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A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein Paperback – February 14, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0465092949 ISBN-10: 0465092942
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What if time is only an illusion, if it doesn't actually exist? Yourgrau, a Brandeis professor of philosophy, explains that Einstein's general theory of relativity may allow for this possibility, first realized by the great logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel is best known for his incompleteness theorem, one of the most important theorems in mathematical logic since Euclid. In a typically brief paper written for a Festschrift to honor his friend and Princeton neighbor Einstein, Gödel theorized the existence of what have come to be called Gödel universes: rotating universes in which time travel is possible. But if one can travel through time, how can time as we know it exist in these other universes, since the past is always present? And if time doesn't exist in other universes, then it may not exist in ours either. Yourgrau (The Disappearance of Time) writes that Gödel's paper was almost universally ignored, and he claims that since the logician's death, philosophers have gone out of their way to try to denigrate his work in fields other than logic. This book will appeal to fans of Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach and to Einstein junkies, and makes a fascinating companion to Rebecca Goldstein's Incompleteness (Forecasts, Dec. 20), but all readers who enjoy a good thought experiment or having basic preconceptions about their world challenged will enjoy this. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* During the half-dozen years before his death, Einstein's best friend was the Austrian logician Kurt Godel. Famous for his incompleteness theorems demonstrating that formal mathematical systems could not fully describe reality, Godel was spurred by Einstein's theories of relativity to discover that, in any universe fully described by those theories, time doesn't exist. He did this by proving the possibility of time travel, the catch being that if a past point in time can be reached, then it cannot have passed, which contradicts intuitive understanding of time. Einstein died before he could respond to Godel's revelation. Since then, except for troopers such as Yourgrau (this is his third and most popularly pitched book on Godel), philosophers have ignored the implications of time not existing in physical reality, which are that time must be an ideal and that philosophically long-discounted Platonism, which asserts the reality of the ideal, needs reconsideration. Such studied ignorance springs, Yourgrau says, from philosophers' disdain for Godel as a mere logician. He was also powerfully, pathetically eccentric--different from but not unlike Einstein in that respect--and Yourgrau relieves and arguably also informs demanding passages on Godel's work by sketching his life and personality as well as his thought. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465092942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465092949
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 133 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Steven Hargrave on May 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It seems to me that, more and more frequently, two books on the same or closely related subjects come out from different publishers almost simultaneously. I suspect an epidemic of corporate espionage. In 2003/4, did we really need two books with the identical title "Lincoln at Copper Union" about a pre-campaign speech in New York by the eventual president? Why was "The Empire of Tea" published within 6 months of "Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire"? (Perhaps they were tied to an epic mini-series that I missed.)

Kurt Gödel and his work have been largely ignored of late, yet now we suddenly have two books attempting to resurrect interest. Palle Yourgrau's "A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel And Einstein" was published in January 2005, and "Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel" by Rebecca Goldstein just one month later.

Both are small-format books, and thus both attempt to squeeze already dense subject matter into unreasonably constricted space. Both use Gödel's personal and intellectual friendship with Einstein as a systematizing motif. Each author dedicates considerable time to rehearsing the history of The Vienna Circle, where Gödel spent formative years, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, where Gödel and Einstein completed their careers. And both Goldstein (a mathematician and novelist) and Yourgrau (a professor of philosophy) attempt to give a summary of Gödel's important theorems that would make them accessible to the non-specialist.

However, the two books differ in important respects.

Goldstein, when dealing with Gödel's professional work, focuses almost exclusively on that concerned most directly with mathematical logic: his Incompleteness Theorems.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Terrific vignette history, heretofore little known, of the friendship and mutual discourse of Goedel and Einstein after their exile from the Germany of the thirties to the Institute for Advanced Study. Interspersed with biographical data not found elsewhere is a tale of two eccentrics, and of the philosophical asides and unpublic views of this duet, from Kant, and idealism, to much else. The central story is of Goedel's work on relativity and the discovery of solutions to the general equations that opened up the possibility of time travel and the illusion of time. This finding, unwelcome in mainstream physics, and the object of a posited 'chronology postulate' by Hawking to rule out its implications for cosmology, had lurked in the underground of physics history--until now, perhaps.

This is not only important info on the state of physics but scuttlebutt of the highest order. Be sure to check it out...
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A. R. Cellura on March 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Beyond the apocalyptic sense, we might be running out of time; not the 'time' handed down from a Homeric Chronos or from Ecclesiastes (For everything there is a season...) or Prufrockian events (There will be time, there will be time. To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...).

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (GTR) introduced a much more elemental, modern and, at least for some of us, counter-intuitive idea of 'time' that melded a constant (the speed of light) and a mass-curved geometry into spacetime, whose effect was, nevertheless, relative! In GTR, the temporal space from "here" to "there," from "now" to "then," massively complicated, shrinks and expands in the tangled warp. At least it did until Kurt Godel, in his searing analysis, added new, astonishing gyrations befitting his place as a preeminent mathematician, erstwhile physicist and most celebrated logician since Aristotle.

Palle Yourgrau, the Henry A. Wolfson Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University has devoted a great deal of his academic career to understanding Godel and particularly what most of us take for granted - the concept of time - which Godel believed was THE key issue of philosophy (p. 111). In A World Without Time, Yourgrau continues the explication of Godel's insights into GTR that he explored earlier with his Godel Meets Einstein: Time Travel in the Godel Universe (Open Court Press, 1999).

Godel and Einstein were colleagues and close friends at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ, where both had been given safe haven from the Nazi scourge of the 1930s. Together, they walked to and from their offices talking philosophy, politics and especially relativity theory.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By New Dad on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It sounds strange to say it of a book about mathematical logic, cosmology, and metaphysics, but this would make a fantastic summer/beach read. It is an absolute page-turner, full of vivid scenes (the chapter on Old Vienna is like a time machine--you can practically taste the whipped cream on the hot chocolate), exhilarating discoveries, and poignant human moments. I read it in one sitting (late at night, not on the beach). Woven into the historical narrative is a first-rate presentation of some of the most difficult intellectual issues of all time, which brings them out without dumbing them down. (For example, there have been numerous attempts to give a non-technical explanation of Godel's incompleteness results--Nagel and Newman, Hofstadter, Casti, etc., but none, in my opinion, as successful as Yourgrau's.) This is "intellectual history" at its best: a book that helps you to make sense of the almost impossibly tangled and deep career of the last hundred years. (Yourgrau claims, in effect, to provide one of the keys to understanding the twentieth century (see his discussion of formalism), and he's pretty convincing.) Goldstein's is a good book; this is a great book.
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