Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being

Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being

by John D. Barrow
     
 

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Whether one studies the farthest reaches of outer space or the inner space of elementary particles of matter, our understanding of the physical world is built on mathematics. But what exactly is mathematics? A game played on pieces of paper? A human invention? An austere religion? Part of the mind of God? And equally important, why do we believe it can reveal to us

Overview

Whether one studies the farthest reaches of outer space or the inner space of elementary particles of matter, our understanding of the physical world is built on mathematics. But what exactly is mathematics? A game played on pieces of paper? A human invention? An austere religion? Part of the mind of God? And equally important, why do we believe it can reveal to us the nature of the universe?
John D. Barrow explores these tantalizing questions in Pi in the Sky, a lively and illuminating study of the origins and nature of mathematics. His tour takes us from primitive counting to the latest scientific ideas about the physical world, from the notched animal bones of the hunter-gatherers to the visions of Galileo and Descartes, and from the intricate mathematical systems of Egypt, Sumeria, and other early civilizations, to the work of such modern giants as Einstein, Kurt Godel, Alfred Tarski, and Bertrand Russell. We meet Pythagoras and his mystical "cult of numbers" as well as an eighteenth-century Swiss mathematician who proved to his colleagues—through an algebraic formula—the existence of God. Barrow examines ancient Chinese counting rods colored black and red for negative and positive numbers; the Botocoudo Indians of Brazil, who indicate any number over four by pointing to the hairs on their head; and the dethroning of Euclidian geometry in the nineteenth century with the rise of Darwin and cultural relativism. And in an eye-opening last chapter, Barrow discusses how the traditional picture of the universe as a vast mechanism is currently being replaced by a new paradigm—one that sees the universe, in essence, as a cosmic computer program.
Bristling with riddles and paradoxes, and quoting everyone from Lao-Tse and Robert Pirsig, to Charles Darwin and G.K. Chesterton, to Roger Bacon, Baron de Montesquieu, and Umberto Eco, Pi in the Sky is a profound—and profoundly edifying—journey into the world of mathematics. It illuminates the way that numbers shape how we see the world and how we see ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A history of--and reflection upon--the role of mathematics in the human enterprise. (Oct.)
Booknews
Famous cosmologist and prolific author John Barrow explores the origin and nature of mathematics and explains the important implications of the numerous unanswered questions in our search for a theory of everything. He weaves together a history of math that illuminates its far-reaching capabilities and its intrinsic limitations, its proven and unproven theories, and its pervasive impact on the way people think and live. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Bryce Christensen
Mathematics has rarely found such a gifted and provocative exponent! From Pythagoras to Godel, Barrow plumbs the human fascination with numbers. No dry treatise, this investigation draws the reader into a world of jealously guarded mysteries, of feverish ambitions, and of irrational fears. Himself a mathematician and astronomer, Barrow ponders the strange power of formulas in modern science. This power has fired some theorists with the hope of developing one ultimate theory of the universe. Such hope, Barrow shows, must finally meet frustration, for there are paradoxical limits inherent in all formal systems of logic, including mathematics. The discovery of these limits has sent intellectual shock waves felt far beyond the lecture hall. Rich in philosophical insights and literary allusions, this remarkable study will stimulate and challenge serious readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780198539568
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/01/1992
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.09(d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
John D. Barrow is Professor in the Astronomy Centre of the University of Sussex. His is the author of several highly acclaimed volumes on the philosophy of science, including most recently Theories of Everything, which Publishers Weekly hailed as "a mind-boggling intellectual adventure."

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