“There is no more eloquent, interesting or persuasive exposition of what may be called science of philosophy than Sir James Jeans’s.” — The New York Times
Can we have any knowledge of the world outside us other than we gain by the methods of science? Are we humans endowed with free will, or are we mere cogs in a vast machine that must follow its predestined course until it finally runs down? Is the world we perceive the world of ultimate reality, or is it only a curtain veiling a deeper reality beyond?
In this strikingly lucid and often poetic book, one of the twentieth century’s greatest scientists grapples with these age-old questions, achieving in the process a brilliant and non-technical exposition of the interrelationship between physics and philosophy. He begins by defining physics and philosophy, pointing out the difference in their respective attempts to explain physical reality and man’s place in it. This discussion paves the way for an outline of epistemological methods in which the rationalism of thinkers like Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant is compared to the empiricism of Locke and Hume.
Over the course of the book, in a manner that is careful and methodic but never dull, Jeans marshals the evidence for his startling conclusion: recent discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, sub-atomic physics, and other disciplines have washed away the scientific basis of many older philosophic discussions. Such long-standing problems as causality, free will and determinism, the nature of space and time, materialism and mentalism must be considered anew in the light of new knowledge and information attained by twentieth-century physical science. Even then, however, Jeans cautions against drawing any positive conclusions, pointing out that both physics and philosophy are both relatively young and that we are still in Newton’s words, like children playing with pebbles on the sea-shore, while the great ocean of truth rolls, unexplored, beyond our reach.
Although first published in 1943, nothing in physics has happened to affect Jeans’s account in this book; it remains remarkably fresh and undated, a classic exposition of the philosophical implications of scientific knowledge.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
An absolutely brilliant book, October 6, 2005 By Michael McClennen (Madison, WI) – See all my reviews
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This book is as timely now as when it was first published in 1944. It presents a brilliant summary of what modern physics does and does not say about the nature of the universe in which we exist, in the context of the historical development of physics and the corresponding developments in philosophy. Even better, it is written using language that is accessible to anyone, whether or not they have a background in science. It does not contain any mathematics, and no mathematical background is required in order to understand it.
I wish I had read this book 20 years ago; it would have given focus to my ponderings about the nature of reality, time and mind.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Consise, yet infinitely thought provoking, November 6, 2006 By Stephan (Seattle, WA) – See all my reviews
Summed up, in my younger high school years this book guided me through my ponderings of the world and helped point me in a direction which has essentially shaped who I am today, a rational, yet questioning individual which is also what Mr. Jeans I think tries to accomplish with this writing. decades ahead of it’s time, Sir. James Jeans talks of the foundational limitations of newtonian (clock-work like) physics as well as quantum level physics as if it was being studied like it is today. James Jeans’ book is a remarkable triumph of non-fiction literature by being able to describe the uses and limitations of deep-lying mathematical concepts in almost strictly non-mathematical language. A truly elegant work!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful, March 11, 2007 By a reader – See all my reviews
As a student studying physics and philosophy this is one of the best books I’ve read. Jeans gives a great survey of modern physic and modern philosophy (I’ve used this book as a reference several times this semester to clear up some issues since I am taking both modern physics and modern philosophy!) and draws great conclusions from both of them. The book is a wonderful read, a lot of good information but still very enjoyable. Overall one of my favorite books.