Bernstein, Jeremy. Experiencing Science. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

 

Bernstein, Jeremy. Experiencing Science. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

This is an odd book in several ways. Although most of the articles included here were originally
published in The New Yorker, the writing is not that thorough and well planned. There's a long
article on Lewis Thomas of Sloan-Kettering, for example, which includes not a word on the
Patchwork Mouse. And although the author claims that there is a common theme interrelating all
the pieces, the sketches are not that clearly connected. For physics, the author describes Kepler
and Rabi; biology is represented by Lysenko, Rosalind Franklin and Thomas; while mathematics
is imaged by, of all people, Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001 fame), Kurt Godel (Godel's theorem), and
Alan Turing.

There is a feeling here that for Kepler, or for Rabi, there is something more in science than just
"science." Science here, it is implied, is a substitute for a lost or threatened religion. There is also
an recognition, dimly perceived at best, that science is an appreciation of the noetic in its grasp of
an orderly universe. But this is not nearly so well spelled out as in, say, Barzun's, Science: The
Glorious Entertainment.

Probably the most sympathetic stories are those of Kepler and of Rabi. Kepler, whose Dream is
must reading, was more mystical than "scientific." His mathematics remained, for his lifetime, in
the service of a view of an orderly, God made world. Since he wanted to display its assumed
orderliness, he found evidence to support order and simplicity. The point here is that the ideology
came first and not the evidence of orderliness; he knew what he was looking for and he found it.

There is much more uncertainty in Clarke, Godel, and von Neuman-Tussig. In the centuries
which separate us from the Founding Fathers of modern science, we have lost the certainties of
an orderliness in the universe. While it may be clear to the Jewish Einstein that God does not
throw dice, his theory makes it possible to postulate a chaotic universe. Einstein, then, is
something of a paradox himself. Science, too, is paradoxical: it is destructive of its own axioms.
It is also probably destructive of those who aim to make science it other than an art.