Book of Uncertain Knowledge

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms…”

You have probably come across these lines by Richard Feynman. Now assuming we had the luxury of sending across not one sentence but one book to the next generation of creatures, which one would you choose? My vote would fall upon John L. Casti’s Paradigms lost. Its value – in the context of this enterprise – lies in addressing important issues about which we do not have conclusive answers yet: origins of life, search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, quantum mechanics, artificial intelligence, human capacity for language, and genetic basis for human behaviour. Each of these six topics merits a book in itself, but Casti does a great job of condensing these diverse and controversial subjects within a single volume while covering the different sides of each story in the form of a jury trial, before finally playing judge and pronouncing his verdict.

I first learnt about this book about a decade back, and I’ve kept coming back to it from time to time. Each chapter can be read independently, and that makes it managable in parts. Currently I’m reading the chapter on the unique ability of humans to communicate using language (and the theories surrounding this capacity, with Noam Chomsky dominating the initial pages). I hope to discuss – in the coming days or weeks – this topic in greater detail.

3 thoughts on “Book of Uncertain Knowledge

  1. Man, you are partial to atoms or what?! I must read that book..someday.

    Also I needed a suggestion from you. My uncle is a mathematic genius (according to me), can solve any puzzle in the shortest amount of time, loves reading, writing, sketching. In short, my favorite uncle. He is in the process of writing his third book on numbers. Can you recommend a good book I can gift him?..

  2. Uncle a genius? Then how is it that you are such a dim witted soul?

    About the suggestion, the first book that came to my mind was Simon Singh’s The Code Book : The Secret History of Codes and Code Breaking. Interestingly, the book contains a 10 stage cipher challenge with a reward of 10,000 Pounds, which was claimed in 2000 by a group of 5 people who cracked it after working on it for an year.

    If your uncle "can solve any puzzle in the shortest amount of time", then try giving him this puzzle (if he hasn’t heard of it yet, which, considering his interests, seems unlikely) and let us see how long he takes to solve it 🙂

  3. Cheap shots and all. Thanks for indulging the dim witted me! I almost got that book last time..but then I didnt know if it is interesting enough. But if you say so, then maybe. I will get that one for sure. hope he hasnt seen it. I will let you know if he took up that challenge. But i tell you, he’s awesome.. I get my genes from him.

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