March 29, 2020

Review: From Here to Infinity by Martin Rees.

Out in June from Norton Books!

The early 20th century was a high time for science. As challenge after challenge was met head-on and the Age of Steam gave way to the vacuum tube and the unlocking of the energy of the atom, it seemed as if progress was unstoppable. Would we be living on Mars and commuting by pneumatic tube by 1999?

Fast forward to the reality of today, a world that paradoxically relies on science and technology while being simultaneously fearful and suspicious of it. In From Here to Infinity; A Vision for the Future of Science, out from Norton Press, astrophysicist and cosmologist Martin Rees tackles the state of science literacy and just where we might be headed. The future is just plain hard to predict, and Rees wisely steers clear of fantastic predictions and instead looks at the modern state of progress and offers up paths we may want to take and consequences to warnings unheeded. Global warming, scarcity of resources, and the burgeoning population are all tackled in this thought provoking book. How do we strike a balance with growth and sustainability? Can science and religion exist in harmony? Are we destined to become a mature space faring civilization, or a galactic “also ran?” Rees sums up these ideas in this slim and easy to understand talk. The ideas are all reminiscent of Clarke or Sagan as Rees steps back and gives us a cosmic perspective on our place in time and space.

Tackling the point of science education, Rees notes, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, that we shouldn’t allow citizens to “take a pass” when it comes to science literacy. And we’re not talking complex issues, but a basic understanding of climate vs. weather, the difference between bacteria and viruses, and the rotation and motion of the Earth about the Sun. Rees notes that countries like the UK and US are losing their edge in science, and once said brain-drain occurs, it’s tough to win back. This is juxtaposed against a modern explosion of data and computing power, in which the author sees hope. Unlike the military and political world which fosters tribal distrust and fear, modern science is shared and collaborative. Perhaps a modern dictum could be said that where scientific ideas cross borders, armies won’t. The author also points out the intimacy of data and science on the web, as well as the thirst for such volunteer works as Galaxy Zoo and the scores of programs and projects like it. Modern science no longer has to occur in a vacuum far removed from the public, but is now open and available to the curious, from collaborative solutions to mathematical proofs to live broadcasts of space launches worldwide.

Do be sure to check out From Here to Infinity for both a look at the modern state of science and also a thought expanding read by one of the greatest minds of our century… what will the year 2100 have to say about our generation?


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