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Ordinary World, An: The Role of Science in Your Search for Personal Meaning

AuthorTodd Duncan Entered2002-04-04 22:21:41 by tduncan
Editedit data record FreedomCopyrighted, doesn't cost money to read, but otherwise not free (disclaimer)
SubjectQ. - Science, Math, Computing
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Science and Meaning are Compatible
by Kim Coble on 2002-04-05 15:17:08, review #186
better than 98%
better than 90%
Disclaimer: I am member of the Science Integration Institute, the non-profit organization that published this book. I've used the ideas and excercises in the book in my workshops and classes. I've been a colleague of the author since grad school.

As humans, we seek personal meaning in our lives, a context within which our decisions and our actions matter. Science has had negative connotations for many people, partly because it has revealed information that is inconsistent with systems in which people traditionally find meaning. This book takes a more optimistic point of view, inviting readers to explore science as a useful guide in the search for meaning. In An Ordinary World, the author asserts that science is a powerful filter for figuring out how the world works and therefore for figuring out a context within which to make choices in everyday life.

An Ordinary World is an introduction to the concept of "science integration," the process of incorporating insights from science into a personal worldview. Whether we articulate it or not, we all have a worldview, a context within which we make choices and take action. Becoming more aware of how we view the world has a direct impact on how we live our lives. Of the many choices we are faced with each minute and the many actions we can take, we need a way of filtering out what works from what doesn't. Science has had great success in helping us deal with the constraints of the external world. Science can help us see how we fit into the overall scheme of the universe, giving us a bigger context within which to operate. It can help us both to clarify our goals and to achieve what matters to us.

After introducing the idea of science integration, the author works through some examples of integrating science into a personal worldview and of approaching science from an optimistic perspective that can lead to greater personal meaning. For example, the scientific method is developed by asking how we are able to read the words in the book. This leads the reader to think of models for how light works and of simple tests to figure it out; this is science. The idea that morals are information dependent is illustrated through environmental examples. These examples show that science is not just abstract, that it can provide valuable information for making life choices. It invites readers to ask what new information would cause them to change their actions in a variety of situations and to make sure their actions will have the desired consequences. Although science cannot answer all our questions, it does provide provide an ordered way of thinking, of working things out.

The book describes some of the negative associations with science in order to get them out in the open and addressed directly. Scientific culture affects our perception of science. Historically the practice of science has neglected to address our human craving for meaning; people complain about science not because it makes their lives easier but because it makes them feel insignificant. No matter how magnificent a map of the external world science gives us, it will be useless without a "you are here" marker to orient us. The author suggests that some amount of research be directed to address our human concerns, our desire for a bigger context, rather than justifying basic research only through potential technological spin-offs. The types of questions asked and the culture of science are affected by its objective, and in turn the information we get through science depends on the questions we ask.

A brief listing of topics highlights some areas of scientific research that will give the reader a starting point for exploring science, with an eye towards how we fit in the big picture. Some examples and common themes include evolution (cosmic and biological), the universality of physical laws, an understanding of the scientific method, cognitive processes, complexity, and technology.

The book concludes with a vision of how our lives could be better through more conscious living. It lists several reasons why having a clear worldview can improve your life and the lives of others. Our lives are made of the choices we make. We construct mental maps to guide our choices, and science can help us make accurate maps. If we make a conscious effort to extract information from science and integrate it into our lives, science can help us in our search for personal meaning.

The end of each chapter features thought-provoking questions designed to help readers articulate their personal worldviews, their awareness of the surrounding world, and their views on science. Exercises help readers develop ways to think creatively and critically about questions which matter to them. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter and throughout the book capture the essence of the topic under discussion with grace.

The tone of the book is conversational and accessible. Non-scientists will find this to be a refreshing approach to science. Scientists who are teaching courses or giving public lectures will find this to be a particularly useful approach for engaging the audience. In short, I highly recommend An Ordinary World to anyone who likes to think deeply about the universe.

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It all depends on what questions you ask
by muralisundar on 2002-04-12 17:54:42, review #187
better than 95%
better than 95%
This is an interesting book. I say so because it provides a unique perspective. The title of the book "The role of science in your search for personal meaning" might lead one to think that this is one of those books that try to force-fit science into spirituality through metaphyisical or linguistic gymnastics. This books doesn't do that. In fact, this book has nothing whatsoever to do with pushing any belief; scientific or religious. Instead, as the title of my review says, the book's theme is that your world view depends on what questions you ask. Whether you are conscious of it or not, you have a world view that provides a framework in which you live. Most of what we do in our daily lives is based on habit which by definition is un-conscious. This book provides some perspectives and then poses some questions that will make you conscious of how you fit into the world around you. However, this book is not a manual for how to live an environmentally friendly life. I keep saying this book is not about this or not about that mainly because, simply put, all that this book does is force you to THINK! This book poses questions in context. First some background about a line of thought is provided and the line of thought is developed with copious quotes, references to prior work, scientific and philosophical. Then the book poses some questions that you, the reader, have to answer for yourself. Generally speaking, people want answers that they can follow without thinking much. Philosophers provide questions and no answers. There is no one in the middle. Science came along and suddenly you have this "answer machine" but now, people are slowly realizing that while science provides answers, the answers are always applicable only in the "context" that is apprpriate. Without understanding the context, science is meaningless. This may appear to be a silly thing to say but consider that science has become so specialized that general statements like "use water to put out fire" are very dangerous. If you have an electrical fire, and you use water, its the worst thing you can do. I provide this example at the risk of sounding silly and simplistic but the main point is that science has simply advanced so much that unless one takes the time to see how one relates to it, it will always remain the enigmatic "answer machine" that sometimes works but sometimes doesn't. Science merely provides better and better tools but the human has to integrate that knowledge and use it properly. You do that by asking questions. Without that you end up in one of two camps: Science will solve all problems. Science will only create more problems. Both are false and are really the result of lack of thought. This book is a first step for you as an individual to relate to the world around you using all the information at your disposal including scientific information. This book, provides perspectives on various "contexts" so that questions don't appear completely arbitrary and abstract. Now, the reader can begin to formulate his thoughts about the questions. What constitutes an answer is up for discussion. It is based on your world view. I would like to end this review with the words of John Muir "When you tug at a thing in nature; you find it attached to the rest of the world". Now, you are a part of nature. This book wants you to tug at yourself and observe how it affects the rest of the world. Enjoy! -Murali Sundar

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