Synopses & Reviews
Many books explain what is known about the universe. This book investigates what cannot be known. Rather than exploring the amazing facts that science, mathematics, and reason have revealed to us, this work studies what science, mathematics, and reason tell us cannot be revealed. In The Outer Limits of Reason
, Noson Yanofsky considers what cannot be predicted, described, or known, and what will never be understood. He discusses the limitations of computers, physics, logic, and our own thought processes.
Yanofsky describes simple tasks that would take computers trillions of centuries to complete and other problems that computers can never solve; perfectly formed English sentences that make no sense; different levels of infinity; the bizarre world of the quantum; the relevance of relativity theory; the causes of chaos theory; math problems that cannot be solved by normal means; and statements that are true but cannot be proven. He explains the limitations of our intuitions about the world -- our ideas about space, time, and motion, and the complex relationship between the knower and the known.
Moving from the concrete to the abstract, from problems of everyday language to straightforward philosophical questions to the formalities of physics and mathematics, Yanofsky demonstrates a myriad of unsolvable problems and paradoxes. Exploring the various limitations of our knowledge, he shows that many of these limitations have a similar pattern and that by investigating these patterns, we can better understand the structure and limitations of reason itself. Yanofsky even attempts to look beyond the borders of reason to see what, if anything, is out there.
"Rather than write about what he knows, Yanofsky (Quantum Computing for Computer Scientists) prefers to explore the topic of what he doesn't know or rather what we as humans cannot know. In this refreshingly original and ambitious philosophical inquiry, he attempts to map the limitations of human reason by examining the established conundrums, paradoxes, impossibilities within science and technology. Divided by subject area (including language, philosophy, science, mathematics, computing), each chapter lays out an array of paradoxes and unsolvable problems, clearly and concisely guiding readers into and around the worlds of reason. The examples range in complexity and some may be more familiar than others, such as his explanations of the Liar's Paradox, 'this sentence is false.' The more complicated contradictions, such as George Cantor's proof that an infinite set of numbers between 0 and 1 is vastly larger than an infinite set of natural numbers (1, 2, 3, 4 . . .), the author unpacks succinctly within the framework of modern life. He writes, 'It would be foolhardy to cross a modern suspension bridge if you knew that the engineer did not believe in Cantor's work.' Yanofsky takes on this mindboggling subject with confidence and impressive clarity. He eases the reader into the subject matter, ending each chapter with further readings. His book is a fascinating resource for anyone who seeks a better understanding of the world through the strangeness of its own limitations and a must-read for anyone studying information science. Illus. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Noson S. Yanofsky is Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is a coauthor of Quantum Computing for Computer Scientists.