Another book

I was thinking a bit about whether I should post this in Danish or English, as it’s a comment on a book in Danish. In the end I figured that I wouldn’t write very much about it anyway and I didn’t want the non-Danes to feel excluded, so I decided to post in English.

The book is Ergo – Naturvidenskabens filosofiske historie,  and I do not recommend it – certainly not to people remotely like me – even though I haven’t read it to the end yet (though I did read the first 300 pages yesterday). It doesn’t contain a lot of stuff I didn’t already know, there’s a lot of unclear waffling along the way and frankly, I just don’t find that the optimal working assumption when reading this is even that the authors understand/are right about all the stuff they write about. I guess it’s okay if you want a book that covers a lot of names/concepts which you can then start reading about other places. But how can you take very seriously a book about natural science and philosophy written by people who don’t know how old the Earth is? Maybe you can; I can’t. I consider it light reading, entertainment, even though I’m very certain it wasn’t meant to be read as such. Perceived in this light, it’s not that bad but I refuse to recommend it:

“Hvis man forestillede sig, at hele jordklodens masse siden dens dannelse for 3,8 milliarder år siden var blevet brugt…” (‘if one imagined that the entire mass of the Earth since its formation 3.8 billion years ago had been used…’).

The difference between this given age of the Earth and the true age of the Earth (4.54 × 109 years ± 1%) is 740 million years. Take a look here and see what happens if you shave away the last 700+ million years of the history of the Earth – this is how wrong that sentence is. It’s more than 3 galactic years wrong. Maybe they meant something differently, but that’s not really a defence – the language in the book is sometimes unclear, in part because they use terms without defining them first. A lot of places it lacks clarity. There are other issues as well. I’m disappointed, but I’ll probably read it to the end anyway. If it was written in English I wouldn’t, but it seems that it takes almost no time to read stuff like this in Danish when you’re not actively studying.

Update: I’ve completed the book. Nothing I read in the last 120 pages has made me reconsider. If anything, I think less of the book than I did before. Don’t read this.

June 14, 2012 - Posted by | books


  1. I was curious about their number and their thinking when they wrote it. So I googled the number “3.8 billion years”. Here are a few candidates:
    “The basic timeline of a 4.6 billion year old Earth, with approximate dates: 3.8 billion years of simple cells (prokaryotes),; 3.4 billion years of stromatolites …”
    “It began with the formation of the Earth about 4.5 Ga (billion years ago) and ended roughly 3.8 Ga, though the latter date varies according to different sources.”

    I suspect they meant one of those.

    Comment by Emil | June 17, 2012 | Reply

    • I assumed that as well. The problem is that the context of the quote was a discussion of Bremermann’s limit. Why (‘on Earth,’ I’m tempted to add…) would one use an ‘Earth age’ related to the history of life on Earth rather than, you know, the age of Earth itself if you’re discussing Bremermann’s limit? I don’t think it makes sense, and I think the reason why the number was 3.8 rather than 4.54 was that somebody was too lazy to look it up.

      Some of the stuff they wrote on game theory later on almost made me cry, and it certainly made it clear to me that they had no clue what they were talking about.

      The book is a mess.

      Comment by US | June 17, 2012 | Reply

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