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Book Review: Dismantling the Universe

Updated on November 09, 2008

Understanding How Scientists Think

Dismantling the Universe, by Richard Morris was originally published in 1983. Yet despite the 2 decades that have passed since its release, the book still holds its own for what it originally promised. That is, that it would accurately describe scientific method, as science now understands it, as opposed to the many other formative approaches to science, as famously made by Francis Bacon and others.

This is almost light, certainly non-technical science writing at a high level that most anyone can understand and enjoy. The author, who died in 2003, has a strong ability at making highly complex and abstract ideas, such as those of Bohr, Planck, and Einstein, come alive with a kaleidoscopic vibrancy that is almost flippant at times.

In fact, Morris, who was trained in physics, delves into the thinking of scientists and their machinations that sometimes seemed to verge on madness by the accounts of their peers. Due to the author's background the book centers heavily around physics, cosmology, and astrophysics, yet also peers into the worlds of other sciences. There is even a special yet important section, which compares “crackpot theories” with accepted science and shows how the two may begin on seemingly similar premises, yet extrapolates where the latter is left behind in the acceptance of what can be agree upon by the majority.

With this come the ideas of what constitute proof, truth, and beyond. As stated in the book, “It is theory that makes observations meaningful,” a thought that might come as great surprise to many non-scientists. Thus, he examines the improbability of ESP, for instance, showing that it is not merely lack of proof of paranormal activity that impede parapsychologists, but rather a lack of a cogent theory that keeps such studies at arm’s length from reputable science.

Morris is very forgiving of pseudo-science, however, never condemning it as false, but merely showing how it does not meet the requisites of accepted science. Science, he shows without embarrassment, is not absolute truth, but truth as the human mind is able to grasp and accept it. It is this non-dogmatic, instructing attitude that makes this a book for the shelves of anyone interested in science, epistemology, empiricism, or truth.

There are really only two drawbacks to the book. First, that the author repeats himself at times, though this is forgivable given the abstract nature of some of his subject matter. Two, that the book is not longer; for this, thank goodness for the art of the re-read.

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