About the book

The Penultimate Curiosity: How science swims in the slipstream of the ultimate question

is a book jointly written by the poet and artist Roger Wagner and the scientist Andrew Briggs, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

It came out in paperback in 2019, and has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese. It won both the Arete Prize and an honourable mention in the 2019 Expanded Reason Awards.

The advance review in the Financial Times said that ‘this gripping work of history … deserves to be read on both sides of the science art divide’; the British Journal of the History of Science described it as ‘an exiting display of erudition, packed with thought-provoking anecdotes and clear explanations of major scientific, religious and philosophical concepts’; while Oxford Today recommended ‘if you read one book this year read this’.


From the cover of the book:

‘When young children begin to ask ‘why?’ they embark on a journey with no final destination. The need to make sense of the world as a whole is an ultimate curiosity at the root of all human religions. It has, in many cultures, shaped and motivated a more down to earth scientific interest in the physical world, which could therefore be described as penultimate curiosity.

These two manifestations of curiosity have a history of connection going deep into the human past. Tracing that history all the way from cave paintings to quantum physics, this book (a collaboration between and an artist and a scientist) sets out to explain the nature of the long entanglement between religion and science: the ultimate and the penultimate curiosity.’

About the Documentary film

For full documentary film and study guide click here.

Human Flourishing: Scientific insight and spiritual wisdom in uncertain times, by Andrew Briggs & Michael Reiss

‘A careful and thoughtful provocation’ (Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury)

‘A hopeful guide to meaningful lives’ (Sir Paul Collier, Blavatnik School of Government)

Ambitiously placed at the intersection of scientific insights and spiritual wisdom, Human Flourishing prompts us to reflect on what constitutes a good life and the choices that can help achieve it.

For thousands of years, humans have asked ‘Why we are here?’ and ‘What makes for a good life?’ At different times, different answers have held sway. Nowadays, there are more answers proposed than ever. Much of humanity still finds the ultimate answers to such questions in religion. But in countries across the globe, secular views are widely held. In any event, whether religious or secular, individuals, communities and governments still have to make decisions about what people get from life.

This book therefore examines what is meant by human flourishing and see what it has to offer for those seeking after truth, meaning and purpose. This is a book written for anyone who wants a future for themselves, their children, and their fellow humans – a future that enables flourishing, pays due consideration to issues of truth and helps us find meaning and purpose in our lives.

At a time when most of us are bombarded with messages about what we should or should not do to live healthily, attain a work-life balance and find meaning, a careful consideration of the contributions of both scientific insight and spiritual wisdom provides a new angle. This is therefore a book that not only helps readers clarify their views and see things afresh but also help them improve their own well-being in an age of AI and other new technologies.

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