THE BIG QUESTIONS by Richard Morris


Probing the Promise and Limits of Science
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Really big questions: Morris, a physicist who writes frequently on science, borrows a leaf from the philosopher’s book to discourse engagingly on God, time, truth, mind, and such like.

There was a time when philosophers provided much of the enlightenment on matters metaphysical, cosmological, and ontological. Morris wants us to know that modern science can illuminate many of these issues, in some cases providing answers based on experimental evidence. Up to a point. For example, if we accept the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, then we can resolve the issue of free will versus determinism—because any and all possible futures exist in one or another parallel universe. But what about time? The laws of physics are indifferent to time’s arrows—with the exception of a couple of exotic particles. That still leaves us with questions about reconciling subjective time with the “t” in equations. Berkeley’s conundrum about whether the world exists if no one is looking? More quantum theory and, alas, no resolution. The question of whether Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead (or capable of existing in both states until we look) remains a puzzle, but comes with an eerie aside about experiments that show that electrons streaming around superconducting loops appear to move clockwise and counterclockwise simultaneously. So it goes with most of the other questions Morris discusses: all wonderful foils for expounding on the five current superstring theories and the mysterious 11-dimensional M theory that relates to them all, or about quantum fluctuations that can produce a universe out of nothing. In the end, contemporary physics has some tantalizing ideas, but most of the issues remain ambiguous.

Morris’s afterword makes it clear that science doesn’t have all the answers—perhaps never will—but it’s diverting and instructive at least to see the process.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-7092-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002


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