cover image Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions

Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions

Sabine Hossenfelder. Viking, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-984-87945-5

Physicist Hossenfelder (Lost in Math) considers what “physics says about the human condition” in this smart survey. She uses the term “ascientific” for ideas that are beyond the reach of science—the “hypothesis of God,” the existence of additional universes, the belief that subatomic particles are conscious—and explores fascinating questions about predictability (“Instead of worrying about simulating human brains, we should pay more attention to who gets to ask questions of artificial brains”), the meaning of life (passing on knowledge, as she sees it), and the existence of free will (“the future is determined by the past”), sometimes offering provocative conclusions: “It sounds crazy, but the idea that the past and future exist in the same way as the present is compatible with all we currently know.” Readers will want to have a basic knowledge of physics before entering, and will be quickly convinced by Hossenfelder’s case that the fact that “physics has something to say about our connection to the universe is not so surprising.” And though she asserts that “physicists are really good at answering questions, but really bad at explaining why anyone should care,” her curiosity and clever prose prove that doesn’t have to be the case. Budding physics buffs, take note. (Aug.)