cover image The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics

The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics

Heinrich Päs. Basic, $32 (368p) ISBN 978-1-541-67485-1

Physicist Päs (The Perfect Wave) argues that “all is one” in this overly knotty survey of monism, or the belief that “in a quantum universe, there are no individual objects. All that exists is merged into a single ‘One.’” Though the notion may sound “bizarre to us,” he suggests it follows “straightforwardly from quantum mechanics.” Contending that monism holds truths about physics and is also rooted in philosophy, Päs bolsters his case with biographical snippets of Plato (who “assumed that hidden on the most fundamental level there exists only one single object in the universe: the universe itself”), Leonardo Da Vinci (who believed in the harmony of nature), Mozart (who, Päs notes, was “inspired” by monism), and Albert Einstein (who argued for “an objective reality beyond what can be observed”). Though the philosophical discussions are easy to grasp, if a bit winding, Päs is less successful when it comes to science, and his explanations can be tough to parse (“gauge symmetries relate the existence of forces to the freedom to redefine physics differently, in different patches of space-time, and thus reveal the coherence of space-time”). Theoretical physicists might find some fascinating concepts worth considering, but lay readers are likely to be left scratching their heads. (Jan.)