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|Ch. 1||A Walk Down Mercer Street||15|
|Ch. 2||Teatime at the IAS||29|
|Ch. 3||Goodtime Johnny||43|
|Ch. 4||Godel at the Blackboard||65|
|Ch. 5||The Boardroom||83|
|Ch. 6||Late-Night Thoughts of the Greatest Physicist||105|
|Ch. 7||An Evening at Olden Manor||119|
|Ch. 8||The Verdicts||145|
I suppose the seeds of my current life were sown when I took a job in 1967 as a computer programmer at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, to finance my graduate studies. That was my first exposure to a broad array of problems and ideas, ranging from nuclear physics to cost-benefit analysis to radiative transfer in the atmosphere. Being forced to understand these matters well enough to describe them to a computer forced me to consider how different corners of the intellectual landscape related to each other. Later positions at analogous interdisciplinary research centers, including the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, only reinforced these leanings. And, in fact, it was expiration of my contract at IIASA in 1986 that served as the stimulus for my venture into the world of popular-science writing.
Following my first trade science book, Paradigms Lost, which recounted several of the biggest unsolved problems in science, I began to wonder about whether there were questions about the real world of nature and humans that the tools of science simply could not provide an effective answer for. Since the work by Gödel and Turing in the 1930s, mathematicians had known that there were perfectly sensible questions about numbers that the tools of mathematics were powerless to settle, yes or no. But what about outside mathematics? This query led to my 1991 book, Searching for Certainty, which addressed the twin problems of prediction and explanation in science by examining those pillars in the light of questions about weather forecasting, stock price movements, the outbreak of warfare, and other areas of everyday concern. A couple of years after this volume's publication, a workshop on the limits to scientific knowledge that I co-organized at the Santa Fe Institute sharpened my thinking on many of these matters, especially in regard to the central role played by computation in providing a scientific answer to a question.
At the same time I was considering these matters in the twilight zone between science and philosophy, I was putting together The Cambridge Quintet, a semifictional work in which several great thinkers -- Wittgenstein, Turing, Schrödinger, C. P. Snow, and J.B.S. Haldane -- argued the possibility of a thinking machine over a 1949 dinner party conversation at Christ's College, Cambridge. This volume, published in 1998, set me on the track of exploring the question of limits to scientific knowledge in the same semifictional format that readers had reacted so favorably to with The Cambridge Quintet. And so emerged the little book The One True Platonic Heaven, in which this matter of computation and its relationship to the limits to knowledge, scientific-style, are considered by many of the heavy hitters at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton shortly after the Second World War.
And that, in a nutshell, is how my path to the university and to tenure got derailed by science -- and its limits. Sometimes there are things that are just more important -- and vastly more interesting -- than tenure! John L. Casti