The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind

The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind

by Robert B. Laughlin
     
 

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We all agree that the free flow of ideas is essential to creativity. And we like to believe that in our modern, technological world, information is more freely available and flows faster than ever before. But according to Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin, acquiring information is becoming a danger or even a crime. Increasingly, the really valuable information is private…  See more details below

Overview

We all agree that the free flow of ideas is essential to creativity. And we like to believe that in our modern, technological world, information is more freely available and flows faster than ever before. But according to Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin, acquiring information is becoming a danger or even a crime. Increasingly, the really valuable information is private property or a state secret, with the result that it is now easy for a flash of insight, entirely innocently, to infringe a patent or threaten national security. The public pays little attention because this vital information is “technical”—but, Laughlin argues, information is often labeled technical so it can be sequestered, not sequestered because it’s technical. The increasing restrictions on information in such fields as cryptography, biotechnology, and computer software design are creating a new Dark Age: a time characterized not by light and truth but by disinformation and ignorance. Thus we find ourselves dealing more and more with the Crime of Reason, the antisocial and sometimes outright illegal nature of certain intellectual activities.

The Crime of Reason is a reader-friendly jeremiad, On Bullshit for the Slashdot and Creative Commons crowd: a short, fiercely argued essay on a problem of increasing concern to people at the frontiers of new ideas.

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Editorial Reviews

It has become commonplace to attribute the rise of modern civilization to the free exchange of information and scientific data. But according to Nobel physics laureate Robert B. Laughlin, recently that free flow has become dangerously impeded by restrictions. Dr. Laughlin asserts that patent infringement claims and national security prohibitions have roped off ever increasing areas of biotechnology, cryptography, and computer software design. He warns that continuing public apathy about this trend raises the possibility that we could be entering a new Dark Age dominated by disinformation and military-controlled technology. A sobering wake-up call.
Publishers Weekly

The provocative premise of this short book is that even as we appear to be awash in information, governments and industry are restricting access to knowledge by broadening the concept of intellectual property to include things as diverse as gene sequences and sales techniques . According to Laughlin, "the right to learn is now aggressively opposed by intellectual property advocates, who want ideas elevated to the status of land, cars, and other physical assets so the their unauthorized acquisition can be prosecuted as theft." With examples drawn from nuclear physics, biotechnology and patent law, Laughlin, a Nobel laureate in physics, paints a troubling picture of a society in which the only information that is truly valuable in dollars and cents is controlled by a small number of individuals. But while Laughlin poses urgent questions, he provides neither in-depth analysis nor potential solutions. Many intriguing arguments-for example, that "electronic technologies such as the Internet, which inundate us with useless information, are not instruments of knowledge dissemination at all but agencies of knowledge destruction"-are offered but none are usefully explored. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Al Gore, in his Assault on Reason , elevated our consciousness of the sharp decline of reason, logic, and truth in public discourse. Physics Nobel laureate Laughlin (A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down ) delves deeper into the problem, focusing on efforts to sequester technical knowledge using the cloak of a freely available information-rich world. With humorous honesty (it can be fun to think apocalyptically from time to time), Laughlin uncovers the barriers scientists, engineers, and laypeople encounter when they try to learn how the world works by standing on the shoulders of giants, the discoveries of others. Intellectual-property advocacy and voluntary self-censorship are creating gaps in our records of knowledge. Legislatures are criminalizing understanding and speech, because it is easier than criminalizing behaviors that challenge economic stability and national security. While this short essay can sound like the ramblings of an old man, his argument is profound and not easy to dismiss. Strongly recommended for academic and public libraries.-James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto

From the Publisher

Peter Thiel, President, Clarium Capital Management
"Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin convincingly argues that we are on the verge of a new dark age as scientific and technical knowledge become the province of experts and the broader populace becomes more ignorant. The Crime of Reason is an eloquent plea for our civilization to keep its lights on."

Library Journal
"With humorous honesty (it can be fun to think apocalyptically from time to time), Laughlin uncovers the barriers scientists, engineers, and laypeople encounter when they try to learn how the world works by standing on the shoulders of giants, the discoveries of others.. His argument is profound and not easy to dismiss."

The Tennessean
“In this jeremiad against the stifling constraints of commercialized culture…Laughlin explains the problems well.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786726318
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
09/23/2008
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
192
File size:
224 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Robert B. Laughlin is the Robert M. and Anne Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1985. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. The author of A Different Universe, he lives in Stanford, California.

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