The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes

Panek, Richard
ISBN:
9780670030743

The Invisible Century is an original look at two of the most important revolutions--and revolutionaries--of the modern era. This dual biography of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud-- and their parallel journeys of discovery that altered forever our understanding of the very nature of reality. Einstein and Freud were the foremost figures in search of the next level of scientific knowledge--evidence we can't see. Here on the frontier of the invisible, their investigations reached unprecedented realms--relativity and the unconscious--and spawned the creation of two new sciences, cosmology and psychoanalysis. Together they have allowed us for more than a hundred years to explore previously unimaginable universes without and within. Editorial Reviews David Gelernter [Panek's] innovation is a striking thesis about ''invisibility": Einstein and Freud did not revolutionize intellectual history by interpreting evidence as good scientists are supposed to. To start, they barely glanced at the evidence. They discovered their astonishing new truths by running thought experiments and introspecting ... The Invisible Century is illuminating to read and fun to shout at. -- The New York Times Publishers Weekly Veteran science writer Panek's pairing of the dual icons Einstein and Freud, whose labors were in widely disparate fields, is both natural and inspired. He uses his formidable writing skills to illuminate two of the 20th century's most notable accomplishments, the theory of general relativity and the discovery of the unconscious, weaving them into an informative and interesting history of the scientific method. Panek's explanation of Einstein's theory of relativity is excellent, and readers will with pleasure understand this counterintuitive concept. He is equally good at describing how Freud developed his theory of the unconscious. Panek also describes how the two rejected the 19th-century scientific paradigm, which held that the more accurate measurement of physical aspects of the universe would unravel its secrets. As Panek (Seeing and Believing) states, "...Einstein and Freud wound up venturing where their contemporaries did not because at a certain point, they didn't investigate. They thought. They reconceived the problem." Besides providing valuable biographical detail about both Freud and Einstein, Panek demonstrates a wide-ranging knowledge of the development of scientific thought and philosophy, as well as the major developments in both cosmology and the study of human anatomy. There is a remarkable amount of information in this short book, and Panek's valuable thesis-that the triumph of 20th-century science was the discovery of the invisible workings of the universe and ourselves-is well made. Agent, Henry Dunow. (On sale June 21) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. Library Journal Two of the most bankable subjects in popular science writing are Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Although a tome examining ostensibly new aspects of one or the other is published every couple of years, this book may be the first to have both names in the title. Panek, who writes about science for the New York Times and Natural History magazine, examines Einstein's and Freud's careers to show that many of their era's epochal insights required a leap of faith beyond what could be demonstrated through empirical experimentation. Panek is best at discussing the many ways the search for the unseen manifested itself. Did Einstein and Freud embrace and advance this idea? Certainly. But Panek might just as well have focused on, say, Marie Curie and Carl Jung to make the same point, albeit with the loss of some celebrity-name recognition. Finally, the text would have profited from some editing; the chapters are long, continuous narratives, and some pacing and segmentation would have helped. Optional for public and undergraduate libraries.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. Kirkus Reviews A century ago, Einstein and Freud revolutionized science-largely, argues science writer Panek, by looking for hidden causes behind the surface of their respective disciplines. From the Renaissance through the 19th century, the author notes, the course of scientific advancement could be traced in terms of better instruments supplying new data. Galileo used the telescope to see new planets, Leeuwenhoek made similar use of the microscope to find unknown forms of life, and upon their observations, others like Newton and Darwin built new theoretical edifices. Panek (Seeing and Believing, 1998, etc.) portrays both Einstein and Freud as originally accepting the positivist dogma that direct observation, not speculative reasoning, was the hallmark of real science. But late-19th-century science was confronted by phenomena such as X-rays that could not be observed directly; no fine-tuning of earlier theory could accommodate them. Freud and Einstein were forced to postulate new entities, the unconscious mind and the curvature of space-time. While both men expected experimental results to validate their hypotheses and stood ready to revise their theories in the face of contradictory evidence, Panek credits their imaginative leaps beyond hard data with the creation of a new paradigm of how science works. A long final chapter asks how psychoanalysis fits the positivist model of science. To the argument that no experimental result can disprove Freud's theory of the mind, the author makes a slightly dodgy response: psychology remains an infant science, he contends; modern cosmology grew from equally speculative beginnings, and Freud made every attempt to tie his theories to specific case studies. Attimes, Panek seems determined to force the two men's careers into identical patterns, citing minor similarities as if they were proof of deep connections. Even so, the light he sheds on the historical context of their discoveries makes for fascinating reading.

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