Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation

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9780198539285: Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation

In books such as The World Within the World and The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, astronomer John Barrow has emerged as a leading writer on our efforts to understand the universe. Timothy Ferris, writing in The Times Literary Supplement of London, described him as "a temperate and accomplished humanist, scientist, and philosopher of science--a man out to make a contribution, not a show." Now Barrow offers the general reader another fascinating look at modern physics, as he explores the quest for a single, unifying theory that will unlock nature's secrets.
Theories of Everything is more than a history of science, more than a popular report on recent research and discoveries. Barrow provides a reflective, intelligent commentary on what a true Theory of Everything would be--its ingredients, its limitations, and what it could tell us about the universe. Never before, he writes, have physicists been so confident and so eager in the hunt for this "cosmic Rosetta Stone," as he calls it: "a single all-embracing picture of all the laws of nature from which the inevitability of all things seen must follow with unimpeachable logic." He lays out eight essential ingredients for a Theory of Everything and then explores each in turn, tracing how our knowledge has developed and how scientific discovery relates to our changing philosophy and religious thought in each area. Some of these ingredients are obvious--the laws of nature must be explained, for example, as well as its organizing principles--but others may be surprising, such as broken symmetries and selection biases. A Theory of Everything must account for the fact that the universe is "messy and complicated," he tells us, and for the limitations imposed by the questions we ask and the information we can obtain. The key lies in the remarkable capacity of mathematics to express the fundamental workings of the physical world--a language that the human mind is uniquely equipped to understand and manipulate. Barrow examines what mathematics actually is and describes how it makes the universe intelligible and provides a path to the underlying coherence in nature--which has led, in fact, to arguments that the universe itself is a vast computer. Yet even the most complete theory, even the most comprehensive mathematical explanation, cannot account for the uncomputable varieties of human experience and thought. "No non-poetic account of reality," he writes, "can be complete."
In a field where the authorities converse in equations and mathematical notations, John Barrow speaks with the voice of thoughtful and knowledgeable humanist. Written with eloquence and expertise, Theories of Everything establishes a new perspective on humanity's efforts to explain the universe.

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From the Back Cover :

"A treasure of learning and insight...A fine analysis of the evolution of mathematical thought; indeed, the implicit role that mathematics has played in cosmology is a recurrent, finely drawn theme that adds considerably to the book's scholarly luster....Marvelous." The Kirkus Reviews

"An encyclopedia of current concerns in the philosophy of science, a clean cut through a thick birthday cake of ideas, the sort of book that an archeologist in the distant future would be delighted to have unearthed...An educational wonder." Times Literary Supplement

"[An] intellectual adventure...Encompasses the nature of time and current wrangling among physicists and mathematicians over whether the universe resembles a vast computer program, a kaleidoscopic pattern or neither."

Publishers Weekly

"Offers intelligent and informed insights into many aspects of science's efforts to understand everything."

Dallas Morning News

"Its scope is, appropriately, vast." Nature

From the Inside Flap :

The Holy Grail of modern scientists is the "Theory of Everything," which will contain all that can be known about the Universe -- the magic formula that Einstein spent his life searching for and failed to find. In this elegant and exciting book, John Barrow challenges the quest for ultimate explanation.

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