Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature- Timothy Ferris

The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of NatureThe Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature by Timothy Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I knew more about the history of politics so that I could judge this book more fairly. I asked my wife her opinion about the thesis and she was skeptical, whereas the history teacher at school concurred with the basic idea. I told them both that the science part was accurate, but that I didn't know enough about the political history to know whether the author was glossing over details or cherry-picking his examples.
The basic idea was that traditionally history is taught with the renaissance, the scientific revolution, and the enlightenment being three separate and distinct events, but Ferris argues that the three flow on into the next, as cause-and-effect. Furthermore, since democracy, republics, and liberty came out of the enlightenment, then it follows that science and scientific thinking is necessary for liberal democracies to exist.
As he pointed out to prove him wrong there would either have to be a scientifically advanced nation that does not have a democracy or a democracy without advanced science. The main counter examples he pointed to were Nazi Germany and communist Russia and China. Although those nations had the appearance of advanced science, he showed how often it was pseudoscience and where it wasn't it was often stolen ideas or momentum from a prior time. Again, he arguments were persuasive, but I'm not totally convinced that there isn't some other counterexample that he didn't discuss.
From a scientific standpoint, the science and history of science was great. It was also very enlightening to see the political pursuits of many scientists and the scientific pursuits of many politicians. I am personally a huge fan of individuals that played minor roles in the Scientific Revolution because they often go overlooked.
There were a few times where if felt like the book was distracted by the science or the politics and failed to show how the were interwoven. There were also some short periods where the events didn't follow chronological order like the rest of the book, which always bugs me some. My biggest reservation is simply my lack of knowledge of the historical side of things.
Lastly, two unrelated points to close on. First, I think I would ever have gotten around to reading a print version of this book, but I kind of regret listening to it because if I had read the print version I think I would have highlighted it to death [although I do own a print copy and may skim it just to do that none-the-less]. Secondly, he spent a descent amount of time close to the end critiquing an often cited book that I own a copy of and maybe read the first chapter [if that] of, Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to him Kuhn's book is the most cited book of the 20th century, and yet was nothing more than b***s*** postmodernism propaganda. I will say, that if his quotes and his summaries are accurate then he is correct and I am glad that I did not finish the book- although it does make me curious to look into it more.

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