Scientific Discovery from the Brilliant to the Bizarre: The Doctor Who Weighed the Soul, and Other True Tales

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Winner of the IgNobel Prize in physics and the 2004 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, Len Fisher showed just how much fun science can be in his enthusiastically praised debut, How to Dunk a Doughnut. In this new work, he reveals that science sometimes takes a path through the ridiculous and the bizarre to discover that Nature often simply does not follow common sense.   
One experiment, involving a bed, platform scales, and a dying man, seemed to prove that the soul weighed the same as a slice of bread. But other, no less fanciful experiments and ideas led to the fundamentals of our understanding of movement, heat, light, and energy, and such things as the discovery of electricity, and the structure of DNA; improved engines; and the invention of computers. As in his previous book, Fisher uses personal stories and examples from everyday life, as well as humor, to make the science accessible. He touches on topics from lightning to corsets and from alchemy to Frankenstein and water babies, but he may not claim the last word on the weight of the soul!
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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Apr 4, 2013
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781611459128
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / History
Science / History
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
Science / Reference
Science / Research & Methodology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Since the origin of the modern sciences, our views on discovery and creativity had a remarkable history. Originally, discovery was seen as an integral part of methodology and the logic of discovery as algorithmic or nearly algorithmic. During the nineteenth century, conceptions in line with romanticism led to the famous opposition between the context of discovery and the context of justification, culminating in a view that banned discovery from methodology. The revival of the methodological investigation of discovery, which started some thirty years ago, derived its major impetus from historical and sociological studies of the sciences and from developments within cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence. Today, a large majority of philosophers of science agrees that the classical conception as well as the romantic conception are mistaken. Against the classical conception, it is generally accepted that truly novel discoveries are not the result of simply applying some standardized procedure. Against the romantic conception, it is rejected that discoveries are produced by unstructured flashes of insight.

An especially important result of the contemporary study concerns the availability of (descriptive and normative) models for explaining discoveries and creative processes. Descriptive models mainly aim at explaining the origin of novel products; normative models moreover address the question how rational researchers should proceed when confronted with problems for which a standard procedure is missing. The present book provides an overview of these models and of the important changes they induced within methodology. As appears from several papers, the methodological study of discovery and creativity led to profound changes in our conceptions of justification and acceptance, of rationality, of scientific change, and of conceptual change. The book contains contributions from both historians and philosophers of science. All of them, however, are methodological in the contemporary sense of the term. The central values of this methodology are empirical accurateness, clarity and precision, and rationality. The different contributions realize these values by their interdisciplinary nature. Some philosophically oriented papers rely on historical case studies and results from the cognitive sciences, others on recent results from the computer sciences and/or non-standard logics. The historically oriented papers address central philosophical questions and hypotheses.

A prescient warning of a future we now inhabit, where fake news stories and Internet conspiracy theories play to a disaffected American populace

“A glorious book . . . A spirited defense of science . . . From the first page to the last, this book is a manifesto for clear thought.”—Los Angeles Times

How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

Praise for The Demon-Haunted World

“Powerful . . . A stirring defense of informed rationality. . . Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Compelling.”—USA Today

“A clear vision of what good science means and why it makes a difference. . . . A testimonial to the power of science and a warning of the dangers of unrestrained credulity.”—The Sciences

“Passionate.”—San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
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