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Under another publisher this book is titled "What We Cannot Know". This speaks to the philosophizing at the end of the book, where Du Sautoy summarizes his thoughts on the "Seven Journeys" mentioned in the alternate title. This alternate title better reflects the broader character of the book - like a walk through a science museum, the reader is generally left to explore and make up his or her own mind as we encounter Du Sautoy's seven topics: Chaos, Matter, Quantum Physics, the Universe, Time, Consciousness, and Infinity.
This is where Du Sautoy shines - you can practically see him in the inevitable BBC documentary pointing out lab equipment and sipping tea as he visits enlightened colleagues. If you love this kind of stuff - science museums and BBC or PBS documentaries - you'll love this book. There are even some cutting edge surprises here: Rovelli's Thermal Time and Tononi's Integrated Information Theory are two standouts I found myself researching further after Du Sautoy's mentions.
So, what of this overall "What We Cannot Know" thesis? Du Sautoy saves most of this discussion for the final chapter, which is largely too short for a rigorous philosophical treatment. As is right for a mathematician, he invokes Gödel's incompleteness theorems, mentions Alonzo Church, and generally hedges his bets. Interestingly, where Du Sautoy feels eggshells beneath his feet the most is at the "small" end of the spectrum, briefly mentioning the limitation of Plank length, whereas I found myself feeling very solid about our collective ability to discover further and further fundamentals of Quanta and Matter, but less sure about our future understanding of the Universe and Infinity. This is a good feeling at the end of a science and philosophy-of-science book, when you are confident to be slightly at odds with the author, while having thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
On final note: having recently completed a History of Science: 1700 to 1900 by Frederick Gregory, I can tell you these two books are excellent back-to-back reads. For all we can and cannot know, I can at least say that with certainty ;)
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
A longitudinal and transversal review of all of science. Marcus being the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, does a good job at that. He goes a little wider and a little deeper than most science divulging treatises I've read so far, with quite a few interesting things I didn't know. A god read if you are a science buff
1 of 1 people found this review helpful