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Promoting the Planck Club: How Defiant Youth, Irreverent Researchers and Liberated Universities Can Foster Prosperity Indefinitely by Donald Braben

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5

Oswald T. Avery: A Modest Diminutive Introverted Scientific Heavyweight

It is probably impossible to unknow something. One can forget, but that is often only a temporary phase. One can be ordered to disregard as when, say, evidence given in a court of law is deemed inadmissible; but it has been heard, and any intended benefit or damage has probably already been achieved. It is therefore difficult to imagine today the state of understanding that prevailed in the 1920s when Avery first embarked on his career as an independent researcher, and it is difficult to put aside what we know of the vast compendium of subsequent discoveries and developments. As outlined in Chapter 3, advances in physics during the first few decades had been little short of miraculous; and we had moved from “classical” theories, which in principle allow systems to be determined with arbitrary accuracy and precision, to a world dominated by probabilities and uncertainty. This was not the terrifying uncertainty that humanity had always had to cope with throughout its existence, but an uncertainty arising from intrinsic and unchanging properties of the universe that place strict and fundamental bounds on the accuracy to which measurements can be made and on the knowledge that can be deduced from them. Atomic theory—that is, the revolutionary idea that atoms were real and tangible objects, albeit very small, and not just theoretical constructs to help with analysis—had finally been accepted. We had taken the ...

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