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The End of Certainty Hardcover – August 17, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this intellectually challenging book, Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine tackles some of the difficult questions that bedevil physicists trying to provide an explanation for the world we observe. How is it, for instance, that basic principles of quantum mechanics--which lack any differentiation between forward and backward directions in time--can explain a world with an "arrow of time" headed unambiguously forward? And how do we escape classical physics' assertion that the world is deterministic? In a sometimes mathematical and frequently mind-bending book, Prigogine explores deterministic chaos, nonequilibrium thermodynamics, and even cosmology and the origin of the universe in an attempt to reach an explanation that can reconcile physical laws with subjective reality.

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Since adolescence, Nobel laureate Prigogine has been haunted by the thorny problem of time, which has so preoccupied him that he scrawled "Time precedes existence" on a scientific memorial in Moscow. One of the founders of chaos theory, Prigogine has for decades propounded a view contrary to the assumption of temporal reversibility that is commonly accepted by theoretical physicists (ordinary folk have always been baffled by the idea that minus-t and plus-t [terms representing, respectively, time going backward and going forward] can somehow ever be the same). Although accepting relativity and the time-space continuum, Prigogine proposes a radical synthesis of Newtonian and quantum physics that is intriguing enough to reward the tough going that the book's intense concentration of formulas (on which Prigogine's arguments center) will be for most general readers. Prigogine claims that it is time's arrow that finally makes clear how probabilities become actualities and how "becoming" becomes "being." A groundbreaking work by a major figure in today's scientific revolution. Patricia Monaghan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (August 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684837056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684837055
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Peter V. Giansante on August 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Many people presume that the integration of various domains of science into a single unified "superscience" will ultimately show that everything reduces to physics. In fact, one earlier reviewer of "The End of Certainty" closed his review saying, "Biology is, in the end, physics."
There is a way in which biology could be "reduced" to physics, but only if we learn to define "physics" very differently than we do today. Prigogine shows why biology CANNOT be reduced to context-independent, deterministic contemporary physics. (Read Robert Rosen's "Essays on Life Itself" for the most profound and fundamental explanation, based on non-integrable, complex, "impredicative loops of efficient causation".)
"The End of Certainty" is an important work because it points toward a revolutionary realignment of fundamental physical principles, theoretical perspectives, and even scientific methodology. In fact, it draws together many of the crucial elements that ultimately will result in the inevitable emergence of a fundamentally transformed model of scientific epistemology. It's an important snapshot of a pivotal stage in the evolution of scientific knowledge.
There has not been a coherent major shift in the foundational paradigms of physical science since the emergence of relativity and quantum physics in the early 20th century. The pioneers of those physical models, if not the models themselves, behaved as feuding brothers from the start. That disputatious relationship is perhaps best typified by Einstein's famous rebuke of the indeterminacy of quantum physics: "God does not play dice with the universe.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Zentao on October 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Over the years (and it's been something close to 60 of them) Prigogine has almost single-handedly defined non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This book presents an overview of how he thinks quantum theory should be interpreted in order to give a direction to the "arrow of time".
This book is not for those who don't have some background in thermodynamics and quantum theory, particularly in the solving of the Schrodinger wave equation. Those expecting a Gleick-like "Chaos" will likely put this one down in frustration after about three chapters since Prigogine has put a fair amount of theory in this book.
For a slim volume there is a lot of food for thought here. I had to go look up some old textbooks a read over some of my first-year quantum theory and math. I think the views that Prigogine just starts to develop in the final chapter deserve a book of their own for discussion. I know from hints Prigogine has "dropped" in interviews that he holds some interesting views on general philosophy.
People interested in the current state of Prigogine's theories then this book does an excellent job of centralizing them. His development of critical elements is deep enough to force one to get enough of a theoretical grasp to have some sense of the philosophy that comes.
For those looking to further their knowledge of the general applications of dissipative structures, I highly reccommend Jantsch's "The Self-Organizing Universe" as a good place to start along with some of Chaitin's work in algorithmic theory and Perlovsky's work in cybernetics.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Juan R. Gonzalez-Alvarez on August 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I did buy this book some time ago and then I was fascinated. I studied the basis of his theory, but unfortunately, Prigogine passed away recently, before I can discuss with he some topics in more detail.
The greater part of the book is written in a natural style, but some sections are highly mathematical even for the majority of scientists! This mathematical presentation has a curious explaining. There are several version of Prigogine's theory, but the first versions had been "abandoned", and then Prigogine details the new approach: "Star-unitary theory for LPS outside of Hilbert space".
An earlier reviewer said that the book provides a solution to three of the most important problems in science: (1) Time's arrow. (2) The measurement problem in QM. (3) The existence of freewill. Precisely, I am working in those and other questions, and I do not believe that claim was completely correct (and perhaps Prigogine believed the same, because in his last communication, said me "The questions that you ask are very difficult."). In my opinion, the novel theory is conflictive both in mathematical and physical details, but I consider that, at least, the aim of the School is correct one. Irreversibility and uncertainty are two fundamental features of our universe. I see that orthodox physics (including particle physics and the so-called String-M theory) is incorrect and/or inapplicable. I believe that, whereas other "popular" books (The Quark and The Jaguar, The Elegant Universe, etc.) should be "relics" in 21st century physics, Prigogine's book will be then a basic work.
The contributions of Prigogine's physics to the understanding in other disciplines, as chemistry, are not clear.
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