Friday, June 19, 2009

REVIEWS: The Scientific Worldview: beyond Newton and Einstein by Glenn Borchardt

Title: The Scientific Worldview: beyond Newton and Einstein
Author: Glenn Borchardt
Genre: non-fiction
Price: $26.95
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 0595392458
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

I have been living with this book for a while, certainly a year and possibly two. For a while it was my airport book. That, sadly, is not good news. It means I put this book in my carry-on bag in the hope that I will get bored enough in the airport or during the flight to actually read it. In fact I would confess to not having read every single word of this book, even after all this time and innumerable determined efforts. But along the way the book's corners are very scuffed and an unfortunate incident with a caramel latte has left splotches along the edges of the pages. So I couldn't return the book and had to make the best effort at a review that I could.

I was sent this book after the author made some rather grandiose claims on the Amazon science forum. (I long stopped going to that forum which now contains nothing but endless attempts by American zealots to explain the fallacy of evolution to us poor scientific heathens, and various heathens endlessly rising to the bait). Anyway, the author said I couldn't say it wasn't a revolutionary book unless I read it and offered a review copy. What is a girl to do?

In brief, the book is a defense of determinism and an argument for some related corollaries such as the universality of evolution (not a new idea), the importance of environmental causes (ditto) and the proposition that the universe is infinite. There may have been a little more to it than that as I skipped about a quarter of the content in the middle, a fact I cannot deny or excuse--but there you are. As it happens I am a determinist, I think the environment is the ultimate cause of everything--and I really don't care whether the universe is infinite or not (I am something of a pragmatist and the finite-ality or otherwise of the universe doesn't change the cost of a cup of coffee). You could say I was underwhelmed. You could, in fact, say that I was bored. Very bored.

The style of the book is dry, convoluted and polysyllabic (I have nothing against syllables, but sometimes less really is more--the same can be said for neologisms. Getting a PhD tends to either make one very pretentious, or aggressively opposed to any such airs and pseudo-graces). The points, as I untangled and identified, them fell neatly into the categories if 1) I agree, 2) I see what you are saying but I comfortably disagree and know exactly where our paths diverged (e.g. different starting assumptions), and 3) so what? As such, this book lacked the key ingredients I look for in non-fiction: it did not challenge me, other than a few minor points here and there it did not teach me anything, and regardless of its factual content it was neither inspirational nor entertaining.

Putting that aside, I tried to think about who (other than me obviously) might enjoy this book. I guess a modern determinist who has not already read Wittgenstein, Skinner, etc etc might find it novel and excitingly outside the mainstream--but on the whole I would suggest reading the classics rather than this book. A true novice would have a hell of a time dealing with the jargon and haphazard organisation. And I seriously doubt that a person who was not determinist would get much out of the book at all. It declares, it does not attempt to convince.

Revolutionary? Life changing? I just do not see it. And I really did try.


Rating: 3/10

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