Cosmological Koans: A Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality

Anthony Aguirre. Norton, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-60921-9
Everything from Newton’s laws to the Big Bang are probed in this hit-and-miss pop-physics primer. Aguirre, a physics professor and founder of the Foundational Questions Institute, prefaces bite-sized science lessons with paradoxical Zen koans—“the gateless gate lies open”—and episodes from a fictional picaresque about a 17th-century seeker who travels from Galileo’s Italy to China, with stops in a Buddhist temple and the cave of a djinn who subjects him to teleportation experiments and lectures on free will. The science explanations that flow from this lively framing device are uneven. Aguirre presents lucid, thought-provoking discussions of physicists’ evolving conceptions of space, time, motion, and forces, up through Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and his explorations of cosmic origins and the possibility of this universe being one among many are grandly engaging. But his complicated, murky exposition of quantum physics is not helped by Zen-like flourishes (“If you follow all paths equally, you end up just following a single path. The one true path”). Further disquisitions on mind and ontology—“what does it mean... to be something rather than, say, something else?”—are provocative but inconclusive. Readers will veer between “Whoa!” and “What?” on this sometimes stimulating, sometimes baffling tour of the cosmos. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/08/2019
Release date: 05/21/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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