SEARCHING FOR CERTAINTY: WHAT SCIENTISTS CAN KNOW ABOUT THE FUTURE, by John L. Casti. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990. 496 pages, index. Hardcover; $22.95.
John W. Burgeson,
John Casti, a faculty member at the Technical University of Vienna, Austria, has followed his splendid book, PARADIGMS LOST, with one equally deserving of serious study and enjoyment. My chief concern in writing this review is that I will not be sufficiently persuasive to induce my readers to pick it up and share with me in the enjoyment of science presented at its best.
Dr. Casti begins by discussing the differences between explanation and prediction in science, and in non-science, as he deals with the three C's, Correlations, Causes and Chance. He devotes most of the book, however, to analyses of weather changes, climate predictions, physical changes in living organisms, the stock market, the outbreak of war and, in a brilliant conclusion, the true statements of arithmetic.
For people in a hurry, read just the summary, five short pages. There may be some who will read no more. There may also be some people who can nibble just one peanut at a baseball game!
Dr. Casti writes with both clarity and humor. Even the chapter headings ("Proof or Consequences" introduces his chapter on "True" Arithmetic) and section headings ("Looking for a Beta Way" is a topic in the chapter on stock prices) are carefully chosen both to illuminate the topic and remind the reader that science can be fun!
In discussing the problems, Dr. Casti rates "science" on each of them in two ways, first, how well the problem can be explained; second, how well future conditions within it can be predicted. Celestial mechanics is the measure of the others, rating a grade of "A" on both counts. Mathematics, interestingly enough, rates only a "B+" and "B." Quantum mechanics rates "D" in explanation, but "A" in prediction. Evolutionary Biology, as one might expect, moves in the reverse direction, rating B+ in explanation and "D" in prediction. At the low end of the scale is Economics, rating a flat "D" in both categories. It is part of the uniqueness of this book that the author is able to analyze these matters and show, very convincingly, why these grades are to be expected, what they mean, and what improvements are likely in the future.
Dr. Casti observes "... that it's in those areas of the natural sciences least susceptible to human influence that we have the best 'programs' for prediction and explanation. As we move away from hard physics and astronomy and into the Jell-O-like realm of biology, our capabilities for prediction and explanation begin to deteriorate. And by the time we reach the almost totally gaseous state of economics and the other social sciences, there's far more 'social' than 'science' in our capacity to say what's next and why."
As in PARADIGMS LOST, Dr. Casti includes a "To Dig Deeper" section to conclude the work. There are 55 pages of notes here, indicating that the author has done his homework well!
This book review was published in PERSPECTIVES, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, in March, 1992, Vol 44, #1.
The American Scientific Affiliation, ASA, founded in 1941, is an association of people who have made a commitment of themselves to both a scientific description of the world and to Christianity. The present membership is about 2,500.
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