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A Shadow History of Demons in Science

Jimena Canales



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Princeton University Pres
18 January 2021
How scientists through the ages have conducted thought experiments using imaginary entities - demons - to test the laws of nature and push the frontiers of what is possible.

Science may be known for banishing the demons of superstition from the modern world. Yet just as the demon-haunted world was being exorcized by the enlightening power of reason, a new kind of demon mischievously materialized in the scientific imagination itself. Scientists began to employ hypothetical beings to perform certain roles in thought experiments-experiments that can only be done in the imagination-and these impish assistants helped scientists achieve major breakthroughs that pushed forward the frontiers of science and technology.

Spanning four centuries of discovery-from Rene Descartes, whose demon could hijack sensorial reality, to James Clerk Maxwell, whose molecular-sized demon deftly broke the second law of thermodynamics, to Darwin, Einstein, Feynman, and beyond-Jimena Canales tells a shadow history of science and the demons that bedevil it. She reveals how the greatest scientific thinkers used demons to explore problems, test the limits of what is possible, and better understand nature. Their imaginary familiars helped unlock the secrets of entropy, heredity, relativity, quantum mechanics, and other scientific wonders-and continue to inspire breakthroughs in the realms of computer science, artificial intelligence, and economics today.

The world may no longer be haunted as it once was, but the demons of the scientific imagination are alive and well, continuing to play a vital role in scientists' efforts to explore the unknown and make the impossible real.
By:   Jimena Canales
Imprint:   Princeton University Pres
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 155mm, 
ISBN:   9780691175324
ISBN 10:   0691175322
Pages:   416
Publication Date:   18 January 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jimena Canales is a writer and faculty member of the Graduate College at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science at the University of Illinois and associate professor at Harvard University. She is the author of The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time (Princeton) and A Tenth of a Second. She lives in Boston. Twitter @_Jimena_Canales

Reviews for Bedeviled: A Shadow History of Demons in Science

In this fascinating and informative book Canales treats the reader to a rich feast of scientific demons, tracing their histories and relevance from atomic and molecular physics to computer science and biology, including a chapter on demons in the global economy. ---V. V. Raman, Choice At the very same time that science was said to be demystifying the world, Canales shows us, scientists were populating it all over again with the demonic. . . . [Canales] links her demonology to what she calls 'the audacity of our imagination,' our ability to imagine what does not yet exist or seems as if it cannot be real. ---Casey Cep, New Yorker Bedeviled admirably insists on recording the plain history of science. It just so happens that the history of that most rational of human endeavors reads at times like a Gothic tale, one replete with evil geniuses, time travelers and uncanny intelligences lurking in reality's obscure corners. ---Jess Keiser, Washington Post A brilliant, challenging overview of the myth-driven scientific endeavors that transform human understandings of the world. * Foreword Reviews * The workings of powerful computers, the processes of evolution, the market forces that drive the global economy. To conceptualize such unseen forces, researchers have long invoked thought experiments involving demons, devils, golems or genies . . . Canales has given us a glimpse into this haunted realm. ---Ramin Skibba, Nature Thought-provoking and highly readable . . . A welcome contribution to the philosophy of scientific discovery that deserves further scholarly attention. ---Jan G. Michel, Science

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