This book is another in the postmod or feminist genre which tries to argue that notions of `truth', `objectivity' and `universality'--indicative of scientific knowledge--are to be questioned. Why these notions are to be questioned is due to the assumption that the knowledge, theories and presuppositions held by scientists (who historically, and at present, are predominantly male), have been pervaded by socio-cultural biases and in the case of gender, by a male gender bias. It's not that males outnumber females in the scientific establishment, but that theories, concepts, hypotheses, research directions and even presuppositions are completely pervaded by a male gender psychological bias; a bias that, according to feminists, gets established in the male at the pre-Oedipal phase of development. The male--having to make a separate break with the mother--acquires a "separate self" with traits that reflect that separation: autonomous, separate, isolated, self-determining, rigid, insensitive, competitive, aggressive, objective, etc. For females, the separation is different in that traits like, intimacy, emotion, influence of Other, compassion, community, sensitivity, nurturing, receptivity, sympathy--what is called the "self-in-relation" develops.
Where the author sees male traits biasing the investigation into the origin of matter is the whole notion of classical atomism; a reductionist programme of searching for the fundamental building blocks of nature. He notes that feminists see a striking correspondence between atomism and the psychological persona of the stereotypical male. These traits supposedly pre-filter and bias how they see and generate suppositions and theories about the basic stuff of the world. So atoms are then seen as separate, autonomous, individual, other, inanimate, cold, non-relational, solid, fundamental objects whose mechanical motions in the spacial void are subject to impersonal and universal laws. What male scientists declare are universal and objective are really projections of their own male-based, biased unconscious.
Roszak makes a further case for his claims by showing that recent developments in physics and mathematics (chaos theory, complexity, emergence and quantum mechanics) have overturned the notion of the classical atom (which never existed in the first place according to him) and have gone beyond the reductionist programme of trying to reveal nature's most fundamental units. These new developments are part of the recent sea-change occurring in the sciences where `deep community,' `relatedness,' `complexity,' `communication,'--all stereotypical feminine characteristics--are behind these new non-reductive fields of inquiry.
Here are some problems with the book's arguments. First off, virtually all the new developments that the author cites as part of that paradigm shift in the sciences such chaos theory, complexity, and emergence or even quantum mechanics, have been single-handedly authored by men.
Secondly, seeing a correspondence between atomism and the supposed male persona does not establish causation. It does not follow that because the scientific enterprise is supposedly `stereotypically' male that theories of matter will also be `stereotypically male'. Atomism arose to try to answer the problem about how small stuff could be continually divided; it had nothing to do with being macho. Atomism was one of a number of theories of matter that a few Greeks held to be true; whereas, a much greater number of Greek philosophers had different and incompatible theories to atomism.
Thirdly, the classical atom did exist and was necessary in the explanation behind Dalton's theory of quantitative chemistry, Boyle's law, Bernoulli's kinetic theory of gases, Clerk Maxwell's contributions to thermodynamics Clausius' atomic theory of heat and Boltzmann's statistical mechanics. In 1905, Einstein explained Brownian motion by assuming that a large number of atoms--colliding with pollen grains--made them move about randomly. Yet Einstein developed the quintessential relational and complex theory called general relativity where time, space, energy and mass are all interrelated. Newton, a devout classical atomist, created a theory that is an exemplar of relatedness and complexity where everything is attracted to everything else: universal gravitation. Faraday developed the concept of the electromagnetic field (and speculated that all phenomena are interrelated) and Clerk Maxwell gave this electromagnetic field its mathematical formalism. Mendeleev ordered atoms by increasing atomic number and in a periodic manner.
Lynn Margulis and Barbara McClintock are cited as examples of cooperation, communication and empathy in biology. But it is a cliche to say that men see competition and women see cooperation. One could find many examples to the contrary in science. And saying that women who see competition have adopted the male gender bias in their respective field is simply ad hoc explaining away of evidence to the contrary (the footnote about female sociobotanists). In biology, one can find as many examples of male biologists seeing cooperation as competition. Reciprocal altruism, ESS strategies, kin selection, group selectionism, biogeography, ecology, prisoner's dilemma strategy, etc., are all concepts originated by men. There are as many women Darwinists as there are male Darwinists.
On page 132, the author reverses his position by noting that the history of science has been an attempt to search ever deeper into the various domains of nature where we are finding an increasing complexity, subtlety and rich set of relationships. I would say this reads not unlike a process of learning how to read, play chess, or learn chemistry, etc. where the subject starts by learning the letters, the `atoms' of the discipline then larger `words', followed by still larger complexes and behavior. If this is so, then gender bias is irrelevant as it applies to the notion of atomism and science. The only sea-change in the sciences is the move to the complexity level in understanding nature. If physics was women-dominated, I would say that it would go through the same stages of theorizing and experimentation--starting from the four elements, to atoms, to leptons and quarks.
Sometimes the book reads like one big indictment against the scientific enterprise--especially when it comes to environmental destruction. But all these accusations are misplaced as the author repeatedly refers to the application of science, not science proper. Frankenstein (mentioned throughout the book) may be a critique about applying science; but it says absolutely *nothing* about science.