Books That Inspire 2006


 
Science and the Modern World
Alfred North Whitehead


A little bell rang in Gertrude Stein’s head when she met Alfred North Whitehead, telling her that he was a genius. I never met Whitehead; and even if I had, I was not equipped with a tintinabulous genius-detector. I first discovered his genius by reading Science and the Modern World (SMW) as an undergraduate. I eventually read all of his books and wrote a dissertation about his philosophy, but SMW has always had a special place in my affection. It wonderfully demonstrates the range and depth of Whitehead’s intelligence, learning, and originality. He understood the mathematical side of modern physics as well as anyone on the planet, but he argued persuasively that Plato, Aristotle, and Wordsworth (to mention only three of many possible examples) open the world to us no less certainly and deeply than Newton and Einstein. As a distinguished professional mathematician for forty years, Whitehead was exactly the right person to warn us against confusing the abstract with the concrete--the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, he called it--and to provide instructive examples of the fallacy from the history of science and philosophy.
contributor_image
Kenneth Merrill
Professor
Philosophy- retired