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Russell Stannard

The end of discovery

Having read Russell Stannard's latest book The End of Discovery: Are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable? , I would say that the answer to the question posed in the subtitle seems to be a definite NO.

The book surveys various areas of science - mostly physics - and for each one finds questions which we don't know the answer to. The book starts with a look at consciousness and the brain, and moves on to the big bang, the anthropic principle, extraterrestrial life and the nature of space and time. The second half of the book is about particle physics and quantum theory.

But the book doesn't 'do what it says on the tin'. It isn't an exploration of the limits of knowledge. Rather the questions posed are likely to lead to new areas of discovery. Certainly something like the discovery of extraterrestrial life wouldn't be an end, but a beginning. OK, so there are some questions which are more metaphysical than scientific, but even those can catalyse the development of new scientific ideas. I think the book might be useful as a gentle introduction to some difficult scientific topics, but those with more knowledge of the topics looking for thought provoking ideas may well be disappointed.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 240 pages  
ISBN: 0199585245
Salesrank: 2641296
Weight:0.9 lbs
Published: 2010 Oxford University Press
Amazon price $18.60
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 240 pages  
ISBN: 0199585245
Salesrank: 1282288
Weight:0.9 lbs
Published: 2010 OUP Oxford
Marketplace:New from £4.95:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 232 pages  
ISBN: 0199585245
Salesrank: 1654758
Weight:0.9 lbs
Published: 2010 Oxford University Press
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Product Description
Many scientists make extravagant claims as to the scope and power of scientific thinking, claiming that ultimately it will provide a complete understanding of everything. But Russell Stannard, himself an eminent high-energy physicist, strongly disagrees with this grandiose claim. Indeed, in The End of Discovery, Stannard argues that eventually--perhaps in a few decades, perhaps in a few centuries--fundamental science will reach the limit of what it can explain. On that day, the scientific age, like the stone age and the iron age before it, will come to an end.
To highlight the boundaries of scientific understanding, Stannard takes readers on an engaging tour of some of the deepest questions facing science today--questions to do with consciousness, free will, the nature of space, time, and matter, the existence of extraterrestrial life, and much more. For instance, from his own research field, he points out that to understand the subatomic world, scientists depend of particle accelerators, but to understand the very smallest units of nature, it has been calculated that we would need an accelerator the size of a galaxy. Clearly, unless a new approach comes along, we might never understand fully the most basic building blocks of the universe.
As a scientist, Stannard remains hopeful that several of the questions addressed will one day be answered. But other puzzles will remain for all time--and we may never even realize it when we have hit an insuperable barrier in those directions.
He assures us that there will always be new uses of scientific knowledge. Technology will continue. But fundamental science itself--the making of fresh discoveries as to how the world works--must ultimately grind to a halt.