Infinite in All Directions: Gifford Lectures Given at Aberdeen, Scotland April--November 1985

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Harper Collins, Aug 3, 2004 - Science - 352 pages

Infinite in All Directions is a popularized science at its best. In Dyson's view, science and religion are two windows through which we can look out at the world around us.

The book is a revised version of a series of the Gifford Lectures under the title "In Praise of Diversity" given at Aberdeen, Scotland. They allowed Dyson the license to express everything in the universe, which he divided into two parts in polished prose: focusing on the diversity of the natural world as the first, and the diversity of human reactions as the second half.

Chapter 1 is a brief explanation of Dyson's attitudes toward religion and science. Chapter 2 is a one–hour tour of the universe that emphasizes the diversity of viewpoints from which the universe can be encountered as well as the diversity of objects which it contains. Chapter 3 is concerned with the history of science and describes two contrasting styles in science: one welcoming diversity and the other deploring it. He uses the cities of Manchester and Athens as symbols of these two ways of approaching science. Chapter 4, concerned with the origin of life, describes the ideas of six illustrious scientists who have struggled to understand the nature of life from various points of view. Chapter 5 continues the discussion of the nature and evolution of life. The question of why life characteristically tends toward extremes of diversity remains central in all attempts to understand life's place in the universe. Chapter 6 is an exercise in eschatology, trying to define possible futures for life and for the universe, from here to infinity. In this chapter, Dyson crosses the border between science and science fiction and he frames his speculations in a slightly theological context.

 

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User Review  - antao - LibraryThing

As infinity is, -1/12 is a rather odd notion I have come the conclusion that it is not space and time that is curved but numbers and mathematics. Space and time is actually straight when you take this ... Read full review

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User Review  - P_S_Patrick - LibraryThing

This is a fairly good collection of essays on science, which focuses on past, contemporary (in 1985), and future advances in science, and their consequences. I enjoyed the first half of the book ... Read full review

Contents

One In Praise of Diversity
3
Three Manchester and Athens
35
Four How Did Life Begin?
54
Five Why Is Life So Complicated?
74
Six How Will It All End?
97
PART TWO PEOPLE AND MACHINES
123
Nine Science and Space
158
Ten Engineers Dreams
180
Eleven The Balance of Power
201
Thirteen The Example of Austria
230
Fourteen Camels and Swords
243
Fifteen Nuclear Winter
258
Sixteen The TwentyFirst Century
270
Seventeen Butterflies Again
288
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
301
Copyright

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Page 130 - Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
Page 215 - Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the object of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion?
Page 104 - We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.
Page 223 - I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.
Page 126 - That this in all probability may be the real case, is in some degree made evident by the many cloudy spots, just perceivable by us, as far without our starry Regions, in which tho' visibly luminous spaces, no one star or particular constituent body can possibly be distinguished; those in all likelyhood may be external creation, bordering upon the known one, too remote for even our telescopes to reach.
Page 142 - Prophets, in the modern sense of the word, have never existed. Jonah was no prophet in the modern sense, for his prophecy of Nineveh failed. Every honest man is a Prophet ; he utters his opinion both of private & public matters. Thus: If you go on So, the result is So. He never says, such a thing shall happen let you do what you will. A Prophet is a Seer, not an Arbitrary Dictator.
Page 215 - Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape ? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age...
Page 47 - What Art was to the ancient world, Science is to the modern : the distinctive faculty. In the minds of men the useful has succeeded to the beautiful. Instead of the city of the Violet Crown, a Lancashire village has expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses. Yet, rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens.
Page 127 - It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
Page 143 - I know thee' I have found thee' & I will not let thee go: Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa, And thou art fall'n to give me life in regions of dark death.

About the author (2004)

Freeman Dyson spent most of his life as a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He was born in England and worked as a civilian scientist for the Royal Air Force in World War 2. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1945 with a BA degree in mathematics. He went on to Cornell University as a graduate student in 1947 and worked with Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman and went on to be appointed as a professor. His most useful contribution to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. Dyson is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in Religion. In addition to his scientific work, Professor Dyson has found time for raising five daughters, a son and a step-daughter.

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