Cover image for From certainty to uncertainty : the story of science and ideas in the twentieth century
From certainty to uncertainty : the story of science and ideas in the twentieth century
Peat, F. David, 1938-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiv, 230 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Quantum uncertainty -- On incompleteness -- From object to process -- Language -- The end of representation -- From clockwork to chaos -- Re-envisioning the planet -- Pausing the Cosmos.
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QC6 .P33 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this thoughtful and compelling book, physicist F. David Peat examines the basic philosophic difference between the certainty that characterized the thinking of humankind through the nineteenth century and contrasts it with the startling fall of certainty in the twentieth.The nineteenth century was marked by a boundless optimism and confidence in the power of progress and technology. Science and philosophy were on firm ground. Newtonian physics showed that the universe was a gigantic clockwork mechanism that functioned according to rigid laws -- that its course could be predicted with total confidence far into the future. Indeed, in 1900, the President of the Royal Society in Britain went so far as to proclaim that everything of importance had already been discovered by science.But it was not long before the seeds of a scientific revolution began to take root.Quantum theory and the general theory of relativity exploded the clockwork universe, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that ourknowledge was, at best, incomplete -- and would probably remain that way forever. There were places in the universe, such as black holes, from which no information at all could ever be obtained. Chaos theory also demonstrated our inherent limits to knowing, predicting, and controlling the world around us and showed the way that chaos can often be found at the heart of natural and social systems.Although we may not always recognize it, this new world view has had a profound effect not only on science, but on art, literature, philosophy, and societal relations. The twenty-first century now begins with a humble acceptance of uncertainty. From Certainty to Uncertainty traces the rise and fall ofthe deterministic universe and shows the evolving influences that such disparate disciplines now have on one another. Drawing on the lessons we can learn from history, Peat also speculates on how we will manage our lives int

Author Notes

F. David Peat was born in Liverpool, England. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Liverpool. For many years he engaged in research in theoretical physics at the National Research Council of Canada and during that time had ongoing discussions on the foundations of physics with the late David Bohm. In 1996 Peat moved to a medieval village in Italy where he created the Pari Center for New Learning. Peat is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and a Corresponding Member of the European Academy of Arts, Science and the Humanities.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

At the same time that 20th-century science brought unprecedented advances, it also led to the growing awareness of the limitations of scientific knowledge itself. Through wonderfully concise, clear metaphors, physicist Peat (Infinite Potential) traces the philosophy of science from the 19th through the 20th centuries, showing how the earlier era!s faith in the reliability of scientific research, and its belief that it was theoretically possible to predict the behavior of everything from particles to people, was abruptly shaken in the 20th century. Peat focuses especially on how the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and chaos theory brought about cataclysmic changes in our worldview. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Theoretical physicist Peat leads readers on a provocative, intellectual journey through several major scientific ideas of the 20th century to the worldview that uncertainty in quantum physics means that our knowledge will always be fundamentally incomplete. Certainty has changed to uncertainty, complexity, and limited control of the world around us. Art, literature, philosophy, and every aspect of our lives and thoughts are affected. Logically consistent arguments are present through most of the journey, but some controversial viewpoints are unsupported, misleading, or have key ideas applied beyond their normal range of validity. The statement "We are all artists" trivializes the profession. Discussing the practical limits of computation and then unjustifiably leaping to the same conclusions for fundamental theory is confusing and incomplete. And the statement, "science is a story told by the Western mind" is historically true, but Peat suggests that myths and other glances at the universe point to the same truth! Overall, a great journey for the mind with fascinating glimpses into art, psychology, philosophy, ecology, mathematics, computing, and physics. Useful index to ideas and people, a few footnote references, but no pictures or diagrams. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. F. Potter formerly, University of California, Irvine

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 Quantum Uncertaintyp. 1
2 On Incompletenessp. 27
3 From Object to Processp. 52
4 Languagep. 71
5 The End of Representationp. 90
6 From Clockwork to Chaosp. 115
7 Re-envisioning the Planetp. 154
8 Pausing the Cosmosp. 187
Postscriptp. 215
Appendix Godel's Theoremp. 217
Indexp. 223