The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

During the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution, a small handful of radical thinkers, among them Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, hit upon a way of investigating the mysteries of the natural world – the motions of the planets, the behavior of gases, the inner springs of the human body – that would come to reveal the underlying principles that govern matter and mind. The Knowledge Machine asks what these thinkers, the first modern scientists, did differently, and why their innovations came so late in the course of human history. Challenging our conventional regard for science as a paragon of logic, The Knowledge Machine demonstrates that the invention of modern science required not more but less rationality. By willfully ignoring religion, aesthetic beauty, and especially philosophy, scientists embraced an unreasonably narrow method of inquiry, whose very narrowness channeled unprecedented energy into observation and experiment. The same force has driven the success of science ever since.

To be published by Liveright in October 2020