Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt

From TheBookbag
Jump to: navigation, search


Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ed Prior
Reviewed by Ed Prior
Summary: Why is there something, rather than nothing? Guiding us through some of the most popular scientific, theological and philosophical theories dealing with the most basic conundrum of existence, Jim Holt tackles this centuries old question in a clear, accessible style, leavened by his wry sense of humour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 307 Date: June 2012
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781846682445

Share on: Delicious Digg Facebook Reddit Stumbleupon Follow us on Twitter



In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adam’s famously suggested that the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything was forty-two, although it quickly turns out nobody knows what the ultimate question is, rendering the answer meaningless. In Why Does the World Exist?, Jim Holt explores potential answers to what could be considered the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – why is there something, rather than nothing? And the answer’s certainly not forty-two.

The question is simultaneously breath-takingly simple and staggeringly complex and Holt’s quest for an answer takes him to meet such varied figures as philosopher of science Adolf Grunbaum, Christian apologist Richard Swinburne and the late, great author John Updike shortly before his death. The author’s personable style and eye for humanising details – did you know the African Bantus believe the entire universe was vomited up by a nauseated being called Bumba? – make this an enlightening and highly readable exploration of a subject matter which could have been bafflingly esoteric in less expert hands.

Why Does the World Exist? explores the three main systems of thought vying to provide an answer to the mystery of existence - physics, philosophy and religion. Each is given fair and balanced coverage as Holt weighs the relative merits and flaws of different theories dealing with how, or even if, the universe could have come into being from a state of absolute nothing. Along the way he provides insight into such fascinating subjects as infinite regress, the mutliverse and what exactly nothing is anyway.

Holt’s quest opens up other questions, not least of which is whether our finite human minds are even capable of understanding the fundamental nature of reality. He breaks these deep thoughts up with wry observations about the people he interviews and takes time for such mundane details as what he had for dinner while on the road. It is these little moments that keep this a thoroughly human account of one man’s quest for understanding and will help the more casual reader to remain engaged with the high concepts being thrown around.

Although solving the mystery of existence is beyond the scope of any book of popular science, Jim Holt uses mathematics, philosophy and quantum physics to highlight key insights into how we might have got to something from nothing and the implications this could have for the nature of reality. Holt leaves the reader, if not with any definitive answers, then at least with a much clearer sense of exactly what the question really means and some of the areas from which the answer might one day come.

Ultimately, Holt delivers a highly personal, even sometimes moving, account of his quest to solve the mystery of existence that will leave any open-minded reader richer for the experience. He has gone a long way to demystifying an important and difficult subject and this book will work as a great jumping off point for anyone looking to gain an insight into the age-old conundrum of existence.

If this book appeals then you might also appreciate Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar.

Buy Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt at Amazon.com.


Comments

Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.