Books

Short works

Books : reviews

John L. Casti, Anders Karlqvist, eds.
Boundaries and Barriers: on the limits of scientific knowledge.
Perseus. 1996

Contents

John D. Barrow. Limits of science. 1996
John L. Casti. The outer limits: in search of the "unknowable" in science. 1996
N. C. A. da Costa, F. A. Doria. Variations on an original theme. 1996
Walter Fontana, Leo W. Buss. The barrier of objects: from dynamical systems to bounded organizations. 1996
James B. Hartle. Scientific knowledge from the perspective of quantum cosmology. 1996
Piet Hut. Structuring reality: the role of limits. 1996
Harold J. Morowitz. Complexity and epistemology. 1996
Robert Rosen. On the limitiations of scientific knowledge. 1996
Karl Svozil. Undecidability everywhere?. 1996
Joseph F. Traub. On reality and models. 1996

John L. Casti, Anders Karlqvist, eds.
Mission to Abisko: stories and myths in the creation of scientific "truth".
Perseus. 1999

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 12 August 2001

The 1997 annual Abisko seminar brought together scientists and science fiction writers to discuss the use and importance of narrative in science. This collects together some of the participants' papers. Most are interesting, but maybe not quite long enough to develop their ideas in full. I suspect the conference itself was quite fun.

All the participants agree that story-telling is important in how we understand science, at whatever level. The fiction writers also reckon that SF is important for insulating us from surprises when new technology appears in our lives, for allowing us to have already had the ethical debates in fiction. However, Paul McAuley points out that the media and the public tend to go for the emotional horror slant, rather than the more rational SFnal perspective -- so maybe SF insulates only SF fans?

Contents

John D. Barrow. The Analogy of Nature. 1999
Scientists use analogies to describe nature; this may be limiting what theories they can come up with. There may be no analogies for deep theories.
Greg Bear. Proving the Dream. 1999
How science fiction and science work together to change the future
Gregory Benford. Beyond this Horizon: envisioning the next century, or stories of our (preventable?) future(s). 1999
The 20th century saw incredible advances due to physics; the 21st will see even more, due to biology.
John L. Casti. The Cambridge Quintet: the chronicle of an experiment in 'scientific fiction'. 1999
The reasons for using 'scientific fiction' to explain science
Jack Cohen. Becoming Maureen -- a story of development. 1999
The importance, and difficulty, of understanding process. [I felt I was coming in at the second part of some larger story.]
Per-A. Johansson. Algorithmic and Asthetic Storytelling: alternative approaches to imagination and reality. 1999
Our current scientific, or "algorithmic" style of story telling doesn't cover everything -- we still need stories of how to live our lives. [Unfortunately, from my point of view, Johansson has a god in these stories. I do feel we need these higher level stories, but I prefer ones we explicitly construct for ourselves, rather than ones attempting to discern some non-existent Platonic ideal.]
Kjell Jonsson. Einstein at the Amusement Park: the public story of relativity in Swedish culture. 1999
Einstein's theories of relativity were not well-received in Sweden, neither by the Nobel Committee, nor by the scientific community
Anders Karlqvist. Telling Science. 1999
There are at least four different levels for communicating science, depending on the audience -- and all four are valuable
Paul J. McAuley. Frankenstein's Daughters. 1999
SF looks at scientific advances neutrally -- story outcomes may be good or bad. Horror starts with the emotional "yuk" factor, and it's always bad. And now science is advancing so fast that we are running out of SF stories to prepare us for the future.
Larry Niven. Mission to Abisko. 1999
A personal journal of his last-minute attendance at the conference
Ian Stewart. Secret Narratives of Mathematics. 1999
A plea that mathematicians pay attention to the narrative structure of their proofs, telling a compelling, understandable "story", rather than just concentrating on the "syntax"