“To Explain the World” by Steven Weinberg: A bracing and necessary guide to the discoveries of the 17th century

Peter Forbes in The Independent:

91JGpaXLHdLThere have been many histories of science, and many focused on the scientific revolution of the 17th century, but Steven Weinberg is almost certainly the first Nobel laureate scientist to write one of them.

As today's pre-eminent theoretical physicist, with a lifetime's experience behind him, Weinberg's unique perspective is evident throughout the text. His purpose is not just to show how we learnt about the world, but how we learnt to learn about it.

It is sometimes lazily thought by non-scientists that modern science is a kind of codified common sense and, hence, “how could people in the past have had such crazy ideas about the world?” Weinberg knows better. Science is such a particularly uncommonsensical way of regarding things that the wonder is not that humans lacked science for so long but that they ever discovered it at all. He is scathing about the notion that scientific knowledge is somehow “out there” in a way that might be accessible to normal consciousness. He rightly ridicules the psychologist Jean Piaget's claim that young children have some understanding of relativity but lose it in adulthood: “As if relativity were somehow logically or philosophically necessary, rather than a conclusion ultimately based on observations of things that travel at or near the speed of light.”

More here.