Barrow, John D., Paul C.W. Davies, and Charles L. Harper, Jr., eds. Science and Ultimate Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-521-83113-X.
These are the proceedings of the festschrift at Princeton in March 2002 in honour of John Archibald Wheeler's 90th year within our light-cone. This volume brings together the all-stars of speculative physics, addressing what Wheeler describes as the “big questions.” You will spend a lot of time working your way through this almost 700 page tome (which is why entries in this reading list will be uncharacteristically sparse this month), but it will be well worth the effort. Here we have Freeman Dyson posing thought-experiments which purport to show limits to the applicability of quantum theory and the uncertainty principle, then we have Max Tegmark on parallel universes, arguing that the most conservative model of cosmology has infinite copies of yourself within the multiverse, each choosing either to read on here or click another link. Hideo Mabuchi's chapter begins with an introductory section which is lyrical prose poetry up to the standard set by Wheeler, and if Shou-Cheng Zhang's final chapter doesn't make you re-think where the bottom of reality really lies, you're either didn't get it or have been spending way too much time reading preprints on ArXiv. I don't mean to disparage any of the other contributors by not mentioning them—every chapter of this book is worth reading, then re-reading carefully. This is the collected works of the 21th century equivalent of the savants who attended the Solvay Congresses in the early 20th century. Take your time, reread difficult material as necessary, and look up the references. You'll close this book in awe of what we've learned in the last 20 years, and in wonder of what we'll discover and accomplish the the rest of this century and beyond.

July 2004 Permalink