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Weidhorn (English/Yeshiva University) conducts a survey of the state of knowledge in some non-scientific disciplines and reveals widespread uncertainty behind the mask of quotidian certitude.

The author radiates infectious, provocative fun as he makes the case for skepticism. He skirts applied science–explaining that he lacks any depth of familiarity in that arena (though the Scientific Revolution looms large here)–but rambunctiously engages “government propaganda and secrecy, corporate advertising and cheating, Pharisaic religiosity in the public square, sectarian rhetoric, partisan talking points, stockbrokers’ dubious recommendations, misuse of medicines and pharmaceutics, lawyerly sophistry”–all the suffocating lint of daily life. Given our imperfection and ignorance, he asks, how can we be absolutely sure about anything? In the absence of definitive evidence, aren’t statements about reality only theories? Weidhorn is a believer in suspending belief and disbelief, exercising doubt, living and letting live, neither expecting nor pining for resolution–but always thinking hard and openly. Skepticism is not the truth; it is merely less untenable than other philosophies purveying absolute truths. He presents a persuasive argument for “both/and” instead of “either/or.” He finds the metaphysical bases for egalitarianism and democracy in the scientific method and plays it off against the hierarchical structure of institutional religion. He states the more and less savory perspectives of conservatives and liberals, ponders benighted and enlightened selfishness, the uses and misuses of violence, the elusiveness of certainty in literature, the benefits (or not) of wine. Most readers will find argument with Weidhorn at some point–over the impossibility of socialism, perhaps, or whether “a person holding a completely singular idea, without a living or dead soulmate, is either insane or desperately insecure”–but the author offers a lively, thought-provoking journey.

An old-fashioned intellectual search for truth, “unwilling to settle for rumors, unexamined assumptions, urban myths, folk tales and tall tales, wish-fulfillment, flattery of self or tribe, propaganda, and just plain misunderstanding.”

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-595-40950-4
Program: Kirkus Indie
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