The Rules of the Game

I’ve just finished reading John Gribbin’s Science: A History, which is by all accounts a very well-written and interesting book. Gribbin could have probably done with making some of his sentences a little shorter and more readable, but other than that it’s an excellent review of science and the people who discovered it, starting from five hundred years ago. I’m pleased to say that the book finally made me understand why electrons behave the way they do around atoms, by use of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Gribbin finishes the book off with an inspiring and tantalising passage of what we have accomplished, and what is still yet to come:

But do these discoveries mean, as some have suggested, that science is about to come to an end? Now that we know how life and the Universe work, is there anything left except to fill in the details? I believe that there is. Even filling in the details will be a long job, but science itself is now undergoing a qualitative change. The analogy I have used before, but which I cannot improve upon, is with the game of chess. A small child can learn the rules of the game – even the complicated rules like the knight’s move. but that does not make the child a grandmaster, and even the greatest grandmaster who ever lived would not claim to know everything there is to know about the game of chess. Four and a half centuries after the publication of De Revolutionibus, we are in the situation of that small child who has just learned the rules of the game. We are just beginning to make our first attempts to play the game, with developments such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Who knows what the next five centuries, let along the next five millennia, might bring.

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