Posts From Author: heisenberg

The Great Unknown: Marcelo Gleiser and the Limits of Science

We must recognise that because of the very nature of human inquiry every age has its unknowables. The question we need to address, then, is whether certain unknowables are here to stay or whether they can be dealt with in due course. Must every question have an answer? — Marcelo Gleiser Picture an island. The ocean, in all directions, stretches to the horizon. The island is what we know and understand of the universe. The ocean recedes and advances unevenly around the coastline as we learn more, subsuming what turned out to be false and revealing new land when a new “truth” is affirmed. This is the central metaphor in Marcelo Gleiser‘s endlessly fascinating The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning (Basic Books, 2014). In this free-ranging, accessible account of what we know, how we came to know it, and what we can maybe never know, Gleiser reveals wonders both cosmic and quantum. Although its subtitle, “The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning,” may sound defeatist, The Island of Knowledge is instead inspiring. It’s a tribute to the extraordinary enterprise of the world’s scientists and philosophers over the last few millennia. It’s a paean to our […]
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The Sea, Inside & Out

Seeing “the watery part of the world” was, for Melville’s Ishmael, a way of “driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.” One feels it’s probably the same for Philip Hoare. Five years ago, his terrific Leviathan, or The Whale (published in the US as The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea) won the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction. He’s followed it up with another maritime adventure, The Sea Inside — published, appropriately, by the Brooklyn-based Melville House. Between times, he co-curated the Moby Dick Big Read, a series of podcasts featuring everyone from Tilda Swinton to Sir David Attenborough and Benedict Cumberbatch to Fiona Shaw, reading the book chapter by chapter. You could say Hoare loves a whale. Which is why it might come as a surprise to fans of Leviathan that it takes so long for any cetaceans to appear in The Sea Inside. (Like Moby-Dick, actually, at the risk of spoilers.) But fear not! Hoare’s latest is just as magical as his last, and in fact this time round I was easily as roused by the other members of his menagerie, in particular the birds. He has a great eye for social detail. Did you know that the eurasian osytercatcher […]
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Can The News Make Us Better?

You’re back at work after a lovely long weekend. You log on to your computer. What’s the first thing you do? Check the news? Read on. In his latest book, Alain de Botton, who has made a career examining how we love, live and work, tackles one of the most ubiquitous yet under-analysed aspects of modern life. The News: A User’s Manual (Pantheon Books, 2014) sets out to expose the essentially weird and hazardous relationship we have with news. De Botton’s concern stems from a simple worry: given that the news is the dominant form of education for the world’s adult population, shouldn’t we be more concerned by its unselfconscious presentation of a simplistic worldview? After all, who hasn’t felt at times that the news is just depressing, unedifying, even boring? It affords us direct access to what de Botton calls “the crucible of human horror” without once acknowledging the flipside (“65 million people go to bed every night without hitting or murdering anyone”). It introduces us to a range of characters enviable for their looks, wealth and fabulous successes, then strikes them down for their hubris. It blows our tiny minds with fiscal stats no more truly comprehensible than the […]
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