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Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time [Hardcover]

Robin Le Poidevin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Feb 2003
Space and time are the most fundamental features of our experience of the world, and yet they are also the most perplexing. Does time really flow, or is that simply an illusion? Did time have a beginning? What does it mean to say that time has a direction? Does space have boundaries, or is it infinite? Is change really possible? Could space and time exist in the absence of any objects or events? Are our space and time unique, or could there be other, parallel worlds with their own space and time? What, in the end, are space and time? Do they really exist, or are they simply the constructions of our minds?
Robin Le Poidevin provides a clear, witty, and stimulating introduction to these deep questions, and many other mind-boggling puzzles and paradoxes. He gives a vivid sense of the difficulties raised by our ordinary ideas about space and time, but he also gives us the basis to think about these problems independently, avoiding large amounts of jargon and technicality.
His book is an invitation to think philosophically rather than a sustained argument for particular conclusions, but Le Poidevin does advance and defend a number of controversial views. He argues, for example, that time does not actually flow, that it is possible for space and time to be both finite and yet be without boundaries, and that causation is the key to an understanding of one of the deepest mysteries of time: its direction.
Travels in Four Dimensions draws on a variety of vivid examples and stories from science, history, and literature to bring its questions to life. No prior knowledge of philosophy is required to enjoy this book. The universe might seem very different after reading it.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (6 Feb 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198752547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198752547
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 16 x 20.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 784,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

a lucid philosophical primer on space and time . . .unquestionably mind-expanding stuff (The Guardian)

This book is a fine introduction to many of the classical puzzles and paradoxes of space, time and the continuum ... Anyone new to these topics will find much to savour and ponder ... The writing is clear ... the pace is brisk. (Barry Dainton, Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Robin Le Poidevin is Professor of Metaphysics at the University of Leeds.

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On the evening of 15 February 1894, a man was discovered in the park near the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in a most distressing condition: it appeared that he had been carrying or otherwise handling some explosive which had gone off in his hands. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weighty matters in simple language 8 Nov 2003
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This book arose out of a series of lectures the author gave under the title of Space, Time and Infinity. It is a philosophical introduction to the questions of space and time, written to stimulate further thought on the paradoxes of these concepts, in other words, to look again at the conceptual questions and puzzles that our ordinary view of space and time presents.
The questions that the author considers include the following: Are space and mind just mental constructions? Is there a fourth spatial dimension? Do parallel worlds exist? Could time run backwards? Might time travel be possible? Could space exist with nothing in it? Could there be space beyond the universe? and, Did time have a beginning?
Le Poidevin guides the reader through these puzzles with lots of wit in an engaging writing style. Best of all, he makes clear the limitations of our ordinary ideas of space and time and provides us with the tools to think about these problems with a broader brush. He does this by using only a modest amount of physics, so no prior knowledge of science or philosophy is required to enjoy the book.
He also deals with the Fine Tuning of the universe. Even slight differences in the fundamental physical features of the universe (such as in the forces that bind atoms together, the masses of particles, electromagnetic equations and the rate of expansion in the early universe) would have made it impossible for life as we know it to evolve in the universe.
Similar thought-provoking books include Small World by Mark Buchanan, Hidden Connections by Fritjof Capra, The Universe Next Door by Marcus Chown, Before The Beginning by Martin Rees, Time And Space by Barry Dainton and God's Equation by Amir Aczel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing read 24 May 2009
Format:Paperback
This is a fascinating book that really makes you think about the nature of space and time without getting bogged down in too much mathematics. A great introduction to the topic.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weighty matters in simple language 8 Nov 2003
By Pieter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book arose out of a series of lectures the author gave under the title of Space, Time and Infinity. It is a philosophical introduction to the questions of space and time, written to stimulate further thought on the paradoxes of these concepts, in other words, to look again at the conceptual questions and puzzles that our ordinary view of space and time presents.
The questions that the author considers include the following: Are space and mind just mental constructions? Is there a fourth spatial dimension? Do parallel worlds exist? Could time run backwards? Might time travel be possible? Could space exist with nothing in it? Could there be space beyond the universe? and, Did time have a beginning?
Le Poidevin guides the reader through these puzzles with lots of wit in an engaging writing style. Best of all, he makes clear the limitations of our ordinary ideas of space and time and provides us with the tools to think about these problems with a broader brush. He does this by using only a modest amount of physics, so no prior knowledge of science or philosophy is required to enjoy the book.
He also deals with the Fine Tuning of the universe. Even slight differences in the fundamental physical features of the universe (such as in the forces that bind atoms together, the masses of particles, electromagnetic equations and the rate of expansion in the early universe) would have made it impossible for life as we know it to evolve in the universe.
Similar thought-provoking books include Small World by Mark Buchanan, Hidden Connections by Fritjof Capra, The Universe Next Door by Marcus Chown, Before The Beginning by Martin Rees, Time And Space by Barry Dainton and God's Equation by Amir Aczel.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Philosophy of Time and Space 18 May 2008
By F. Ramos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Philosophy of Time and the Philosophy of Space are some of the most neglected branches of philosophy to date. Of course it is mainly the natural philosophy of Physics that mainly focuses on the implications and the concept of time and the relation to spatial ontology. This book is a great book for anyone who has the guts to engage with the possibilities, contradictions, and paradoxes of the natural phenomena of time and the relationship to space. We all talk about time, more so than space, and some of us even complain about how little time we have and the like. But do we truly know what time is and how it affects our statements, in terms of controlling tense in our language? This book helps understand the concepts of time and helps us use precise language in terms of talking about the past, present, and future along with space thrown in the mix.

Robin Le Poidevin does humanity a service for writing this book and summarizing the dialogues on time and it's relation to space.

On this discourse Poidevin, delves into concepts in mathematics such as the plausible tension between classical Euclidian space and non Euclidian space as first mentioned by Nikolai Lobachevski. Dimensionality is touched on a bit, in terms of what a dimension really is. Furthermore, the book should really be bought for the discussion of the A Theory of Time and B Theory of Time and McTaggart's proof of the unreality of time. Time travel also has its due portion in the book. Is time travel even possible? Poidevin does an excellent job in presenting plausible time travel scenarios and discussing the paradoxes and nonsense that arises from plausible scenarios of time travel and as always, discussion of the Arrow of Time (the direction of time) is found within this book as well. Even the location of time is mentioned! Is there differing times for different locations in space? Read this book. As always, Zeno and his classical paradoxes of movement and motion are also mentioned within the book and add insight to classical Greek views of time. Especially that of Aristotle. The edge of space is also discussed along with Pythagoras's encounters with space and its difficulties. Even the origins of time and space have their place within this book along with God's relation to time. If you are interested with God and time, then William Lane Craig, another philosopher, has an excellent discourse on this called Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time and a book called God & Time: 4 Views is recommended. Otherwise, stick with this book.

Overall, this book is pretty dense. It is dense enough to entertain and enlighten, but not enough to bore or too technical in its language. It's a historical, mathematical, and mainly philosophical discourse on the debates on space and time form a professional philosopher's out look. If you are tired of reading and hearing horribly oversimplified talk of space and time by natural philosophers like Physicists, then try the general philosophers' take on the issue.

Here is a list of all the Chapters with few sections mentioned (I am not writing all the section names, just some that I think will catch your eyes)

Ch 1. The Measure of All things
Time and the Laws of Nature

Ch 2. Change
Time as Change
Time without Change?

Ch 3. A Box with No Sides?
Aristotle against the Void
Lessons of the Vacuum
The Redundancy of Space
The Search for Absolute Motion

Ch 4. Curves and Dimensions
Euclid Displaced
More than Three Dimensions?

Ch 5. The Beginning and End of Time
Can the Past be Infinite?

Ch 6. The Edge of Space
Is there Space Beyond the Universe?
The Illusion of Infinity

Ch 7. Infinity and Paradox
Zeno: How the Tortoise beat Achilles
Two Responses to Zeno: Infitismals and Finitism
Democritus' Cone

Ch 8. Does Time Pass?
McTaggart's Proof of the Unreality of Time
First Response: Presentism
Second Response: the B - Theory
Why is there only One Present?

Ch 9. The Cinematic Universe
Muybridge's Horse and Zeno's Arrow
No Motion at an Instant?
No Motion in the Present?

Ch 10. Interfering with History
Lost Days
Dilemmas of the Time Traveler
Causation in Reverse

Ch 11. Other Times and Spaces
Probability and the Multiverse

Ch 12. The Arrows of Time
Parallel Causes

And more....

Bravo for Poidevin for writing such and informative work. This book truly deserves a wide audience.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting historical overview but... 8 Aug 2010
By Marion Gothier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author is a professor of metaphysics so I suppose it should not have surprised me that this book is almost exclusively a survey of the philosophical conundrums time presents us with. As such it is entertaining and interesting.
However I really cannot fathom how anyone could possibly write a book about time in the 21st century and not mention Relativity theory even once. Because of this omission a lot of the book is hopelessly stuck in 19th century thinking (e.g. when asking the question of whether there is only one "now", which Relativity conclusively refutes, and when talking about whether time can flow at different rates, which we know to be the case for observers who move at different speeds). So, an interesting historical survey, but if you are looking to learn what we *know* about time today look elsewhere.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The uncertain quality of time and space 6 July 2009
By P. Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Travels in four dimensions is a fascinating look at time and space. The strong point of this book is the questions that it raises.No one really seems to be able to define space or time.We know just enough to know that we do not really know much about it at all.It is truly a paradox.The weak point of the book is in its use of classical logic to try to answer questions that make no logical sense anyway.Quantum physics and Relativity present to us a world similar to Alice In Wonderland which is anything but logical.
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