Upom's Reviews > The Sun, the Genome and the Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolutions

The Sun, the Genome and the Internet by Freeman Dyson
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's review
Mar 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: science, technology, essays, biotechnology, social-justice, futurism, space, lectures, to-buy, nonfiction
Read from March 19 to 21, 2011

This books is actually a group of 3 lectures given by Freeman Dyson compiled into a book. They cover really 3 interesting topics: the nature of scientific revolutions, technology as a means of promoting social justice, and humanity's future in space.
Dyson, opposing Kuhn's idea based revolution, believes in instrument based revolution, and that availability of cheap scientific instruments is what really drives scientific revolutions. He uses the example of steam engines, telescopes, and other devices to support his argument. He also compares the Human Genome Project, the Apollo Missions, and the Sloan Digital Sky survey to show how high and low costs can differentiate between sustainable and sustainable technologies. To conclude, he explains how a cheap gene sequencer and a cheap protein imager could lead to a biotech revolution.
The next essay deals with how technology can be used as a means for making for a more equitable future. He uses the example of how appliances essentially removed the servant class in Britain. However he also points out technology can lead to negative social effects, such as how appliances essentially forced middle class women back into the home during the mid 1950's-1960's. With this in mind, Dyson suggests that the the sun, genetic engineering, and the Internet would reduce poverty. The sun would serve as a cheap source of power, genetic engineering would allow for the creation of "factory" trees- biologically engineered trees that could produce anything from plastic to computer chips. Finally, the Internet would provide a access to information and markets. All this together would remove property.
The final essay deals with life in outer space, and how we can become a part of it. He discusses the possibility of fish on Europa and how we should look for freeze-dried fish and bacteria as evidence of life on other planets. He also looks at 3 alternatives for getting into space: laser propulsion (shooting a laser at a surface, causing it to propel upwards), ram accelerator (a long pipe of various volatile gases for shooting things into space), and a slingatron ( a device that spins object into high speed, and then launches them upwards). These quixotic idea have their pros and cons, but are possible alternatives to chemical rockets. He finally looks at man's future in space with genetically enegineered warm blooded plants and factory trees.
These lectures contain madness, but their is method in it. Freeman has a reputation as a bit of a rebel, and a lot of these ideas do go against the common mind. But his sheer creativity and study of such original ideas makes this book something of a scientific wonderland, filled with sights, sounds, and inspiration for a young scientist.
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