Ignorance: How It Drives Science

Hardcover | March 27, 2012

byStuart Firestein

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Knowledge is a big subject, says Stuart Firestein, but ignorance is a bigger one. And it is ignorance - not knowledge - that is the true engine of science. Most of us have a false impression of science as a surefire, deliberate, step-by-step method for finding things out and getting things done. In fact, says Firestein, more often than not, science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room, and there may not be a cat in the room. The process ismore hit-or-miss than you might imagine, with much stumbling and groping after phantoms. But it is exactly this "not knowing," this puzzling over thorny questions or inexplicable data, that gets researchers into the lab early and keeps them there late, the thing that propels them, the very drivingforce of science. Firestein shows how scientists use ignorance to program their work, to identify what should be done, what the next steps are, and where they should concentrate their energies. And he includes a catalog of how scientists use ignorance, consciously or unconsciously - a remarkablerange of approaches that includes looking for connections to other research, revisiting apparently settled questions, using small questions to get at big ones, and tackling a problem simply out of curiosity. The book concludes with four case histories - in cognitive psychology, theoretical physics, astronomy, and neuroscience - that provide a feel for the nuts and bolts of ignorance, the day-to-day battle that goes on in scientific laboratories and in scientific minds with questions that range from thequotidian to the profound. Turning the conventional idea about science on its head, Ignorance opens a new window on the true nature of research. It is a must-read for anyone curious about science.

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Knowledge is a big subject, says Stuart Firestein, but ignorance is a bigger one. And it is ignorance - not knowledge - that is the true engine of science. Most of us have a false impression of science as a surefire, deliberate, step-by-step method for finding things out and getting things done. In fact, says Firestein, more often than...

Stuart Firestein is Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where his highly popular course on ignorance invites working scientists to come talk to students each week about what they don't know. Dedicated to promoting science to a public audience, he serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. S...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:208 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:March 27, 2012Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199828075

ISBN - 13:9780199828074

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Table of Contents

1. A Short View of Ignorance2. Finding Out3. Limits, Uncertainty, Impossibility, and Other Minor Problems4. Unpredicting5. The Quality of Ignorance6. Ignorance in Action: Case Histories7. Ignorance beyond the Lab