Oxford University Press
October 10, 2000
For 300 years, Trinh Xuan Thuan writes, since the time of Isaac Newton, scientists saw reality as a giant clock – a sterile mechanism in which one part acts on another in a deterministic fashion. But the discoveries of the last few decades have changed all that, conjuring up instead a universe brimming with unpredictability, creativity, and chance.
Writing with exceptional grace and clarity, Thuan vividly describes these important scientific discoveries, intriguing new theories about chaos, gravity, strange attractors, fractals, symmetry, super strings, and the strangeness of atoms. Equally important, he reveals how these discoveries have shaped our view of the universe – for instance, how quantum mechanics brought indeterminism to the subatomic universe. Thuan deftly describes quantum mechanics, discusses its relationship to the theories of relativity (which deal with the universe on a massive scale), and comments on Einstein’s inability to accept it. Indeed, throughout Chaos and Harmony, he makes clear as never before the mind-bending ideas of modern physics, such as the effect of gravity on time (it slows it down), the impossibility of crossing the speed-of-light barrier (it would actually reverse time), the role of fractals as “the language of nature,” and the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics and understanding the universe.
From the subatomic world to the vast realm of quasars and galaxies, from the nature of mathematics to the fractal characteristics of the human circulatory system, Trinh Xuan Thuan takes us on a breathtaking tour of the universe. With striking examples in clear, plain language, he shows how science has actually restored mystery to the world around us – a world of symmetry and chaos, contingency and creativity.
Trinh Xuan Thuan is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Virginia, and the author of The Secret Melody. He is a well-known science writer in France, where his books have been major bestsellers.