The Sun, The Genome, and The Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolution Paperback – Feb 18 2003
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One fashionable school of thought holds that scientific revolutions are spurred primarily by shifts in the basic concepts that science understands the world with, and that those shifts are largely the outcome of struggles in the social and political realms. Freeman Dyson, however, is having none of it. For him, scientific breakthroughs owe just as much to the introduction of new technologies--the telescope in early modern Europe, for instance; the computer more recently. He's not the first to make that argument, but his lifetime of accomplishments as an eminent theoretical physicist puts some heft behind his claims.
Dyson likewise argues that new technologies can have as much of an effect on the social and political realms as new ideologies do. In particular, he cites three burgeoning technologies--solar energy, genetic engineering, and the Internet--for their potential to affect a more equitable worldwide distribution of wealth and power in the coming century. His visions of the future meander a bit, and they include such seemingly outlandish possibilities as forests of genetically enhanced trees oozing high-octane fuel from their roots and laser-launched earthlings colonizing the comets of the Kuiper Belt. But it's the business of visionaries to be outlandish, after all, and you have to admit: this one does have better credentials than most. --Julian Dibbell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Although the title implies discrete concepts, this book from the professor emeritus of physics at Princeton finds a common thread among themAthat developments in our use of each of these elements can be employed, separately and together, to create a more just society. Dyson, who bases this slim volume on a series of lectures he gave at the New York Public Library in 1997, argues that, if properly deployed, solar power can introduce cheap electricity to poor villages, the genome can be used to synthesize life-sustaining plants and the Net can provide jobs to people with no access to cities. After laying out these somewhat conventional arguments, Dyson takes an unusual turn by asserting how genetic engineering in plants and non-chemical-based rocket technology can enhance the space program, which he feels suffers as a result of political considerations. For our long-term benefit, he says, the U.S. government should be plotting voyages of great distance to pave the way for human life in space, instead of launching short-term manned missions that often ignore the prospects of space colonization. In attempting to write both a broad work of futurism and a deep social critique, Dyson offers an appetizing perspective, but many readers will find themselves eager for more than is given in this all too brief, albeit tantalizing, book.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Rating: "A/A+" -- another excellent essay collection by an
_The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet_ covers scientific
revolutions, technology & social justice, and the exploration &
colonization of space: familiar Dyson topics all, and delivered with
his usual grace. The three items in the title are Dyson's hope for
generating wealth in the world's poor villages: the sun for cheap
solar power, the Net to end rural isolation, and genetic engineering
for better crop plants. For example, he presents the hope of
engineering "trees that convert sunlight to liquid fuel and deliver
the fuel directly ...to underground pipelines." A neat solution to
declining oil reserves, if it works. Dyson cheerfully admits his
record as a prophet is mixed, but "it is better to be wrong than to be
Fresh and unexpected insights are a frequent pleasure in this
(and other) Dyson books. For instance, he describes his
mother and aunts, prosperous British matrons all, who, in the
interval between the World Wars, accomplished such things as
opening a birth-control clinic, managing a large hospital, winning
an Olympic medal, and pioneering aviation in Africa -- "it was
considered normal at the time for middle-class women to do
something spectacular." They were able to do this only with the
support of a large servant class. The introduction of labor-saving
appliances helped to emancipate the servants, but left middle-class
women less free than before, a general pattern, says Dyson: "the
burdens of equalization fall disproportionately on women.Read more ›
CHAPTER 1: SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION
Dyson revisits scientific disciplines that have come about as a result of brilliant minds exploring a previously unexisting path of research. In doing so, he makes an effort to extrapolate out of today's most rapidly growing areas of science (molecular biology and astronomy) what the future scientific revolutions might be like, and gives wise words of advise to medical scientists and biologists on how to make faster progress in their disciplines by changing some of their fundamental research paradigms, learning from the ways of astronomers.
CHAPTER 2: TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
In more than one way, it reminds me of a very pivotal article written not too long ago by Sun Microsystem's Bill Joy in Wired Magazine, which dealt with genetic engineering, robotics and nanotechnology, and their ethical implications.
Dyson's new list of important things for us to 'worry' about gave way to the book's title. He looks "for ways in which technology may contribute to social justice..." by mitigating evils such as rural poverty. This chapter is a brilliant exercise in which Dyson puts his mind to fly and actually makes his vision very easy to grasp by non-technical readers. When you read through the chapter you can almost feel that his vision is happening already, although there are some very real and respectable hurdles still separating us from it, which need to be overcome.
CHAPTER 3: THE HIGH ROAD
Although the book consists of three chapters, the reason for the title is more aptly dealt with in chapters 1 and 2.Read more ›
But Freeman Dyson is neither of those kinds of guys, apparently. He's English, for one thing, and he's spent his working life in contact with many of the best technical minds in the world. Although he is a theoretical physicist by profession, and dwells among theoreticians at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, he still finds the practical skills, the technical know-how, and the gadgetry that make science go to be more significant than the theories, and more congenial. "Science for me is the practice of a skilled craft, closer to boilermaking than to philosophy."
This book is quietly optimistic. It is neither a hair-shirt nor a recipe for success. It informs and entertains, and makes its case for solar energy, biotech, and the empowerment that the "internet" (he never does capitalize it!) can bring. In the course of this he brings you round to an engineering point of view, and demonstrates how technical know-how coupled with good will can do a hell of a lot more than just good will.
But these remarks may make the book seem a bit linear.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Much of the material here has been covered in Dyson's other books, and there is plenty of filler. One mildly interesting aspect of this book is that Dyson revises some of his... Read morePublished 21 months ago by ogilvie
The title is misleading - the essay that addresses "the Sun, the Genome and the Interent" is only a small part of this short book. Read morePublished on Dec 21 2001 by DDW Reviews
Dyson's future is a utopia based on advanced technology, the benefits of which are equitably distributed to all. Read morePublished on Sept. 27 2001 by Aquatic Ape
Think of this book as an engaging evening with a rather authoritarian dreamer who happens to be a distinguished scientist. Read morePublished on June 1 2001 by Rolf Dobelli
In this book Freeman Dyson contends that the driving force of scientific revolutions is more often new tools rather than new concepts. Read morePublished on Oct. 22 2000 by Tatsuo Tabata
This is yet another wonderful book written by the physicist / mathematician Freeman J. Dyson of Princeton university. Read morePublished on July 16 2000 by D. Roberts
In these passionate "threshold" conferences, Dyson leans out on Tomorrow with the vision capacity of Verne and Wells, aware however to be just sketching one of the... Read morePublished on June 19 2000 by Hermes Trismegistus
Wow, Freeman Dyson, as usual, is very theoretical. This is not a spectacular read, but it is more of an opinion coming from a physicist who shares an outline of what he thinks... Read morePublished on June 15 2000
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