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Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time [Hardcover]

Huw Price
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 25, 1996 0195100956 978-0195100952 First Edition
Why is the future so different from the past? Why does the past affect the future and not the other way around? What does quantum mechanics really tell us about the world? In this important and accessible book, Huw Price throws fascinating new light on some of the great mysteries of modern physics, and connects them in a wholly original way.
Price begins with the mystery of the arrow of time. Why, for example, does disorder always increase, as required by the second law of thermodynamics? Price shows that, for over a century, most physicists have thought about these problems the wrong way. Misled by the human perspective from within time, which distorts and exaggerates the differences between past and future, they have fallen victim to what Price calls the "double standard fallacy": proposed explanations of the difference between the past and the future turn out to rely on a difference which has been slipped in at the beginning, when the physicists themselves treat the past and future in different ways. To avoid this fallacy, Price argues, we need to overcome our natural tendency to think about the past and the future differently. We need to imagine a point outside time -- an Archimedean "view from nowhen" -- from which to observe time in an unbiased way.
Offering a lively criticism of many major modern physicists, including Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking, Price shows that this fallacy remains common in physics today -- for example, when contemporary cosmologists theorize about the eventual fate of the universe. The "big bang" theory normally assumes that the beginning and end of the universe will be very different. But if we are to avoid the double standard fallacy, we need to consider time symmetrically, and take seriously the possibility that the arrow of time may reverse when the universe recollapses into a "big crunch."
Price then turns to the greatest mystery of modern physics, the meaning of quantum theory. He argues that in missing the Archimedean viewpoint, modern physics has missed a radical and attractive solution to many of the apparent paradoxes of quantum physics. Many consequences of quantum theory appear counterintuitive, such as Schrodinger's Cat, whose condition seems undetermined until observed, and Bell's Theorem, which suggests a spooky "nonlocality," where events happening simultaneously in different places seem to affect each other directly. Price shows that these paradoxes can be avoided by allowing that at the quantum level the future does, indeed, affect the past. This demystifies nonlocality, and supports Einstein's unpopular intuition that quantum theory describes an objective world, existing independently of human observers: the Cat is alive or dead, even when nobody looks. So interpreted, Price argues, quantum mechanics is simply the kind of theory we ought to have expected in microphysics -- from the symmetric standpoint.
Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point presents an innovative and controversial view of time and contemporary physics. In this exciting book, Price urges physicists, philosophers, and anyone who has ever pondered the mysteries of time to look at the world from the fresh perspective of Archimedes' Point and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, the universe around us, and our own place in time.

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Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time + Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Particularly illuminating in that Price shows how philosophers and physicists have failed to see temporal symmetries because of the influence of their own temporally asymmetric perspective.... A real advance in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Not only philosophy of science but theoretical physicists should be excited about by this lovely book."--J.J.C. Smart, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University


About the Author


About the Author:
Huw Price is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Facts and the Function of Truth (1988) and a wide range of articles in leading journals such as The Journal of Philosophy, Mind, and Nature.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (April 25, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195100956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195100952
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's about time February 29, 2000
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the hardest books I've ever read. It was rewarding, though. Price wrote the book explicitly for philosophers and physicists. Frankly, it was nice to see a book written thus with all the condescending attitudes that these two (?) spheres of knowledge have had towards each other in this day and age. This book belongs in the same prestigious realm as the books on physics & philosophy that were written by Werner Heisenberg and Sir James Jeans earlier this century. I would like to see more books of this type in the future.
As you might have guessed, the book deals with the nature of time. It is HIGHLY recommended that anyone attempting grapple with this intellectual Godzilla have a general understanding of quantum mechanics (if, that is, anyone really DOES understand QM) and some background in thermodynamics and relativity would not hurt, either. This book is not for those who think of books by Danielle Steele as intellectually stimulating.
The book deals with the entropy "problem" of how it is that matter ever got to its low entropy state after the big bang, since (apparently) high entropy (heat death) is its natural state. Price tours some potential (although sometimes far fetched) answers to this query.
For me, the most fascinating facet of the book was its discussion of the idea of advanced action as a solution to the nonlocality "problem" in QM. It's amazing for me to think that two entangled photons could already KNOW that the other's spin is going to change at such-and-such a time due to their travelling at the speed of light. Although Price did not invent this concept, he supports it (compellingly) and also objects to the normal criticism that either we can have relativity or free will, but not both. A truly fascinating concept for physicists and philosophers alike.
So, if you want a wild and engrossing intellectual ride, this book is for you.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time For A Drink January 10, 2001
Format:Hardcover
This is heady stuff-Perhaps if you're a theoretical physics professor at CalTech it might make for light postprandial enjoyment.-But for the rest of us...Beware!...Part of the problem is terminology(micro) or (mu) innocence for example....Oddly, I read this book for the same reason I read Proust-I'm fascinated with Time!-But be forewarned that, though this book has far less than Proust's 3,000 pages, unless you are the aforementioned professor, you have an extremely tougher row to hoe in reading this book, even though the author goes out of his way to make things understandable to the lay reader. -The basic idea isn't that hard to understand: we are captives of our position in time and that captivity affects our observations of physical (particle, wavicle, whatever) behavior. What the author eventually advances (after ploughing through many other concepts and alternative explanations) is something called "advanced action theory." This theory entails, as far as I can make out, very simply, that there is a "common future" as well a "common past" that influences what we call the present but that we are unable to perceive this common future because our nature as AGENTS (he uses this term over and over)precludes us from perceiving this common future.-I kept on thinking of a spatial analogy of a person tied to the back of the caboose of a train facing backward. He can see where the train has gone, but not the vista ahead, which is certainly just as real. But if he has been in this position his entire life, he would have no idea what you meant by saying "See that mountain up ahead!" How could you know? It's as if one of us were to state, "See that assassination attempt tomorrow!"- Archimedes' Point for Mr. Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A challenging, dense but enjoyable read March 1, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is not a book for the faint of heart, especially if, like me, you are neither a physicist nor a philosopher. I suspect that students of quantum mechanics will get much more out of the book than interested bystanders such as I (who have never taken a physics class and would probably have flunked had I tried).
You cannot skim this book or read it with half a mind. You must engage yourself with the author, pay attention to each and every sentence. I recommend reading the introduction and conclusion first (this is, after all, a book about the asymmetry of time), then the beginning and end of each chapter before digging in. Luckily, Price divides each chapter into bite-sized sections. He also repeats himself quite a lot, but I think he does so because he knows how difficult his subject is and hopes that if you don't understand something the first time, you will by the third or fourth time or just by an example with a slightly different twist.
The lack of a physics background will not only make the subject harder to understand (of course) but will also make the argument harder to evaluate. His points are very interesting and seem well-reasoned, but I don't know enough about the subject to evaluate them.
Still, if you're interested in the subject and are prepared to work at it, the book will reward your time and energy.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In the preface of Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point, Mr. Price describes his target audience as being those people with an interest in the subject of time, yet no formal education in either Physics or Philosophy. In this light I feel that the book does not fare well due more to its style than its topic. I am wildly interested in the book's subject matter, and I have no formal education in either Physics or Philosophy, yet I found myself struggling at times to appreciate Mr. Price's logic on the first pass. Following the linguistic style of the book was apparently an issue for the editors at Oxford as well because it contained over a half-dozen typographical errors (all contextual; not spelling errors).

The ultimate purpose of the book is to make the case for a "Block Universe", one in which time does not flow, but rather whose entire existence already resides as a fourth dimension. "Archimedes' Point" in the title refers to the need for us to step out of our shells as agents in time, and view nature "from nowhen" if we are to truly understand the concept. Mr. Price begins by analyzing what appears to be the natural symmetry of time as outlined by the mathematical description of physics. He then presents common time-asymmetric arguments, one after another, and shows them to be ultimately fallacious, contradictory, or suffering from anthropocentric double standards. Near the end of the book Mr. Price incorporates the strange behavior of quantum mechanics, which can plausibly be explained by advanced action (aka causes coming from the future), to bolster his "Block Universe" claims. In the end I almost take the Block Universe for granted, and from this perspective the book is a resounding success.

Making it through the book was ultimately satisfying.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly over my head
The author is obviously extremely intelligent and well-versed in his areas of expertise. But he seems to have written this book for a limited audience of people like himself... Read more
Published 13 months ago by M. Walters
4.0 out of 5 stars worth your while if you're prepared to do some hard work
I found it difficult to rate this book, wavering between 3 and 4 stars. Eventually, I opted for 4 stars because the book covers many interesting points and, in the opinion of this... Read more
Published 16 months ago by BetseaK
2.0 out of 5 stars a great disappointment
i rate this as absolutely the worst book i've ever read. i would not recommend it to anybody wanting to learn anything about the philosophy and physics of the arrow of time - in... Read more
Published 19 months ago by david connally
2.0 out of 5 stars It might not be "bad" but I did not like it
I was fascinated by the topic so I got the book, since it seemed to have some fairly good reviews.

I am neither a philosopher nor a physicist, I am an engineer. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Giovanni Idili
5.0 out of 5 stars A Signpost Along the Road
This is a very good book, but I feel that something is missing.

Imagine if someone in 1820 had written the definitive book about electricity and magnetism: It would... Read more
Published on March 14, 2011 by D. Chapman
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly excellent book and a real eye-opener
Huw Price's book is one of the best, but also most demanding, popular science books on the market. Actually it is a mixture of science and philosophy. Read more
Published on August 26, 2008 by Wigner's Girlfriend
5.0 out of 5 stars But is it sound?
This is a very difficult, closely reasoned treatise. It defends -- indeed, it virually assumes -- the "block universe" view of reality. Read more
Published on June 22, 2008
5.0 out of 5 stars What if?
"What if" is perhaps the most significant of all scientific questions because the speculation it causes can lead to remarkable insights. Read more
Published on May 14, 2007 by Steve Reina
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking Evidence for Bicausality
TIME'S ARROW is a remarkably well-conceived exploration of the matter of bicausality. Author Huw Price applies a philosopher's logical approach to the physics of time, as he builds... Read more
Published on September 6, 2006 by Cynthia Sue Larson
5.0 out of 5 stars On Price
On page 13 of "Time's Arrow and the Archimededs' Point", Huw Price writes:

".... If time flowed - then as with any flow - it would only make sense to assign that flow a... Read more
Published on December 19, 2003 by Stephen P. Smith
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