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The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  514 ratings  ·  52 reviews
As staff writer for Scientific American, John Horgan has a window on contemporary science unsurpassed in all the world. Who else routinely interviews the likes of Lynn Margulis, Roger Penrose, Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson, Murray Gell-Mann, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn, Chris Langton, Karl Popper, Stephen Weinberg, and E.O. Wilson, with ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 12th 1996 by Basic Books (first published 1996)
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Nov 17, 2014 is currently reading it
Shelves: philosophical
The book is well written, there's no doubt about that. The author is sardonic, smart, yet somehow earnest. In my curiosity, however, I skipped to the prologue only to read an absolutely NUTTY conclusion, entirely divorced from the rest of the book. The author is right in suspecting that he is a bit mad. He draws on one of his 'mystical' experiences, draws parallels between the mysticism and the ambiguous relationship with 'ultimate' truth that scientists have, and calls this fear of ultimate kno ...more
Alex Lee
Feb 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016, collections, science
At first I was excited to read this, as Horgan is able to write complex ideas clearly, but then about 1/3 into the book I got what he was doing. I found him disingenuous in how he presents these scientists, almost as caricatures. Much of his "take" on their theories are variated with rhetorical questions, and judgements that seek only to influence the reader into seeing that science may have a limit.

This may be needed to shake people from their firm belief in science, but the way Horgan goes abo
Daniel Toker
If nothing else, this book is a compelling argument for genetic engineering to make humans smarter. One passage which really captures the essence of Horgan's thesis:

"Humanity, Nietzsche told us, is just a stepping stone, a bridge leading to the Superman. If Nietzsche were alive today, he would surely entertain the notion that the Superman might be made not of flesh and blood, but of silicon. As human science wanes, those who hope that the quest for knowledge will continue must put their faith no
Dec 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
A senior editor at Scientific American interviews a bunch of celebrity scientists and philosophers of science, and tries to get their opinion on the thesis that science is about to end, which is to say we already know everything we can know within practical limits - we would learn a great deal about particle physics if we could construct a 1000-light-years-long particle accelerator, but we can't, so we won't. Unfortunately, this editor himself has no training in science, and so he is unqualified ...more
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
It's easy to look back on this bit of prognostication from 20 years ago and see that it's mostly wrong about everything it says, but I feel like if I'd read it the day it was published I would still have recognized he basic journalistic dishonestly evidenced on almost every page. While it contains a few interesting insights into the philosophy of science, too much of the book is taken up with misrepresenting or simply denying the content of its interviews with prominent scientists in order to bo ...more
Simon Mcleish
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Originally published on my blog here in October 1999.

John Horgan originally set out to write a book of profiles of the most eminent scientists of the late twentieth century, based on interviews he had carried out as a journalist for Scientific American. But he became fascinated by a theme he perceived in these interviews, the question of whether we might have almost reached the end of what science can discover about the universe.

The first thing he has to do is to define the various ways in which
D.M. Dutcher
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Interesting book asking a cross-section of specialists across fields about the limits of science. Horgan's main argument is that science is unlikely to see any more paradigm shifts-new theories in which we radically increase our understanding of the universe. This is because of a few reasons:

1. As science solves the low-hanging fruit, the cost of research rises exponentially and becomes impossible to justify.

2. There are often perceptual barriers innate in being human that prevent us from either
May 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
Song and dance from start to finish. If Horgan were serious, then this book would evidence only a lack of imagination. But one or two passages, unless plagiarized, suggest that the author is sufficiently knowledgeable and intelligent that he can hardly be thought to believe what he proposes. True, he quotes scientists whose statements appear to support his view, but he must have omitted everything and everyone else who might suggest otherwise.

There is a story, untrue, that someone suggested a hu
I can't recall another book that advanced an argument I so disagreed with but found fascinating and informative anyway. Horgan stands in a long line of figures who have asserted an "end of science," though he handles his argument in a manner that doesn't distract from the meat of the book, which is the interviews with philosophers and scientists.

For many, the structure of the book will probably seem hodgepodge or scatter-shot. I found this to be an entertaining delivery, though -- as if you were
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I first encountered this book a couple years ago when I was, as I always am, wandering around in my favorite bookshop to occupy my free time and help out customers - most of which are to this day still firmly convinced I work there. Anyway at the time I found it expensive and far too pretentiously titled (also the Italian edition - beautifully elegant but serious nonetheless - with its non-figurative red cover kind of frightened me) so I put it back on the shelf and forgot all about it. A couple ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
The End of Science is about the end of new discoveries in scientific fields more than it's about the end of science as a method of discovery. It discusses many different reasons why scientific discoveries may be harder to make in the future, but the most important one mentioned is that science has been so successful. It's discovered all of the low hanging fruit, and the author claims that we've entered into an era of diminishing returns on investment into scientific investigations.

The book is fu
Mike Parkes
Perhaps you have told your boss to take this job and shove it when leaving a job or changing careers… John Horgan wrote a whole book that reads as a long resignation letter from his profession of science writing. One that I found immensely entertaining and infuriating at the same time, almost twenty-five years after it was written.

This book is really two books in one. Book one contends that we are approaching the limits of science. The great era of scientific discovery is over, and “further rese
Daniel Cunningham
It seems there is a simple statement at the heart of this book: "We're not going to find anything as world-altering as General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, or Darwinian Evolution in the future." And maybe this is correct. (modulo e.g. resolving dark matter/energy.)

Attached to this is a critique that much of public science communication is just boosterism or "ironic science," as defined by Horgan (which would be 'speculative' science to the rest of us.)

It's hard to argue with either of these. M
Dennis Littrell
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well, no, not quite yet

One the strengths of this book is the outrageous way John Horgan writes about the august scientists of our time and the forthright way he reveals his subjective impressions. Also one finds delight in the colorful and descriptive language. Some examples:

Visible matter in the universe as "just foam on a deep, dark sea." (p. 96)

Dawkins as "Darwin's greyhound" (cf. Huxley as his "bulldog") on page 116.

This exchange on page 125: "What's beyond the brick wall?" "But that's Cart
Jun 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book did not age well.

Written in the early 90s by John Horgan (for context, he's a journalist, and mainly penned pieces for 'Scientific American'), it's desperately trying to convince you that science, as most of us know it, has burnt out and, well, has nothing more to discover. I beg to differ. And I beg to differ with its style.

He's American, so he naturally thinks the world revolves around him and his ideas. He's also white, and a man. And this was written in a time where basically tryin
Stephen Cranney
Overall agree with his thesis (at some point our technological development will hurt diminishing returns and we'll plateau), but given the nature of the book you think he'd put more energy into updating it for new editions, but his examples were all still drawn from the 90s.
Sanjay Varma
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This would be a good book for someone interested in the topic. A few chapters were great such as the chapter announcing “The End of “Chaoplexity,” which contains a section about the limits of computer simulations used by global warming proponents. I didn’t like the way he portrayed scientists, in aggregate, as curmudgeons.
Öykü Akın
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
this is a true gem. to better your understanding of science and to laugh at popper.
Shameer Ks
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book I recommend to the atheists, the die-hard fan of Dawkins, to use as a needle to prick in their inflated selves
A Reader
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
The end of science, or the Star Trek Factor?

In “The end of science” John Horgan is pursuing provocative questions.
Has science been entered an era of diminishing returns?
Is physics moving towards absolute truth?
Would be able physicists to prove a final theory in the same way that mathematicians prove theorems?

John Horgan’s thesis is that we are coming to an era where all the fundamental scientific theories have been discovered and science as we know it today is coming altogether in an end. Horgan
Mar 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Started out great and then ended okay. This is really a book on philosophy of science, not science. Toward the end, it felt like a bunch of ramblings by scientists, half of which I’ve never even heard of. Great early interviews of those I have heard of though, Richard Dawkins, Karl Popper, Francis Crick, etc. Many of the later interviews seemed like a hodgepodge of musings by scientists; some interesting, some not so interesting. The book seemed to fall apart toward the end, as many of the scien ...more
Jun 24, 2007 rated it liked it
The basic thesis of Horgan's book is that there is a finite number of revolutionary, paradigm shifting ideas in science (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn). Given this, the reality of diminishing returns imply that more and more work must be invested between each major discovery, and most of science becomes filling in details. The book was panned by many scientific critics because it suggests that the grand scientific enterprise will inevitably slow. Given the fundamenta ...more
Shea Mastison
This book has a fascinating premise and moments of great humor. John Horgan interviews many great contemporary scientists in an effort to discovery whether the age of relentless scientific progress is drawing to an end.

It's uncomfortable to imagine that their are no new fundamental laws or theories for scientists to discover--nothing on par with the Big Bang Theory or Darwinian biology on the horizon. Being one of the types who could accept ironic science on its own merits; I think Horgan is wr
Dec 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
I found myself feeling alternatively hopeful and very depressed reading this book. The underlying question, one that reaches across many fields of science, is whether the "big" questions have all been answered. Some say yes, definitely, and that contemporary science is just fighting over the incremental scraps. Others think there are other big questions, such as consciousness, that are still waiting to be confronted. Others think some questions will never be answered by our puny human brains, an ...more
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
With a title like that, how can you only casually read this book? Well the message might not be as drastic as the title suggests, but it does predict some sort of end. And now, 15 years later, it makes for interesting reading. Especially the interviews with many big names in the field are still very valuable. But as a scientist, I don't feel like being in the twilight at all. Because for all the talent packed together in the book, not a lot of changes that happened since then were even remotely ...more
Apr 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those interested in scientific progress & the boundaries of our knowledge
Overall, I really enjoyed this book - it is a series of interviews with noted scientists & thinkers & covers a variety of scientific fields including cosmology, evolutionary biology, physics, neuroscience, etc. It is very accessible to non-scientists & makes some controversial claims. A good introduction to some of the most perplexing & exciting scientific problems scientists are grappling with these days. ...more
Brian Steed
Although primarily a vehicle for Horgan’s belief that science, with Darwin and Einstein behind us, has reached the point of diminishing returns and is now made up in large part of “ironic” studies, the book’s main fascination is the broad overview it presents of the way science is perceived by many of today’s prominent practitioners. Very absorbing stuff, and Horgan’s thesis is very persuasive. In fact, I think it’s permanently colored my view of the science timeline.
I like it when math and science are linked to mathematicians' and scientists' personalities. Maybe I'm just being a fluffy headed idiot for this.

Interesting book.

After a while, the scientists just sort of swirl together into a indistinct jumble, and I had to sort of force-march my way through it.

But I think it was worthwhile just to get a rough overview of what's going on in the scientific world.
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book reveals the bankruptcy of the ideas of scientists who wax philosopical without an understanding of the philosophical basis of science; their themes frequently contradicting it. While the author points out some of these weaknesses, his positions also lack cogency.

One of the more prescient comments by the author, "One of science's dirty little secrets is that many prominent scientists harbor remarkably postmodern sentiments."
Author contacted many scientists and introduced their view on the future of Science. Through he tried to say all kind of sciences has limitation but as expected, there's no conclusion. The book has been published over 10 years and most of the viewpoints are still valid, good to catch some idea over there.
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JOHN HORGAN is a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. A former senior writer at Scientific American (1986-1997), he has also written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Discover, The London Times, The Times Literary Supplement, New Scie ...more

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