Harry Collins


On his book Gravity’s Ghost: Scientific Discovery in the Twenty-first Century

Cover Interview of June 21, 2011


There are several different ways in which I would like the book to have influence.

I would like to create a new kind of science writing—to capture the excitement of science but without making up science fairy-tales.  Science is nearly always a messy and untidy business, not a matter of sudden heroic insight.  But this messy and untidy business is still exciting—it is fascinating to watch opinion forming through the interplay of argument and calculation.

Related to this point, I would like the book to lead to a better relationship between natural science and social science.

My own relations with the scientists who I have followed and interacted with for 45 years are very good.  Indeed, I have just been asked to give an after-dinner address to a major international meeting of the group.  But it would be nice if there were more relationships of this kind.

It is not only scientists’ suspicions that will have to cool, however.  Social scientists will have to become more genuinely interested in the science they study.  For me it is easy because I have always been fascinated by this field of physics.

Another kind of influence I would wish for the book is related to the others but it is more a matter of the general public.  I would like the public to understand both the difficulty and uncertainty of reaching scientific conclusions—but also the enormous skill and virtuosity that goes into them.

The trick is to understand that the best possible conclusion may not turn out to be the right conclusion in the very long term.  Only a seer can know the long term before it unfolds.  But science is still a much better way to try to work out what is true than anything else we have.

The final influence I would like for the book relates to the Envoi.  I would like it to become widely understand by both scientists and ordinary people that science contains a wonderful set of values at its heart.  If scientists do not understand this, then science could become just another arm of capitalism, politics, or the entertainment industry.  If ordinary people do not understand this, we might find ourselves back in a cultural condition we thought we have long escaped.

© 2011 Harry Collins