Science and the unseen

9780226238890Coming back home to the history of science, I wrote about Philip Ball’s latest in the LA Review of Books:

Science depends on cultural beliefs. Whether it’s an earthy commitment to empiricism or an ethereal sense of wonder about the stars, we commit ourselves to certain notions long before we peer into the microscope or fund the supercollider. And those beliefs are not simple, stable things — just look at the complex misgivings that even the most ardent supporters of science have about technological outcomes like genetic engineering or the atom bomb. …

In this book, Ball addresses the relationship between scientific inquiry and our beliefs about the world beyond our senses. … At first blush one may wonder if it is even possible to write a book about it — so much is unseen. Where and when does one begin? How does one address a subject that, by definition, resists description?

Ball employs a variety of literary, philosophical, and scientific resources to address these questions, some more effectively than others. Yet there is no doubt that this daring choice of subject serves as an excellent reminder that the relationship between science and culture is more like a quirky quantum froth than a stately Newtonian procession.

Here’s the rest for your enjoyment.