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This article is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

Newton's Sleep (2): The Eunuch at the Orgy Raymond Tallis

ACCORDING TO A recent survey (Malcom Dean, Lancet 1990; 336: 615-6) a third of the adults in this country believes that the sun goes round the earth. This is no isolated scotoma but part of that more general ignorance suffered quite painlessly by those whose education has somehow failed to awaken in them an appetite for the larger truths. As such it is not a matter for separate surprise. What is astonishing, however, is that ignorance of science is shared by others who, not without reason, think of themselves as well-educated and who take a lively and critical interest in wider issues and ideas. Although most readers of P·N·R will have caught up with Copernicus's daring heliocentric conjecture, it is a safe bet that few will be able to give any evidence for it.

This will not be a small gap in an otherwise extensive knowledge of modern scientific thought. On the contrary, it will be a part of a near-total darkness encompassing such matters as: the difference between the Special and the General Theory of Relativity; how a radio works; the mechanism of contraction of the muscles that make ordinary life possible; current thought about the nature of matter and the origin of the universe; and how the word processors upon which rejoinders to this essay may be typed actually function. Ignorance of the particular facts, general laws and underlying mechanisms revealed by science and exploited in technology will be rounded off by a lack of ...

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