Discovery: What's Left?

A year ago, maybe longer, I visited my brother in Houston (the brother who is now moving to the Outer Banks, who before Houston lived in Great Britain, and of whom my son says, “Is he trying to live on all seven continents before he dies?) and discovered a book that posits the question: “What Remains to be Discovered?” Authored by John Maddox, a physicist, a Knight, and aformer editor of Nature magazine, the blurb on the inside of the book cover says, “After five centures of remarkable discovery, science is still only at its beginning. What we already know is only a tiny fraction of what we have still to understand.”

As far as philosophy goes, this book takes the concept of what man knows, what he thinks he knows, and what he actually is able to know, to the limits. Of course, I use the term ‘man’ to include both genders — deliver me from feminists who bristle at the concept of mankind excluding women.

The book caught my eye, sitting there on my brother’s living room bookcase, not because of the title, nor because of the cover — the title is intriguing, indeed, the cover a dark black with a few green spores on it — but because it sat next to a far more important book I wanted to read, Megatrends for Women, written by Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt.

However, I couldn’t escape John Maddox. Aburdene and Naisbitt were informative and supportive (considering I was writing a book on women, myself, at the time), but reading their book was work. Oh, not hard, not unpleasant, but certainly, part of the extensive research for my own work. Maddox, on the other hand, called to me for different reasons.

That title…the concept it shouted…the very question it posed…compelled me to pull it from the shelf and delve into it like a child eager for new excitement.

I can merely quote a few passages, to whet your appetite. I cannot explain the book, or its contents; it often goes far beyond my feeble means of comprehension. But, I can review it well enough to say I believe it accomplishes its goal; it introduces the idea that man’s quest to explore the universe is akin to trying to cross the ocean in a canoe. Perhaps, in the most favorable conditions, it can be done. Perhaps, it cannot. But…there will be those who will try. Part of man’s indomitable spirit, perhaps? Part of our inquisitive nature? Or, part of our destiny– to move, snail-like along the path of evolution into the discovery of who we are and where we are going?

From Chapter 2: Simplicity in Complexity: “The long search for more plausible atoms than those the Greeks proposed has been episodic, resembling the unpacking of a nest of Russian dolls. Unscrew Yeltsin and Gorbachev is revealed; unscrew him to find Andropov, Chernenko, Brezhnev, Khrushchev, Stalin, Lenin and Nicholas II. Repeatedly, it has seemed that all the elementary atoms have finally been listed — whereupon, new observations have proved the belief mistaken.”

Oh but there is so much more!

From Chapter 3: Everything at Once: “There is also the hypothetical Higgs field, potentially capable of making matter appear from nowhere. The vacuum, commonly called empty space, is far from empty.”

I leave you with this passage, taken from Chapter 8 (there are 10 Chapters in the over 400 page book): Thinking Machines: “…the cruel truth is that the central objective of the now majestic research program in neuroscience remains beyond reach: there is only the most shaky understanding of how the brain, and the human brain particularly, engenders mind — the capacity to reflect on past events, to think and to imagine.”

Maddox calls this “perplexing.” I applaud his work, the work of all scientists delving into time, space, mind, and body connections. Surely, if nothing else, Maddox has supported his book’s title: What Remains to be Discovered. The answer, for what it’s worth, seems to be: everything.

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