A masterful commentary on the history of science from the Greeks to modern times, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg—a thought-provoking and important book by one of the most distinguished scientists and intellectuals of our time.
In this rich, irreverent, and compelling history, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes us across centuries from ancient Miletus to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, from Plato’s Academy and the Museum of Alexandria to the cathedral school of Chartres and the Royal Society of London. He shows that the scientists of ancient and medieval times not only did not understand what we understand about the world—they did not understand what there is to understand, or how to understand it. Yet over the centuries, through the struggle to solve such mysteries as the curious backward movement of the planets and the rise and fall of the tides, the modern discipline of science eventually emerged. Along the way, Weinberg examines historic clashes and collaborations between science and the competing spheres of religion, technology, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy.
An illuminating exploration of the way we consider and analyze the world around us, To Explain the World is a sweeping, ambitious account of how difficult it was to discover the goals and methods of modern science, and the impact of this discovery on human knowledge and development.
With his usual scholarly aplomb, Weinberg (The First Three Minutes), a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, leads readers on a tour of early scientific theory, from the ancient Greeks to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. Weinberg begins around 500 B.C. with philosopher Heraclitus, whose infinite "ordered" cosmos made of "ever-living Fire" typifies an early Greek focus on aesthetics rather than observation and verification. Pythagoras brought mathematical rigor and logic to the field, while Aristotle's ideas about motion became scientific bedrock throughout Arab advances of the Middle Ages and held sway until Copernicus, Galileo, and the subsequent Scientific Revolution. Throughout, Weinberg stresses a need for humans to "outgrow" a "holistic" (as in one that considers humanistic concerns) approach to nature, and stop attaching religion and other abstract ideas justice, love, strife to our scientific understanding. Science students will particularly appreciate the clarity and detail of Weinberg's "Technical Notes" at the back of the book, which delve more deeply into selected topics. Accessible and smoothly-written, Weinberg offers new insights on what has become familiar territory for pop-science readers. Illus.