Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science

Overview

Nature has secrets, and it is the desire to uncover them that motivates the scientific quest. But what makes these "secrets" secret? Is it that they are beyond human ken? that they concern divine matters? And if they are accessible to human seeking, why do they seem so carefully hidden? Such questions are at the heart of Peter Pesic's enlightening effort to uncover the meaning of modern science.Pesic portrays the struggle between the scientist and nature as the ultimate game of hide-and-seek, in which a childlike...

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Overview

Nature has secrets, and it is the desire to uncover them that motivates the scientific quest. But what makes these "secrets" secret? Is it that they are beyond human ken? that they concern divine matters? And if they are accessible to human seeking, why do they seem so carefully hidden? Such questions are at the heart of Peter Pesic's enlightening effort to uncover the meaning of modern science.Pesic portrays the struggle between the scientist and nature as the ultimate game of hide-and-seek, in which a childlike wonder propels the exploration of mysteries.
Witness the young Albert Einstein, fascinated by a compass and the sense it gave him of "something deeply hidden behind things." In musical terms, the book is a triple fugue, interweaving three themes: the epic struggle between the scientist and nature; the distilling effects of the struggle on the scientist; and the emergence from this struggle of symbolic mathematics, the purified language necessary to decode nature's secrets.Pesic's quest for the roots of science begins with three key Renaissance figures: William Gilbert, a physician who began the scientific study of magnetism; François Viète, a French codebreaker who played a crucial role in the foundation of symbolic mathematics; and Francis Bacon, a visionary who anticipated the shape of modern science. Pesic then describes the encounters of three modern masters--Johannes Kepler, Isaac
Newton, and Albert Einstein--with the depths of nature. Throughout, Pesic reads scientific works as works of literature, attending to nuance and tone as much as to surface meaning. He seeks the living center of human concern as it emerges in the ongoing search for nature's secrets.

The MIT Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this brief book, Pesic examines the struggle between scientists and nature." Tech
Directions

The MIT Press

Kirkus Reviews
Pesic, a tutor and musician in residence at St. John's College in Santa Fe, sees scientists as driven to wrest the secrets of nature in a struggle that takes on emotional, even erotic overtones. His defense of this romantic view is based on studies of three 16th- and 17th-century innovators: William Gilbert (the "father of magnetism"), Francis Bacon (who espoused inductive approaches to science), and Francois Viete (a French mathematician and cryptographer credited with introducing algebraic notation). Their writings illustrate Pesic's three interrelated themes, which he describes as a triple fugue. First is the scientist's labyrinthine struggle to understand nature; second is the ardent desire, a kind of purified eroticism, that inspires the scientist's pursuit; and third is the role that symbolic mathematics plays in facilitating the pursuit. He then projects these themes onto the lives of Kepler, Newton, and Einstein, regarding their writings as works of literature. Clearly, the scientists Pesic has chosen as exemplars, largely drawn from the dawn of modern science, reflect a time when religion, myth, mysticism, and science co-mingled in their minds so that a secret wrested from nature would indeed be considered a revelation of God—yet a small one in contrast to the vast unknown. Pesic elaborates on Greek myths (Prometheus, Dionysus, Theseus, Oedipus) in building his case, including some questionable references to disability and illness (Oedipus' lameness, for example) as occurring disproportionately among scientists and enabling them to think "excruciatingly slowly." Pesic's presentation of the metaphysical, emotional, andpiousmotivations of major figures in science is a distinct contribution that stands in contrast to the usual "just the facts" approach. It may also stand in marked contrast, though, to scientists of today, who (while equally zealous in the struggle for nature's truths) are more likely to invoke chance and chaos rather than the workings of a mysterious divine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262661263
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 194
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Pesic is a Tutor and Musician-in-Residence at St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University.
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Table of Contents

Prelude 1
I The Night Watch 9
1 The Hard Masters 11
2 Wrestling with Proteus 21
II Desire and Science 29
3 The Wounded Seeker 31
4 The Creatures of Prometheus 39
5 The New Eros and the New Atlantis 47
III The Great Decryption 57
6 The Clue to the Labyrinth 59
7 To Leave No Problem Unsolved 73
IV God's Spies 85
8 Kepler at the Bridge 87
9 Newton on the Beach 113
10 Einstein in the Boat 135
Notes 153
Acknowledgments 177
Index 179
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