In his most important book to date, award-winning author Timothy Ferris — “the best popular science writer in the English language today” (Christian Science Monitor) — makes a passionate case for science as the inspiration behind the rise of liberalism and democracy. Ferris argues that just as the scientific revolution rescued billions from poverty, fear, hunger, and disease, the Enlightenment values it inspired has swelled the number of persons living in free and democratic societies from less than 1 percent of the world population four centuries ago to more than a third today. Ferris deftly investigates the evolution of these scientific and political revolutions, demonstrating that they are inextricably bound. He shows how science was integral to the American Revolution but misinterpreted in the French Revolution; reflects on the history of liberalism, stressing its widely underestimated and mutually beneficial relationship with science; and surveys the forces that have opposed science and liberalism — from communism and fascism to postmodernism and Islamic fundamentalism. A sweeping intellectual history, The Science of Liberty is a stunningly original work that transcends the antiquated concepts of left and right.
©2010 Timothy Ferris (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
First off, I like Timothy Ferris. A lot. But this book was way too far on the prescriptive side and not enough on the descriptive side for me. I recommend Coming of Age in the Milky Way and The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics.
This book posits a historical virtuous circle: ( Political Liberty begets Intellectual Liberty begets Scientific Thinking begets Material Understanding begets Technology begets Military, Economic and Cultural Ascendance begets the Spread of Political Liberty) repeat to the stars and beyond...
Sounds good, and the author makes an interesting and reasonably compelling case, while not completely ignoring possibly countervailing forces, both external- such as reactionary Islamic fundamentalism- and internal- such as postmodernist epistemological relativism. The author argues that these 'counter cultural' movements are, each in its own way, inherently self limiting, whereas liberal democratic scientism is progressively self perpetuating.
The author also considers one other factor which might derail the virtuous circle: the possibility of technological self sabotage via global climate change. Unfortunately this section devolves into a rather credulous catechism on climate science bearing little relevance to the thesis of the book. Another chapter is devoted to a defense of the status of economics as an objective scientific enterprise; whatever one thinks about that, this chapter adds little to the book's argument.
Overall, though, I liked this book. It appealed to my scientific patriotism :) The Constitution contains only one mention of the word 'science' (in the section on patents,) but as this book shows it was a word often on the lips and in the thoughts of those who wrote it, and those who inspired it. But it was no oversight. All that was necessary was to enshrine liberty- freedom in thought and deed- and by man's very nature the flourishing of science- the mind's journey to a true encounter with the universe- was guaranteed.
Now that libertarianism has been taken over by the hysterical low-brows of the Tea Party, gun nuts, unscrupulous day traders, Fox News, and Christian millenarians, its kinder, gentler (and supposedly more worldly) believers are quite rightly alarmed. The problem is that libertarianism has so obviously devolved into dogma. It has become to Americans what poor Marx became to Stalinists, an ideology sustainable only through selective history, gross simplifications, and sheer magical incantation. Ferris follows the party line to a fault. Like all libertarians, he dwells in a simplified version of the 18th century (Locke, Adam Smith, Founding Fathers, etc.), fast-forwards the 19th and 20th centuries, and pops out of the historical delirium around 1980 when a fossilized Hayek, a sainted Isaiah Berlin, Thatcher, Nozick, and the Chicago School are bringing mankind back to its senses. Capitalism saved again! The usual dead horses are trotted out for a kick. Rousseau, Hegel, Derrida, and tenured English professors join Nazis, Stalinists and Islamic Fundamentalists in the dark legions of the ???irrational.??? What Ferris hopes to add to the party line, in addition to his doggone reasonableness, is the prestige value of science. He is boldly secular, attacks the statist tendencies of the Bush Administration, and adds a peculiar, redundant defense of global warming theory, as if he were actually attempting to preach to his fellow libertarians in the rabid profiteering camp. A worthy goal. He is a certifiable Good Guy. But he rarely strays outside of American propaganda or grapples with the dark contradictions of American ???liberty,??? from Calhoun on. He has yet to digest American pragmatism, from Dewey to Rorty, in which liberalism seriously confronts science and modernity. I am biased against his ideology, obviously. But this is a coherent audiobook overall, nicely read apart from a few howlers, e.g., Keynesians pronounced "kineezians," seemingly without malice aforethought.
I learned bits about the history of the French revolution, the rise and fall of deconstructionism, and a few other moderately obscure areas that I never would have sought out to read about.
It's only vaguely reminiscent of Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me" - Loewen is much more convincing and much more thorough, but there were some of those "hah!" moments in this book.
Way too many pronunciation errors, many on relatively simple words. I don't recall ever hearing an audiobook with this many errors.They're annoying and detract from the experience, but not horrifically so. I'd still buy it again even knowing what the narrator is like.
I'm a pure rationalist, an anti-theist and a huge fan of science. I *want* his hypothesis to be true, it "feels right" just based on a reading of the title, so I was really looking forward to learning some good solid measures/comparisons/relationships that clearly show a correlation between rational, liberal governance and scientific progress. I enjoy having a large arsenal of facts, examples and citations on hand because I often debate (or simply ridicule) anti-science factions whenever they appear in discussions of science.He just didn't make his case. If he had taken 3 or 4 specific cases and enumerated the same specifics values or correlations - how often they held elections and what sort of voter turnout there was (to spot discouraged or coerced voters) and somehow related that to number of published science papers... I don't know, I'm just pulling random ideas out of my nether regions, not really proposing that as a valid metric. I was just hoping he had already thought through which of those sorts of correlations were most valuable or strongest or something.His hypothesis is probably correct, even though I thought of a couple of arguments that countered his. I just wanted to feel roughly 60% certain and all I got was about 30% or less.
At least a couple of anti-science wackos ranting in their reviews about his coverage of climate science. I cannot stress how unbiased and precisely stated his description of the (at the time) current state of climate science is. In every single statement he fully qualifies it with all the relevant levels of uncertainty, acknowledges the possibility of error, and basically makes an exemplary scientific presentation. He never once makes an absolute statement on the science. It's actually quite sad that he has to couch generally good/well established science in such conditional (at times sounding almost apologetic) language. Those reviews are a clear illustration of how irrational and dangerous the dogmatic illiberal political groups/tendencies are. That they could find fault in a purely rational, purely factual summary of a specific field of science, and that they would use even book review that had nothing to do with climate science to try and inject doubt into the discussion of it is telling. The author simply chose it as a specific, relevant and timely case where governments and people around the globe will have to act in concert to study and potentially address the threat, and where the science has been under attack by dogmatic, illiberal groups. He could have used the problems addressing the AIDS crisis where dogmatic and illiberal groups interfere with the distribution of condoms, or groups that use political influence/interference to intimidate science teachers and prevent the teaching of biological evolution in science classes. There would still be anti-science rumblings from the dogmatic types no matter what topic you choose. All that reinforces the point that the author's hypothesis, whether right or wrong, identifies a political/social problem that *must* be acknowledged and addressed if we want the human species to continue moving forward and continue to benefit from science that isn't polluted by popular dogma. Oh yeah, one other thing that annoyed me is the author's occasional blatant error in science. For example near the end he makes the statement that it's not likely, but possible for all the atoms in your copy of the book to "make a quantum leap..." causing it to disappear. Atoms don't make "quantum leaps", and a "quantum leap" happens only over incredibly tiny distances. It's the sort of mistake someone with only a vague familiarity with quantum mechanics would make. It lessens my confidence in him as a representative of science. I like his other books, I like this one okay, it's an interesting listen (I was never tempted to fast forward), it simply wasn't what I wanted/expected it to be. If you kinda-sorta enjoyed the book and found the history somewhat interesting, I'd suggest having a listen to Bill Bryson's "A Brief History of Nearly Everything"
Drawing Fresh, Illustrative Conclusions Daily.
Liberty From Ideology
Compelling argument for the liberty of human intellectual exploration, experimentation, and critical review without dogmatic expectation or ideological conditions.
The authors inflection.
This is a must read book in understanding, parsing, and finding a tranquil equilibrium from our current sociopolitical state of hyperbolic, polarized partisan extremism, no matter your relative relationship to science writ large.
An interesting book. The performance left a lot to be desired. The narrator reads the book as though it's a pop-psychology self-help book. And he is unfamiliar with some of what he's reading: Within the first chapter, there were three mispronounced words. ("Zoroastrianism," "probabilistic," and the first one which I don't recall because I didn't think it would keep happening.)
ferris presents an eloquent historical tonic
today's politics seems all heat and no light
it helps to remember what endures in nations
ferris is a strident liberalist to be sure
but discourse and experimentation persist
with admissions of doubt and a willingness to listen
america's place in the world is changing
a global reshuffling of the deck is coming
many fear a loss of money or position/influence
it was helpful to me to be reminded about past upheavals
? are we more than personal W2 and national GDP
yes - we are all part of a bold national experiment
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