Basic Books in Science
Science as a Creative Adventure of the Mind
A Program for Science Teaching on the Internet
The Series "Basic Books in Science" is aimed at anyone, anywhere in the world, who wants to know about Science and the way it works and is prepared to start from nothing and work hard. All the books in the Series are being written by practising scientists and teachers who believe education is a basic human right that should be made freely available to everyone -- irrespective of race, colour, or creed.
Basic Books in Science are available from
The Pari Center for New Learning (Director Dr F. David Peat)
The Learning Development Institute (President Dr Jan Visser)
at <http://www.learndev.org> (Homepage entry `For the Love of Science';
or, in Spanish, `Por l'Amor a` la Sciencia').
The books may be downloaded free of charge from either site.
BASIC BOOKS IN SCIENCE
A Presentation of the Series
At the root of all human progress is education: the elimination of ignorance, superstition and prejudice; and the promotion of understanding and awareness, both of others, and their needs, and of the world around us.
Learning about Science and its methodology is of key importance. For Science, along with all that has grown out of it (present-day medicine, technology, industry and all the rest), has changed the lives of all of us within the last century and continues to do so.
Yet, in many parts of the world, Science Education is in crisis. In the Developing Nations this is no doubt due to a severe shortage both of material facilities (schools, laboratories, equipment) and of well qualified science teachers. But even the `scientifically advanced' societies are not without their problems: in the UK, for example, there seems to be a widespread disenchantment with science. The `hard sciences', such as Physics and Chemistry, which depend heavily on Mathematics, have been hardest hit as more and more students turn towards disciplines that depend mainly on verbal expression, virtually excluding mathematical argument.
One reason is surely that the symbolic languages used so widely these days in science are not learnt at an early age, as more conventional languages are. But a more important reason is probably the public image of Science, which is no longer seen, by many, as a creative and cultural activity -- but rather as the product of dull and tedious experimentation in the laboratory and the assimilation of an endless succession of disconnected facts. In short, as an activity quite remote from other -- more `human' -- pursuits.
In a world where the progress of humanity is increasingly dependent on the peaceful exploitation of science, this situation is no longer acceptable. We should try to bring an understanding of science and its symbolism within the reach of everybody. That is a primary aim of ``Basic Books in Science''. Without such an understanding, and a critical appreciation of what science can do, members of society are unable to play a part in shaping their destinies -- destinies that will depend increasingly on the progress of science and our awareness of where it is taking us.
Each book is a small `module' of Science, typically containing around 150 pages on a compact and well defined theme: the themes are in general trans-disciplinary, cutting across traditional boundaries, but are chosen to ensure maximum coherence within the Series. And each starts `from the very beginning', assuming no previous knowledge of the area it covers, so as to be accessible to anyone who wants to know about that area and is prepared to start from nothing and work hard.
Readers will usually be of pre-university age (14-19 years, say), but may also be adults whose knowledge of science is either completely lacking or long-forgotten. In anticipation of the fact that many will not be native English speakers, efforts have been made to keep linguistic requirements to a minimum. (Translations are envisaged and the first few books are already appearing in both English and Spanish.) The books are uploaded to the Web as soon as they are written and are subject to constant updating in the light of comment and criticism from users.
The scope and structure of the Series will be clear from the titles (some still provisional) of the first ten Basic Books. Note that those with active links are now complete. The others are still being written.
A Basic Books in a format suitable for Screen viewing:
Book 6. The planet we live on -- the beginnings of the
Earth Sciences (Note this is a large 16.8 Mb file)
Book 7. Structures and stresses -- towards the Engineering Sciences
Book 8. Living things, from one cell to many -- a preview of the Life Sciences
Book 9. The evolution of living creatures -- who were our ancestors?
B. Basic Books in a form suitable for printing and binding
Besides being `thematic', the treatment is innovative, not following the traditional pattern with its emphasis on Science as a predominantly experimental discipline. It can be argued instead that the required `input' from the laboratory is often very small and that many hours of practical work, using costly equipment, are not essential to gaining an understanding of science and scientific method. A first aim of the Series is to show that large parts of Mathematics and Physics (dreaded by so many newcomers to Science) can be built up from nothing more than first notions about counting and measuring, together with a few very primitive observations, such as Galileo's experiments with falling bodies. The rest is very largely "a creative adventure of the mind" , in which more and more is discovered just by thinking about what we know already. An overall aim is to expose the essential unity of Science.
Even though Science has its roots in observation and experiment (and the validity of any theory rests on the agreement of its predictions with observed `reality') we have chosen to stress the theoretical aspect of so much of Science because we find it appealing, beautiful and exciting and hope to share that excitement with others.
Pisa, 1 August 2007
Roy McWeeny, Series Editor
Professore Emerito di Chimica Teorica
Universita` di Pisa, Pisa (Italy)