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Editor's Note
by Olga Stein

Writing about Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, Jerry White tells us that scientific curiosity, when combined with the rational pursuit of "genuinely new knowledge...[has] equal amounts in common with the best impulses driving both the humanities and the sciences." He quotes Oliver Sacks commenting on that which "seemed to bring order to the seemingly infinite", the Periodic Table of Elements: "[t]o have perceived an overall organization, a superarching principle uniting and relating all the elements, had a quality of the miraculous, of genius. And this gave me, for the first time, a sense of the transcendent power of the human mind, and the fact that it might be equipped to discover or decipher the deepest secrets of nature, to read the mind of God" (p191). A similar curiosity, combined with immense intellectual talent and energy, and, fundamentally, the same desire to find order in nature, and our larger habitat, the universe, propels the work of scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Lee Smolin. In The Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking tackles nothing more or less than the origins of the universe, the nature of time, and, among other things, the relationship between the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Lee Smolin's Three Roads to Quantum Gravity elaborates on this branch of physics, taking us further by explaining recent developments and where they are headed. For some time, explains Smolin, scientists have been struggling to arrive at a coherent theory of quantum gravity¨a theory that can reconcile Einstein's general relativity theory¨which contravenes Newtonian physics¨with quantum theory, a system for explaining the sub-atomic world but which, in contradistinction, subsumes the principles of Newtonian physics into its very logic. Smolin describes the three different approaches or 'roads' currently being taken to reach this theoretical goal. Reading Robert DiSalle's superb review of Thomas S. Kuhn's The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, one might reflect on whether a newly-minted theory of quantum gravity would constitute a 'Kuhnian' revolution or "paradigm-shift", the kind that, according to Di Salle, causes scientists to "find themselves, not merely working with a different theory, but living in a different world." What are we, consequently, to think of any "superarching principle" or theory which purports to "order" the "seemingly infinite". Is it objectively explaining, revealing what's there, or simply 'describing' in terms¨linguistic and conceptual¨that are themselves subject to radical change. Is the 'order' real, or merely imposed? Does science allow us to "read the mind of God" or does it give us just one of an infinite number of versions of this transcendent text. Ah, but now we're getting into the sort of discussion best handled by the reviewer and the book. Enjoy the issue and everything else it has to offer.


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