The BookBrowse Review

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The BookBrowse Review

Published May 21, 2014

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Editor's Introduction
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Book Jacket

The Island of Knowledge
The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
by Marcelo Gleiser
3 Jun 2014
368 pages
Publisher: Basic Books
ISBN-13: 9780465031719
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Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth?

To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what's "out there." In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited.

These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Recognizing limits in this way, Gleiser argues, is not a deterrent to progress or a surrendering to religion. Rather, it frees us to question the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life and ourselves in it. Science can and must go on, but recognizing its limits reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves.

Telling the dramatic story of our quest for understanding, The Island of Knowledge offers a highly original exploration of the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers in history, from Plato to Einstein, and how they affect us today. An authoritative, broad-ranging intellectual history of our search for knowledge and meaning, The Island of Knowledge is a unique view of what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.

"Starred Review. Gleiser covers a broad swath of subjects - from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses - with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers' imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world." - Publishers Weekly

"The Island of Knowledge is a history of the mind, its gift for finding ideas in things...Marcelo Gleiser makes us feel what a privilege it is to be human." - Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and author of Gilead and Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

"We've come to know far more than our ancestors could possibly have imagined - including the depth of our ignorance. In Gleiser's lucid narrative, that marvelous paradox comes alive." - Frank Wilczek, Nobel Laureate, and author of The Lightness of Being

"Marcelo Gleiser brings a physicist's knowledge, a philosopher's wisdom, and a poet's language to elucidate our largest questions." - Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur Fellow, and author of Plato at the Googleplex

"Articulate, elegant, and at times poignant, The Island of Knowledge is a magnificent account of humanity's struggle to understand its place in the cosmos." - Seth Lloyd, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, MIT, and author of Programming the Universe

Marcelo Gleiser is Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He has published numerous popular works, including an essay, "Emergent Realities in the Cosmos," which was featured in 2003's Best American Science Writing, and three previous books: The Dancing Universe, The Prophet and the Astronomer, and A Tear at the Edge of Creation.

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