“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.