The Borderlands of Science
by Michael Shermer
Published in November 2002
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The Borderlands of Science is a good book written by Mike Shermer, an author I respect, and have followed for many years. While it contains many great gems, I found that many sections of the book were long and irrelevant to the central thesis.
The central theme of the book explores the legitimate fringe sciences, and discusses the ways that fringe non-science practices (like hypnosis) eventually become mainstream science.
I particularly liked the initial chapters describing the author’s experiences with remote viewing, hypnosis, and other borderlands phenomenon. Later chapters, about the history and biography of various scientists, also were interesting. There is a great chapter about Alfred Wallace, a scientist who helped Darwin discover the theory of evolution but nonetheless had many “quacky” superstitious ideas about spiritualism.
I found that many parts of the books steered off topic. In particular, the last few chapters go into the “Mozart Myth of Genius” which describes ideas as being spontaneously generated as opposed to slowly and socially formed. I disliked the chapters about the Darwin-Wallace debate over who got credit over the theory of the evolution. These chapters were very long and I didn’t see how they were connected to the central thesis.
This book would have been great if shortened to simply include the relevant passages, and the irrelevant details in the later chapters had been omitted. Nevertheless, it was a good read, and gave me much food for thought.
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