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BW Businessworld

The Science Talk

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Michael Brooks’s The Edge Of Uncertainty (Hachette) provides a glimpse  into cutting-edge scientific thinking and ideas that blend multiple disciplines, leading to a new understanding of our world. As with any book, the questions are: is it worth telling and how well is the story told?
 
The book has eleven chapters, covering a range of complex subjects written in a layman’s language. Ideas range from consciousness to chimeras, from epigenetics to hyper-computing and end-of-time. Not everybody can grasp every concept that is outlined, but certainly the book helps expand one’s awareness on these topics. The sheer selection of topics covered, as the author says at the “edge of the beach”, is excellent. The treatment of the scientific topics peppered with good historical context and pointers to key developments in the scientific area being discussed, makes for an interesting read.
 
Despite the pluses, the simplicity of language becomes a shortcoming of the book. Any attempt to simplify complex concepts such that a layman can understand it, tends to compromise scientific rigour. Having said this, if you plan to read this book for a scientific discourse on every topic, then it would be an unrealistic expectation. 
 
However, the author sometimes takes a leap of faith that is disproportionate to the logic outlined to support a case. In order to be faithful to his hypothesis, Brooks takes an artistic license on certain instances to tell a good story. This regrettably implies that the book loses its intellectual integrity in such situations, as counter-arguments are not given due consideration to provide a holistic view. For example, while discussing epigenetics, the role environmental factors play is clearly significant but the author misses out on integrating other factors including recent discoveries in genetics to provide a complete picture. There are more such instances through the book that leave one with an incomplete perspective at times. The book allows us to be amazed by the possibilities that are being achieved through collective and rigorous scientific endeavours. 
 
Jamuar is Executive Chairman, Global Gene Corporation
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 29-12-2014)