Horgan, John 1953-
HORGAN, John 1953-
PERSONAL: Born June 23, 1953, in New York, NY; son of John, Jr. (in business) and Joan (Timmerman) Horgan; married Suzie Gilbert; children: Macneil, Skye. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1982, M.S., 1983.
CAREER: IEEE Spectrum, New York, NY, associate editor, 1983-86; Scientific American, New York, NY, senior writer, 1986-97; freelance writer, 1997—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Journalism awards, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992, 1994; Science in Society Award, National Association of Science Writers, 1993.
The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, Addison-Wesley (New York, NY), 1996.
The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border between Science and Spirituality, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Slate, London Times, Times Literary Supplement and others. Horgan's works have been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Dutch, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.
SIDELIGHTS: Former Scientific American writer John Horgan has written three books, including The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age and The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation, which are critical of the viability and research methods of contemporary science.
In The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age Horgan claims that all the great scientific discoveries have already been made and that the idea of science as a quest for knowledge about the universe is dead. He argues, too, that one reason for the decline of science is a kind of intellectual intimidation, the perceived inability of contemporary scientists to ever equal the achievements of the great scientists of the past. "The greatest barrier to future progress in pure science is its past success," according to Horgan. In the book's final section, he interviews a number of prominent scientists, some of whom hold similar opinions about the future possibilities and prospects of science.
Some critics disagreed with Horgan's argument that science has come to an end. In BioScience, Walter G. Rosen commented: "Horgan's case—that all the big discoveries have been made—is more than a little contrived, both in the people he chose to pursue it with, and sometimes in the shaping of his questions and commentary." Jeffrey Kluger in Time, while calling The End of Science a "gracefully written book" and admitting that Horgan's "points are well made," nevertheless found that, contrary to Horgan's claim, the real benefits of science usually come from those scientists who develop the theories of the great pioneers who came before them. "For all we owe the scientific giants," Kluger wrote, "science has never been about simply hammering stakes around your exploratory frontiers. Science is about settling the territory you've claimed."
But Tom Wilkie in the New Statesman praised Horgan's writing: "I wish I could write like John Horgan. . . . The prose portraits of science's great and good collected together in this book are a joy to read." Rosen, too, found much to praise: "Horgan's narrative is engaging, and his sketches of his interviewees . . . are vivid and skillful." Paul R. Gross concluded in the Wilson Quarterly: "For anyone interested in the far frontiers of basic science and philosophy of science, not to mention the peculiar people who excel at such work, this book will prove absorbing."
Speaking to Time magazine, Horgan commented: "My argument is that science in its grandest sense—the attempt to comprehend the universe and our place in it—has entered an era of diminishing returns. Scientists will continue making incremental advances, but they will never achieve their most ambitious goals, such as understanding the origin of the universe, of life and of human consciousness. Most people find this prediction hard to believe, because scientists and journalists breathlessly hype each new breakthrough, whether genuine or spurious, and ignore all the areas in which science makes little or no progress. The human mind, in particular, remains as mysterious as ever."
Horgan developed his idea in The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation. In this book, Horgan examines the mind sciences and concludes that, despite the many approaches used to explain the workings of the human mind, scientists are no closer to understanding it than ever before. John F. Haught warned in Commonweal that "The Undiscovered Mind hardly sparkles with optimism. Its general mood is melancholic rather than hopeful. . . . For Horgan, 'the undiscovered mind' is not an exhilarating doorway to infinite mystery, as it has been for the truly great philosophers of the past. Rather it is just one more dead end, perhaps even a final defeat, for human inquiry." While noting the pessimistic tone of Horgan's book, Ann Finkbeiner stated in the Wilson Quarterly: "Horgan's writing is vivid, intelligent without being jargony, and personal without being condescending. The amount of research he has done on the mind sciences—which barely communicate with one another—is impressive." "Written in a style that will engage the general reader," Laurie Bartolini concluded in Library Journal, "this book will undoubtedly raise the hackles of the scientific community and provoke some very interesting dialog." A Publishers Weekly reviewer found The Undiscovered Mind to be an "extraordinarily provocative and wide-ranging treatise. . . . During his rollicking stroll though the varied creeds that compose the terrain of consciousness studies, Horgan both educates and entertains."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Horgan, John The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, Addison-Wesley (New York, NY), 1996.
BioScience, March, 1997, Walter G. Rosen, review of The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, p. 183.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November-December, 1996, Stanley Goldberg, review of The End of Science, p. 60.
Commonweal, March 24, 2000, John F. Haught, "Can We Understand Understanding?," p. 22.
Economist, July 20, 1996, review of The End of Science, p. S11.
Educational Leadership, November, 1996, John Eggebrecht, review of The End of Science, p. 98.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Laurie Bartolini, review of The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation, p. 101; February 15, 2003, H. James Birx, review of Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border between Science and Spirituality, p. 166.
New Statesman, May 23, 1997, Tom Wilkie, review of The End of Science, p. 45.
Newsweek, June 17, 1996, Sharon Begley, review of The End of Science, p. 80.
Publishers Weekly, April 22, 1996, review of The End of Science, p. 55; August 18, 1997, Judy Quinn, "Freud and Fauna," p. 22; August 2, 1999, review of The Undiscovered Mind, p. 63; December 23, 2002, review of Rational Mysticism, p. 58.
Science News, April 19, 2003, review of Rational Mysticism, p. 255.
Skeptical Inquirer, March-April, 2003, Kendrick Frazier, Benjamin Radford, review of Rational Mysticism, p. 62.
Smithsonian, May, 1997, Paul Trachtman, review of The End of Science, p. 128.
Time, September 9, 1996, Jeffrey Kluger, review of The End of Science, p. 56; April 10, 2000, "Will There Be Anything Left to Discover?," p. 110.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1996, Paul R. Gross, review of The End of Science, p. 98; winter, 2000, Ann Finkbeiner, review of The Undiscovered Mind, p. 123.
John Horgan Home Page,http://www.johnhorgan.com (December 31, 2003).