Tony Rothman & George Sudarshan
Doubt and Certainty : The Celebrated Academy : Debates on Science, Mysticism, Reality, in General on the Knowable and Unknowable

"That the public equates quantum field theory with Deepak Chopra indicates that the time has come to sort things out." (p. x)
"If one could show that ESP or telekinesis existed, then we would certainly have to include them in a theory of physics. What part of us is not connected to the physical world?" (p. 282)
Do you like to listen to a good debate? Would you like to participate too? What if these debates were ahistorical in that everyone from Aristotle to Einstein were there and you could ask them all questions? Rothman and Sudarshan allow you to do just that (more or less) in this wonderful book. The debates usually include a number of parties, but most include at least a group of scientists, some New Agers, and a postmodernist or two. The best part of this book, in comparison with just about every other book on the market, is just about all available (or at least popular) opinions are presented. Too often authors think it best to present only their conclusions--leaving their readers with a void when it comes to differing views. These authors are more than happy to indulge the audience with a wider variety of beliefs.

Just about every one of the hundreds of people at the 'academy' get critiqued in some way or another. This includes not only folks like Fritjof Capra, Carl Jung, and Deepak Chopra but also Steven Weinberg who you wouldn't think would be picked on by a couple of physicists. The book is peppered with wit and is generally friendly so even fans of Capra, Jung, and Chopra may enjoy the criticisms that go along with the praise.

The ten debates are amazingly well done. Possibly difficult concepts (like nature's symmetry or lack thereof, entropy's possible association with the arrow of time, natural handedness, quantum mechanics, and the theory of inflation to name just a few) are introduced, explained, and dissected in relatively short periods of time. Generally when authors cover such a wide range of topics in such brevity, readers feel left out. The picture isn't grasped unless prior knowledge is had. With the exception of the supplemental debate on quantum computing the debates aren't too superficial or too detailed for most audiences.

Perhaps my favorite 'style' that runs through this book (and should run through all books) is the authors' separation of what is certain from what is uncertain and/or doubtful and the distinguishing of facts from (pure) speculation. The reader is drawn to the painful conclusion that we don't really know as much as we think we do, and certain methods of examining the facts are far better at giving us comfort in our 'certain-ness'. As plainly stated on page 215, "just because we don't know everything, doesn't mean we know nothing."

"To a large extent these debates have attempted to pinpoint gaps in our understanding that tend to get papered over and mistaken for solid ground. From these gaps, we hope, emerges a conviction that the universe is a richer and more ambiguous place than often acknowledged." (p. 278)
If you like this site, you will love this book. It raises more questions than it answers but the asking of the questions and searching for the answers really is one of the best parts of life.
"almost all calculations in the physical sciences end up being approximations, so if God made the physical world to fit the mathematical world, He could have used a few lessons in tailoring." (p. 43)
from the publisher:
When physicists and others construct models to explain the phenomena and laws of nature, do those models actually simulate what's really out there in the world, or do they only synthesize the way we think the world is? And how does our cultural upbringing affect the way we think about the world? In this far-reaching yet penetrating book, two world-class physicists, one born and raised in the West, the other in the Far East, examine these and many other intriguing questions not yet resolved by modern scientists. Set in an unusual format--a modern-day version of Plato's AcademyóRothman and Sudarshan delve deep into modern science and eastern philosophy, and come up with some startling insights on the structure of the physical world. Unlike some books that claim to unite physics and mysticism, Doubt and Certainty is a hard-headed examination of these questions.

Tony Rothman has written several highly acclaimed trade science books, including A Physicist on Madison Avenue (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize) and Instant Physics. George Sudarshan is the distinguished former Director of the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas-Austin and the coauthor of three physics textbooks.

"And so you see that what matters to each one is his own opinion. They care nothing for truth. Do not become an authority. When you are alive, they torment you. When you are dead, they become experts on your work. Their highest motivation, though, is to vie with one another and oppose anyone outside their own ranks." -- Ajmal Hussein story as adapted by the authors on pp. 281-82 from Wisdom of the Idiots pp. 51-52.