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Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits Paperback – October 28, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0195130829 ISBN-10: 0195130820

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195130820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195130829
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,194,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Perhaps it's a harbinger of the end of science that so much attention is being paid to the impossible. In Impossibility, astronomer John D. Barrow outlines a maturation pattern for areas of deep human inquiry that includes an adolescence of exciting discoveries, new formulas, and unusual predictions. As science has matured, our confidence in it has grown. We expect that science has answers, that its predictive powers are mostly accurate. But what happens when the science gets old? Oddly enough, it seems to have started trying to find the end of its own usefulness--its formulas "predict that there are things which they cannot predict, observations which cannot be made, statements whose truth they can neither affirm nor deny."

Barrow's book is a fairly tough read, delving into topics as varied as theology, art, mathematics, and cosmology in its quest to define impossibility. But for those who have noticed that, "Scientists seem no longer content merely to describe what they have done or what Nature is like; they are keen to tell their audience what their discoveries mean for an ever-widening range of deep philosophical questions," Impossibility is an intriguing look at the evolution of our thoughts on knowing everything. Without limits, there would be no science, and though our imaginations may roam freely through the realms of impossibility, we may find in the end that "what cannot be known is more revealing than what can." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"[An] illuminating, well-written account....One can only wonder how Barrow can possibly make all these [concepts] fit together into a coherent story about the limits to science. Well, contrary to all expectations, he does make them fit, and in only 250 pages! So for about as good an account as youre going to get of where science stops, read this book."--Nature


"Delightful and fascinating....Impossibility is a thoughtful, careful, and insightful book that is presented in a skillfully woven narrative, guiding the reader gently through the thicket of logic, physics, and mathematics.... If you are fascinated by the limits of knowledge, you will be richly rewarded by this book."--Michio Kaku, New Scientist



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Customer Reviews

This book is worth reading for the quotations alone.
geot1@aol.com
References are not hyperlinked to the relevant appendix entry (standard on all books I thought?)
Ziusudra
He shows a great deal of modesty despite his great grasp of very complicated subjects.
Shalom Freedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read a text like this with the understanding that I am not going to understand everything in it. I read a text like this also with the understanding that I will probably at certain points disagree with it.

But I first and above all read a text like this to extend my own thought, to learn new ideas, to go beyond the understanding I have previously had of the subject.

The subject of ' impossibility' has been with me since I was a small child. I have always tried to understand how God could understand and know everything, when 'everything' seemed to me to be often so tremendously small and trivial, as if for instance the size and weight as they are changing of every particule of dirt and dust. The famous paradoxes of ' impossibility' relating to God are analyzed by Barrow in this book , the question of whether God can create a stone too heavy for God to lift - The answers which would seem to make God's existence and omniscence incompatible, it seems to me can always be trumped by the idea that our logic and our thought may simply not comprehend a 'dimension' of being , which is God's alone.

In any case Barrow studies the idea of impossibility here in a variety of different contexts. In one he wants to show how crucial it is to the development of scientific inquiry and the establishing of laws of Nature.

In all of this work I find Barrow's tone and intelligence admirable. He shows a great deal of modesty despite his great grasp of very complicated subjects. I will just cite one sample of this from his concluding chapter.

"All the great questions about the nature of the Universe- from its beginning to its end- turn out to be unanswerable.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mohammad Ali Shaikh on March 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Recurring fascination with the question: whether or not the ever-expanding frontiers of science are subject to limits, led me to the study of John Barrow's 'Impossibility'. Barrow asserts that there are definite limits to the development of science due to philosophical, sociological, biological, technological, mathematical and logical factors as well as Laws of Physics, like finite speed of light, cosmic singularity theorems, inflationary cosmology, relative time travel; and 'Anthropic Cosmology', which states that there must be physical constants (viz. the mass of the proton) to allow for the existnece and emergence of living creatures; and Godel's theorem, which has been used to argue that a computer may never be as smart as a human being because the extent of its knowledge base is limited by a fixed set of algorithms, whereas a person may discover unexpected truths.
Without minimising the great merit in Barrow's approach, I feel that finding limits to scientific development is like learning to swim: no matter how much the instructor tells you before hand, you only learn after you have stepped into the water. While it is useful and desirable to have an idea of the limits which may beset scientific inquiry, it is imperative that scientists, at any given time, pursue research on the premise that further progress in science is always achievable.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Govindan Nair on September 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Is science fast coming to an end? Can we arrive at a so-called theory of everything? Are there limits to our abilities to discover the nature of reality?
In trying to tackle such questions, Astronomer John D. Barrow invites readers to an intriguing journey which I understood as twofold. First, it promises to show how the notion of impossibility is far subtler than everyday language suggests and to demonstrate how fundamental are the limitations to science (in the broadest sense of human capability to discover and know things). To support this contention, he serves up a menu of what seems like disjointed readings into the limits of human endeavor as demonstrated in findings in different fields such as astronomy, mathematics, psychology, economics, and others. Each of these readings, which are sub-sections of chapters, is individually interesting and the book overall is not deeply technical, -- and thus remains accessible to the truly curious generalist reader. It covers some familiar basic ideas in different fields, which all depict the notions of limits and impossibility, whether in scientific discovery or in social decision-making. The topics range from the technical bounds to scientific experiments, such the speed of light and difficulties of producing the extremely high temperatures not found on earth which are needed to test our version of the forces of nature, to Arrow's impossibility theorem on the inability to generate a consistent ranking of social preferences based on an aggregation of ranking of individual preferences.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By geot1@aol.com on March 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is worth reading for the quotations alone. The text is slower reading and the middle is a bit of a muddle, but very deep insights are scattered throughout. No fluff, good science, careful effort of a fine mind.
Paradox is the source of existence, and impossibility is the source of meaning. The recognition of limits is a powerful new tool, not the "end of science". It allows us to transcend the spacetime metric and understand ultimate reality without the superstitious nonsense. That's my interpretation, and it's very true. The author may have meant something else, of course.
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