Science is commonly understood to be about what we know, and can know. In fact, the word itself derives from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge. The authors of our three texts certainly revere science for what it has contributed to our understanding of the world, from an accurate measurement of the earth in the third century B.C. to the establishment of a sun-centered cosmology in the sixteenth century A.D. to, more recently, a plausible explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs.Yet each of our authors also points to areas beyond the reach of knowledge. Hawking and Mlodinow admit that there is no way of knowing whether a given model of the world, be it M-theory, string theory, or even some alternative reality, is more real than another. Lightman demonstrates that it is impossible to know any part of the universe that is more than 13.7 billion light-years away. And even Gould ultimately values science not so much as a repository of known things, but as a fruitful mode of inquiry.
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