Saturday, December 18, 2010

Admiring "The Perimeter of Ignorance"

Required reading for everyone who cares about their own intellectual growth is Neil DeGrasse Tyson's The Perimeter of Ignorance, published in 2005 by the Hayden Planetarium. The theme is simply
authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding
Citing many examples of what was once mainstream scientific thought, DegGrasse Tyson lays out how discovery and experimentation slowly answer the questions that were once thought to be solely the province of God.

Most poignant is the story of Sir Isaac Newton, who couldn't conceive of how the "six primary planets" could revolve around the sun and have their orbits remain stable over time. He had to posit a divine being to explain this. The next century, French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace
pioneered a new kind of mathematics called perturbation theory, which enabled him to examine the cumulative effects of many small forces
This explained what Newton didn't know, and eliminated the need to invoke divine forces.

The article is a clear (and entertaining) argument that the need for a "God of the Gaps" continues to shrink over the centuries - with the implication that the concept will become insignificant, and (my words) held on to only by the truly unimaginative, superstitious, or gullible.

I'd suggest following up with a quick browse through Superseded Scientific Theories on Wikipedia, to round out your Saturday morning reading.

Knowledge rules!

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