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For our April Philosophy in the Library, a talk on the usefulness of the irrational in science, with NYU’s Michael Strevens.

Modern science has done extraordinary things: creating covid vaccines, sending humans to the moon, finding the ultimate nature of gravity. What makes it so powerful—and so different from the attempts to understand nature made by the philosophers and monks of old? 

Surveying the history of science from Aristotle to Einstein, from Darwin’s finches to the theory of quarks, Michael Strevens argues that much of science’s power derives from an epistemic limitation that can only be understood as irrational. The paradigmatic scientist is a paradigmatic reasoner in many ways. But in at least one way, their perfection as a scientist lies in the deliberate cultivation of a gaping intellectual blind spot.

Michael Strevens writes about science, understanding, complexity, and the nature of thought, and teaches philosophy at New York University. His most recent book, The Knowledge Machine (Liveright, 2020), sets out to explain how science works so well and why it took so long to get it right.

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