. Yes, the book may seem to be about the history of science ("History and science? Yawn..."), but it's not. It's about the future of science.

The epistemological backdrop of the book unfortunately necessitates the frequent use of such soporifics as "epistemological".

Say what you will about the density of the content, though, Harriman doesn't hide behind it. On the contrary, he makes explicit his beef with the golden calves of contemporary theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics, the big bang, and string theory. And that takes cojones.

Harriman's argument against these theoretical darlings consists of two main thrusts: First, how do we know? Second, what does the knowledge get us?

The first question is one of evidence. Harriman insists that the validity of a theory rests upon the observational evidence used to construct it. Kinetics? Gravity? All based on the observed motion of planets. String theory? Well...

The second question references utility, or effects in the real world. A theory of science should allow us to make predictions about the world we live in; a useful theory allows us to predict things we couldn't predict before.

Elegance and symmetry are all very nice, but who's to say that the world works according to your elegant ideas? Harriman lambasts famous thinkers like Descartes over this issue. While Newton was using prisms and carefully devising experiments to determine the nature of white and colored light, Descartes published his own ideas on color: that the light particles had "spin" that determined their colors. An interesting idea, yes. A useful idea? Not so much.

If you're interested in science and where it's headed, give this a read and weigh the evidence on your own.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pennies from... heaven?

All right, I finally wrote a decent-sized story. Despite the fact that I'm posting it on the family blog (since it's in need of some non-baby material), I wanted the credit for writing something substantial, so I'll link to it here. Enjoy!