Short works

Books : reviews

Marcelo Gleiser.
The Island of Knowledge: the limits of science and the search for meaning.
Basic Books. 2014

In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence: Do all questions have answers? How much do we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth? In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we have for investigating the universe, is fundamentally limited. These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Gleiser argues that acknowledging limits is not a deterrent to progress—science can and must go on. Nor does acknowledging those limits mean we must surrender to religion. Instead, recognizing the limits of science reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves.

An authoritative, broad-ranging, intellectual history of our search for knowledge and meaning, The Island of Knowledge is essential reading for anyone seeking what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.