Non-Fiction Reviews

What Remains to be Discovered

(1998) John Maddox, Macmillan, £20, hrdbk, pp434, ISBN 0-333-65008-5

My reactions to this book have gone through three phases: when I initially bought it, I thought it was an exciting concept: to summarise the findings of modern science and to point the way to the likely future from the straws in the wind. It also seemed that Maddox was the ideal man for the job, as someone with a probably unparallelled overview of the fields involved.

Unfortunately this reaction was soon superseded by one of disappointment: Maddox knows his science well enough, but he spends far too much space setting the scene in each field, and not enough in the kind of hereís what seems likely speculation that I bought the book for. This may have been inevitable - Maddox has after all to get his readers to a point at which they understand the possibilities inherent in the current position in, say, quantum chromodynamics. It is no mean feat to have set out these abstruse topics in a way that is comprehensible to the lay person, but however well Maddox has done that, it is not what it says on the tin: the book is not called What has already been Discovered.

These failures are particularly noticeable where the need for bold speculation is greatest: in cognitive science for instance, Maddox moreorless gives up in the face of the conflicting views, whereas this is precisely where I wanted him to give a view based on what seems likely to happen next. Some parts of the book are not really useful even at this level: the section on mathematics and computation is extremely pedestrian, and even contains a factual error glaring enough to be picked up by my recollections of my degree level mathematics.

My current feeling is that, although interesting in parts, this book was fundamentally misconceived: Bertrand Russell, in his introduction to The History of Western Philosophy says that, since he cannot possibly be the greatest expert in all parts and eras of philosophy, some of his sterner colleagues will say that he should never have written the book in the first place. What was false of that book is true of this one: I donít now believe it is possible to speculate authoritatively about a field of science without being actively involved in it. Maddox has failed to meet an impossible challenge. No one person could have written this book the way it should have been done.

Matt Freestone

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