4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The purpose of this book is to argue that at some time in the future, possibly the very distant future, fundamental scientific discovery will cease, because there are things, which either by their very nature, or for practical reasons, are unknowable. Russell Stannard steadily works his way through the difficulties, usually explaining complex ideas clearly, and compiles a list of the problems as he sees them. Some of these, such as `Is there a Higgs boson?' and `What is the nature of dark matter?' appear, even though the author himself believes they will be solved, `but I cannot be sure'. Few people would cite them as `show stoppers'. More serious are arguments based on the fact that to test current models in fundamental particle physics requires very large energies, orders of magnitude greater than available at present, although this is not always true. (For example, no mention is made of experiments to detect electric dipole moments.) However, all the arguments ultimately rest on the assumption that the techniques, theoretical and experimental, available in the future are those we have at present. Just as we may be unsure whether the problems of mass, or dark matter, will be solved, how can we be so certain of this? A good example to the contrary is actually given in the book. In 1935, Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky published their famous paradox questioning the completeness of quantum mechanics. This was for a long time considered untestable, but in 1968, to the surprise of the scientific world, such a test was devised, although it took a further 15 years to perform an experiment (that vindicated the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics). The book is a useful and thoughtful summary of current fundamental problems to be solved, and no one would deny that without practical tests, theories are meaningless. The challenge to scientists is to devise such tests for current theories. The task will be very difficult, and the outcome is uncertain, but I am not so pessimistic as the author about the possibility that the challenge will be met.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Whilst there is nothing new in terms of content the author's approach is refreshing. Too often scientific knowledge is presented as universal truth only to be subject to subseqent revision. As this book suggests there may be limits to human knowledge, it may not be possible for us to find a 'theory of everything' or solve all the puzzles that science has not yet solved, such as what came before the 'big bang' or what exactly is consciousness. It's a slim, easy to read volume that's worth a few hours investment. Perhaps some of the scientists who grace our TV screens should read this book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2011
At first I thought the book was a rather plodding attempt to get scientific ideas across, but as I read on I found a beautifully balanced account of current ideas in almost every field of science. I have never read a clearer explanation of special relativity.
The book is a refreshing chnge from the deliberately obscure writings of Stephen Hawking who seems mainly interested in promoting his own ideas rather than taking a critical look at them. This book redresses the balance.
The author neatly avoids the trap of expressing opinions about religion, though I understand that he has religious beliefs. But don't let that put you off.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2011
Text of my review as published in BBC Focus magazine:
One of the odd things about 21st century science is that ever more money seems to be spent on ever more spectacular projects, yet the ultimate answers seem to be getting ever further away. From the Human Genome Project to the Large Hadron Collider and the Very Large Telescope, scientists are doing their level best to push forward the frontier of knowledge, but it's increasingly pushing right back. Could science and its time-honoured methods finally be running out of steam ?
That's the intriguing possibility explored by Russell Stannard, professor emeritus of physics at the Open University. As a nuclear physicist, Stannard knows all too well the limitations put on the knowable by quantum theory, the laws of the sub-atomic world. Since the 1920s, it's been clear that it's not just hard to know everything about what's happening at these levels - it's literally impossible. But as Stannard shows, other limitations are starting to emerge too, which suggest we can't even know what the universe is "really" like.
Stannard puts a lot of work into explaining the basics before pondering the Big Questions - and the result is admirably clear and readable. But I suspect many people intrigued by the thesis at the heart of the book will get impatient with this Physics 101 approach - and then disappointed by the somewhat superficial treatment of the ideas at the cutting edge of science, like the many universes view of reality.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is an ambitious yet accessible book that spans the universe from its creation to yesterday and includes pretty much everything in it. Physicist and professor Russell Stannard, a confident guide through this complex and, at times, contradictory territory, proves skilled at analogies and visualizations, and sympathetic over the difficulty of the questions he raises. These are mind-shattering inquiries: thoughts about thoughts and observations about observations. The author presents this confusion as the status quo and illuminates how all the contradictions of physics still come together to define a universe. Stannard also reminds the reader that everything he describes could be obsolete tomorrow. He provides perspective for - and getAbstract recommends this book to - all those interested in science, predictions of the future, philosophy and human nature.