Bedeviled: A Shadow History of Demons in Science (Hardcover)

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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 Ren 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.

About the Author

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

Product Details
ISBN: 9780691175324
ISBN-10: 0691175322
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
Pages: 416
Language: English