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Science Books

February 15, 2007

Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon
Daniel C. Dennett (2007)
ISBN: 0143038338

Currently, scientists are firing one broadside after another at religion in the hope of waking the flock from their religious stupor. In a similar vein to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett, of Tufts University and author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, calls for a scientific assessment of religion and its influence on society. Religion has been around for a long while, so Dennett explores the benefit of religion on an evolutionary scale, while also drawing attention to its less than favorable qualities. Like his contemporaries, Dennett explores why religion is so protected from scrutiny and condemnation, despite the many evils done in its name. He tries to pierce the dogmatic fog surrounding religious doctrine, and questions the wooly thinking of its devoted followers. In this respect, Breaking The Spell is not only addressing atheists interested to know how religion managed to get such a stranglehold on so many people, but also to believers open-minded enough to question their faith. Dennett touches on a number of explanations for religion's success, many of which have been gaining traction among psychologists, philosophers and biologists alike. Do religious communities have some reproductive advantage that favors belief? Are the ideas associated with belief bounced around from mind to mind by memes? If nothing else, Dennett hopes that Breaking The Spell will be cause for the religious to reflect and self-analyze, and to take a hard look at some of the more destructive aspects of religion. But while Dennett writes with typical aplomb, one is left wondering whether faith, by its very nature, can be quantified and measured enough to satisfy scientific enquiry, or change the minds of true believers.

Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, And The Struggle For The Soul Of Science
David Lindley (2006)
ISBN: 0385515065

Niels Bohr once said that; "If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet." Rather than being shocked, physicist Werner Heisenberg reserved judgment and developed the Uncertainty Principle instead; a mind-bending concept that really shocked the scientific community. As David Lindley, who has a PhD in astrophysics, explains so well, Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under many of science's long held assumptions about the natural world. He proposed that we can never know all physical measurements of a body simultaneously, and that one measurement, or bit of information will be lost to gain another. In effect, Heisenberg showed that scientific concepts and quantities do not have independent meaning, but are instead dependent upon the experiments that measure them. Niels Bohr, Heisenberg's mentor, was once quoted as saying; "Nothing exists until it is measured." But uncertainty did not sit well with Bohr's close friend Albert Einstein, and Bohr, who thought Heisenberg to be correct, was caught between the two men. Lindley plays out the relationships brilliantly, while also having a knack of making complex, almost inconceivable topics accessible and enjoyable to read. There have been many books on the Uncertainty Principle, and the ensuing interactions between Niels Bohr and Einstein, but few are as satisfying as Uncertainty.

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