Cover image for The sun, the genome & the Internet : tools of scientific revolutions
The sun, the genome & the Internet : tools of scientific revolutions
Dyson, Freeman J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York Public Library : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 124 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1200 Lexile.
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QC20 .D98 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this visionary look into the future, Freeman Dyson argues that technological changes fundamentally alter our ethical and social arrangements and that three rapidly advancing new technologies--solar energy, genetic engineering, and world-wide communication--together have the potential tocreate a more equal distribution of the world's wealth. Dyson begins by rejecting the idea that scientific revolutions are primarily concept driven. He shows rather that new tools are more often the sparks that ignite scientific discovery. Such tool-driven revolutions have profound social consequences--the invention of the telescope turning theMedieval world view upside down, the widespread use of household appliances in the 1950s replacing servants, to cite just two examples. In looking ahead, Dyson suggests that solar energy, genetics, and the Internet will have similarly transformative effects, with the potential to produce a more justand equitable society. Solar power could bring electricity to even the poorest, most remote areas of third world nations, allowing everyone access to the vast stores of information on the Internet and effectively ending the cultural isolation of the poorest countries. Similarly, breakthroughs ingenetics may well enable us to give our children healthier lives and grow more efficient crops, thus restoring the economic and human vitality of village cultures devalued and dislocated by the global market. Written with passionate conviction about the ethical uses of science, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet is both a brilliant reinterpretation of the scientific process and a challenge to use new technologies to close, rather than widen, the gap between rich and poor.

Author Notes

Freeman Dyson is Professor Emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. He is the author of Disturbing the Universe, Infinite in All Directions, Weapons and Hope, and many other books. He is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and The PhiBeta Kappa Award in science, among many other honors. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Three lectures presenting scientific predictions for the next century form this book by famed physicist Dyson. But accuracy he intends not--a look into Jules Verne's and H. G. Wells' errant clairvoyance at the close of the last century convinced him of the attempt's futility. Rather, Dyson sweeps his arm toward vistas of scientific development that could push civilization toward, he hopes, social justice. Fortunately he doesn't define that vague concept, except to express belief in a solar-powered, satellite-linked, globalized Internet's ability to promote it, making "every Mexican village as wealthy as Princeton." Having thrown that morsel to socialists, Dyson revs up techno-philes with observations ranging from the down-to-earth (inventions to accelerate and simplify genetic sequencing) to the far-out (settlement of the Kuiper Belt). Without prescribing the realization of such things, Dyson strategizes on essential preconditions (for solar system colonization--a radical reduction in launch costs) or inevitable consequences (in human genetic engineering--the probability of unequally distributed benefits). A wide-ranging, fascinating view of science and society's distant horizon. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0195129423Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although the title implies discrete concepts, this book from the professor emeritus of physics at Princeton finds a common thread among themÄthat developments in our use of each of these elements can be employed, separately and together, to create a more just society. Dyson, who bases this slim volume on a series of lectures he gave at the New York Public Library in 1997, argues that, if properly deployed, solar power can introduce cheap electricity to poor villages, the genome can be used to synthesize life-sustaining plants and the Net can provide jobs to people with no access to cities. After laying out these somewhat conventional arguments, Dyson takes an unusual turn by asserting how genetic engineering in plants and non-chemical-based rocket technology can enhance the space program, which he feels suffers as a result of political considerations. For our long-term benefit, he says, the U.S. government should be plotting voyages of great distance to pave the way for human life in space, instead of launching short-term manned missions that often ignore the prospects of space colonization. In attempting to write both a broad work of futurism and a deep social critique, Dyson offers an appetizing perspective, but many readers will find themselves eager for more than is given in this all too brief, albeit tantalizing, book. (Apr) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Physicist and futurist Dyson (Imagined Worlds, LJ 4/15/97) speculates on what technologies (currently in their infancy) have the potential to become world-transforming in the near future. These include solar energy to provide renewable, sustainable energy to even the remotest parts of the earth; genetic engineering to turn plants into biofactories; and the Internet as a medium of coordinating geographically and culturally distributed scientific endeavors. Dyson's ideas are unabashedly utopian, envisioning such far-fetched schemes as genetically engineered trees that grow their own self-protecting greenhouses and pave the way for interplanetary colonization. Yet he delivers ideas both philosophical and technological in terms any lay reader can understand. This slim volume grew out of a series of lectures at the New York Public Library, a format that has served Dyson well in the past. Recommended for public and academic libraries.‘Wade Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. vii
1 Scientific Revolutionsp. 3
2 Technology & Social Justicep. 47
3 The High Roadp. 75
Epiloguep. 115
Referencesp. 119
A Note on the Typep. 125