Doubt and Certainty, 1998

Chosen by the "A-List" as one of the 200 best books of 1998

Lucky am I to be possessor of that new Perseus Book, Doubt and Certainty.  Problem after problem that today nags at any conscience of mine and my colleagues' finds itself served up here in a new context, with new parties coming into the discussion, new books, and new choice quotes from the literature.  I can't think of anybody I know...who will not enjoy this book; not one who will not find him/herself setting afterwards onto new and rewarding trains of thought--John A. Wheeler.

Doubt and Certainty is my latest book, coauthored with the eminent physicist, E.C.G. (George) Sudarshan.  Sudarshan is Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, Austin.  He was the author of the first theory of the weak nuclear force (the "V-A" theory), a pioneer in quantum optics, and the inventor of tachyons, hypothetical particles that travel faster than light.  An expert on Indian philosophy, he is also the recipient of the Order of the Lotus, one of India's highest civilian honors, and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. I first met Sudashan when I took his graduate course in quantum mechanics at UT, and we have been engaged in a continuous dialogue ever since.

In Doubt and Certainty we try to shy away from endorsing the latest and greatest discoveries in physics.  Rather, the book is an examination of what "we know about what we don't know, and what we don't know about what we know."  What exactly is established in our scientific theories, what is open to question?  Where has the language of our theories been mistaken for the real thing?  Is there anything in the New Age attempts to connect quantum mechanics and mysticism?  Can science have any logical impact in nonscientific spheres?

Our examination of these questions is not exactly carried out in the traditional science-book fashion.  Rather, I have set it in a ficitious Academy, where scholars of all ages--including the authors and the hapless reader--gather for debates. Everybody will think the inspiration for the Academy was Plato's, and Perseus Book's publicity department will have done nothing to disabuse that notion, but it is in fact based on Alexandria, a mythical university I invented for my unpublished novel Apocrypha.   Indeed, Doubt and Certainty approaches a cross between a novel and a science book.

Many people have asked how Doubt and Certainty was written.  Basically, George would come over to my Austin apartment two or three days a week and we would spend several hours each time hashing out issues that pertained to the current chapter. Sometimes the arguments would continue for days; however, many of those session consisted of me listening to what he had to say and taking notes at the computer. Then I would write up a few pages, incorporating my ideas with his, and show it to him for approval.  It is difficult to argue with Sudarshan in the best of circumstances; even at the age of 65 he has an extremely quick mind and knows more physics than virtually anyone on the planet.  It was extremely gratifying on the few occasions when I stopped him cold. The material that appears in the book is generally one of consensus, although sometimes we included our disagreements.

Many of the questions we deal with in Doubt and Certainty are the perennial questions:  Why does time go forward?  Does mathematics really describe the real world?  What can we say about the creation of the universe?  However, although the questions are old, we think we have said some unusual things about them that are not often found in popular books.  Besides, it's very funny.

Doubt and Certainty is available at your local bookstore or through

Check out a few of the pen and ink illustrations by Shannon Comins and visit her website.

Sphinx Eating Academicians   Loschmidt v Boltzmann   Quantum Sphinx

For much better reproductions of the drawings, see the originals in the book.


1.  Preliminary Debates--Is The Universe Describable?
          In which the academicians debate the nature of models, theories, laws and principles,
          describe some theories that seem less than meet the eye and model the mind as a fluid.

2.  Second Debates--Is Nature Unreasonably Mathematical?
        In which the academicians debate whether mathematics really describes the world as well as
        scientists say it does and the reader gets into an argument with Dirac over music and emotions.

3.  Third Debates--Is The World Symmetrical?
        In which a long debate takes place over the role of symmetry in science and art, whether
        quarks really exist, and in which the authors point out that symmetry requires asymmetry.

4.  Fourth Debates--Why Do Things Happen?
        In which LaSalle is about to discover the Mississippi, Laplace expounds on causality, Jung on
        synchronicity, and the chicken crosses the road, although we don't know why.

5.  Fifth Debates-- Does Time Go Forward?
        Boltzmann fails to convince the academicians why time goes forward, and is succeeded by
        a procession of cosmologists and others who also fail, and in which Eastern concepts of
        time also make an appearance.

6.  Sixth Debates--Why Is There A Left and A Right?
        In which a genteel discussion over left and right erupts into all out war over emergent
        properties and complexity.

7.  Seventh Debates--Is The Universe Weird?
        In which a sphinx demonstrates the subtleties of quantum mechanics and Californian
        tourists express their views on consciousness, all as the universe splits.

8. Eighth Debates--Is There An Answer?
        In which a small party of academicians and the reader discuss Theories of Everything, while
        scaling the Academy's Great Library.

9. Ninth Debates--How Did We Get Here?
        In which the academicians and the reader embark on an excavation to unearth the
        Oblivion File and, on the way down, debate the origin of the universe.

10. Tenth Debates--What Do You Mean?
        In which the reader attempts to escape the Academy as a civil war erupts over the impact
        of science on culture and the legitimacy of transposing scientific metaphors to nonscientific

11.  Supplemental Debates--Can We Make Any Money Off This?
        In which the reader returns to the Academy to understand the latest developments in
        applied quantum mechanics: quantum computing and teleportation.

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