In today's unpredictable and chaotic world, we look to science to provide certainty and answers--and often blame it when things go wrong. The Blind Spot reveals why our faith in scientific certainty is a dangerous illusion, and how only by embracing science's inherent ambiguities and paradoxes can we truly appreciate its beauty and harness its potential.
Crackling with insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas, from climate change to the global financial meltdown, this book challenges our most sacredly held beliefs about science, technology, and progress. At the same time, it shows how the secret to better science can be found where we least expect it--in the uncertain, the ambiguous, and the inevitably unpredictable. William Byers explains why the subjective element in scientific inquiry is in fact what makes it so dynamic, and deftly balances the need for certainty and rigor in science with the equally important need for creativity, freedom, and downright wonder. Drawing on an array of fascinating examples--from Wall Street's overreliance on algorithms to provide certainty in uncertain markets, to undecidable problems in mathematics and computer science, to Georg Cantor's paradoxical but true assertion about infinity--Byers demonstrates how we can and must learn from the existence of blind spots in our scientific and mathematical understanding.
The Blind Spot offers an entirely new way of thinking about science, one that highlights its strengths and limitations, its unrealized promise, and, above all, its unavoidable ambiguity. It also points to a more sophisticated approach to the most intractable problems of our time.
William Byers is professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics at Concordia University in Montreal. He is the author of How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics (Princeton).
"Science has been under siege during the last quarter century, first by critics who charge that science itself is a cultural construct and that scientists import their own belief systems into their research. Retired math professor Byers (How Mathematicians Think) argues that much of the problem lies in what he calls the 'science of certainty.' . . . Instead, Byers says, scientists need to recognize 'uncertainty, incompleteness, and ambiguity, the ungraspable, the blind spot, or the limits to reason.'"--Publishers Weekly
"Is the idea that anything can be determined with absolute certainty an illusion? . . . Byers incorporates many brilliant thinkers and seminal scientific breakthroughs into his discussion, offering the cogent, invigorating argument that only by embracing uncertainty can we truly progress."--Kirkus Reviews
"Science deals in certainties, right? Wrong, says Montreal-based mathematician William Byers. . . . He contends that this view is wide of the mark and dangerous, influenced by the human need for everything to be 'certain'."--Alison Flood, Wired
"I've sometimes remarked that I think our educational system would benefit if we threw Shakespeare in the trash bin, but required all high-schoolers to read Godel and Cantor (well, their interpreters) . . . or perhaps now, just substitute Byers! . . . [The Blind Spot] should be read and contemplated by every scientist . . . and even applied to their own endeavors."--Math-Frolic!
Table of Contents:
Preface: The Revelation of Uncertainty vii
Chapter 1: The Blind Spot 1
Chapter 2: The Blind Spot Revealed 17
Chapter 3: Certainty or Wonder? 38
Chapter 4: A World in Crisis! 59
Chapter 5: Ambiguity 69
Chapter 6: Self-Reference: The Human Element in Science 91
Chapter 7: The Mystery of Number 106
Chapter 8: Science as the Ambiguous Search for Unity 124
Chapter 9: The Still Point 156
Chapter 10: Conclusion: Living in a World of Uncertainty 179
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by William Byers: