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The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (MIT Press) Hardcover – August 23, 2013
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Steering well clear of complex mathematics, Yanofsky canters though language paradoxes, infinity puzzles, computing impossibilities, the scope of fundamental physics and what he
believes to be the philosophical limitations of science. It is enjoyable ride...
This fascinating account describes the limitations of reasoning...Popular science readers will enjoy the well-written section explaining experiments in quantum theory... For centuries, humans' basic intuitions about the behavior of nature have been proven wrong, and now there is growing evidence in many fields showing that unavoidable limits exist to prevent people from eventually understanding it all. Researchers will appreciate the great selection of diagrams, complete bibliography and notes section, and useful index. Summing Up: Highly recommended.
Yanofsky makes problems and questions that should make your headache delightful to read and think about.
Phenomenal Book... Before picking up this book I'd not heard of "Noson Yanofsky," so I was astounded that this is the best, most lucidly-written volume for lay readers I've ever encountered on the underlying or foundational topics I most enjoy, related to mathematics; including issues that cross the boundaries of math, logic, philosophy, physics, and computer science.
- Math Tango
Winner of the 2013 PROSE Award in Popular Science & Mathematics, Association of American Publishers
From the Author
This is a popular science book that can be read by anyone interested in the limitations of science and mathematics. This book will also be of interest to people with a philosophical bent who are interested in how our universe works and what we can know about it.
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As an engineer whose math and science education hasn't totally faded away yet, I found this book fascinating. It explains the huge difference between 'countable infinity' and 'uncountable infinity' (something I had never been taught in school), and how the infinite number of solvable problems are dwarfed by an infinitely greater number of unsolvable ones. It goes over the P-NP and Halting problems in Computer Science with far more clarity than any CS textbook I've ever read. It covers chaos theory, the strange quantum world, and the equally curious world of general relativity and the mysteries therein that science has yet to (and in some cases never can) solve. It will also expose you to the philosophical debate about the curious relationship between math, science and consciousness, without having to plow through a course in philosophy. This book is a wonderful antidote to those (far-too-many) books that present science and math as always settled fact and incontrovertible truth. It shows you why intuition often fails, why the scientific dogma of one era is often debunked by the next, and explains how some knowledge of our universe will always remain forever beyond our grasp simply because we cannot 'step outside' our own self-referential existence. In some ways we're like the inhabitants of 2-D Flatland (another excellent book btw) trying to understand a wider 3-D world.
I do have one complaint with this book. There are copious footnotes in each chapter, some which are simple references, but many others which are additional explanatory material. These are all grouped together in a 'Notes' section in the back of the book. This required me to flip continually back and forth from each chapter to the 'Notes' section to read the additional material. It would have been better to present this material as true footnotes on each page; doing so would have eliminated a lot of tedious page-flipping.
The author has a doctorate in mathematics and is a computer science professor. Given the way he writes, he could be an English professor as well. The great mathematician David Hilbert said that a mathematician should be able to explain what he is working on to an intelligent person off the street; this author has put this advice into action with this book. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton. I wish this book had been written when I was an undergraduate or graduate student as it gets a reader to the edge of research in these areas very quickly
A unifying theme of the book is to point out our limitations of knowledge in the various areas ordinary language, mathematics and science. But it treats the various areas rigorously on their own terms without trying to make loose analogies at the outset. At the end, after doing the hard, detailed work in the various areas, the author offers remarks tying the various areas together. It is much better than a book like "Godel, Bach, and Escher" which rather strains to force analogies from different areas. This work treats the different areas of language, computer science, mathematics and physics on their terms before offering insightful comments at the end on what the results from the different areas show us.
It is the best book I have read in the last 10 years and the best of its kind that I have seen.
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"Wir müssen wissen. Wir werden wissen" (We must know. We will know.Read more