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Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature
     

Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature

by Peter Pesic
 

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The separateness and connection of individuals is perhaps the central question of human life: What, exactly, is my individuality? To what degree is it unique? To what degree can it be shared, and how? To the many philosophical and literary speculations about these topics over time, modern science has added the curious twist of quantum theory, which requires

Overview

The separateness and connection of individuals is perhaps the central question of human life: What, exactly, is my individuality? To what degree is it unique? To what degree can it be shared, and how? To the many philosophical and literary speculations about these topics over time, modern science has added the curious twist of quantum theory, which requires that the elementary particles of which everything consists have no individuality at all. All aspects of chemistry depend on this lack of individuality, as do many branches of physics. From where, then, does our individuality come? In Seeing Double, Peter Pesic invites readers to explore this intriguing set of questions. He draws on literary and historical examples that open the mind (from Homer to Martin Guerre to Kafka), philosophical analyses that have helped to make our thinking and speech more precise, and scientific work that has enabled us to characterize the phenomena of nature. Though he does not try to be all-inclusive, Pesic presents a broad range of ideas, building toward a specific point of view: that the crux of modern quantum theory is its clash with our ordinary concept of individuality. This represents a departure from the usual understanding of quantum theory. Pesic argues that what is bizarre about quantum theory becomes more intelligible as we reconsider what we mean by individuality and identity in ordinary experience. In turn, quantum identity opens a new perspective on us.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist - Ray Olson
Pesic suavely creates a masterpiece by saying much in little space.

From the Publisher

"Pesic suavely creates a masterpiece by saying much in little space." Ray
Olson
Booklist

The MIT Press

Physics World - Levy-Leblond
... an ambitious but sober reminder of the deep philosophical questions revolving around the ideas of individuality, identity and distinguishability.

The Guardian - PD Smith
... offers a rare insight into the bizarre quantum realm and its implications for our sense of self.

Publishers Weekly
In this suggestive but almost terse volume, Pesic, a musician-physicist at St. John's College, probes the mysteries of individuality and identity in light of quantum theory. For Pesic, quantum theory poses a paradox: electrons and other elementary particles exhibit no individuality, yet we who are composed of these particles believe we are individuals. Every electron is so devoid of distinguishing features that one cannot even mark a particular electron to trace its history; they are perfectly identical instances of their species, a property Pesic christens "identicality." To explore the implications of identicality, Pesic looks not only to science but also to literature and philosophy. He considers Penelope's recognition of Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey, the ship of Theseus, Democritus, Leibniz, Kant, Martin Guerre, Conrad and Kafka, and hopscotches through the history of physics from Newton and Maxwell to Planck and the articulation of quantum theory in the 1920s. Pesic argues that the admittedly strange quantum realm becomes more intelligible if one treats the loss of individuality as a fundamental postulate rather than a peripheral consequence of scaling down the physical world. He concludes by suggesting how identicality may point to novel ways of viewing ourselves, perhaps as modes of a single field, existing through participation. The prose style is clear and accessible, the treatment concise and admirably suited for the author's goal of beginning "a thoughtful conversation among many people," including nonspecialists. But the issues are so large and compelling that the book's brevity is at times frustrating, particularly in its most crucial sections on quantum theory and its implications. Still, the book does a respectable job of opening the conversation it seeks. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262661737
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
10/01/2003
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.37(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

George E. Smith
Reaching from Homer's Iliad and ancient Greek philosophy to modern chemistry and current physics, Pesic's new tour de force is a fitting sequel to his Labyrinth, this time concentrating on age-old philosophic puzzles on identity and their re-emergence in the transition from nineteenth-century physics to quantum field theory to illuminate the conceptual structure of science.

From the Publisher

"In what consists your identity? With the potential of cloning on the horizon, what defines individuality? Drawing on philosophy, literature, and physics in accessible prose, Peter
Pesic illuminates the meaning of unique personhood. A challenging and civilizing tour-de-force."--Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of History of
Science, Emeritus, Harvard University

The MIT Press

Gerald Holton
In what consists your identity? With the potential of cloning on the horizon, what defines individuality? Drawing on philosophy, literature, and physics in accessible prose, Peter Pesic illuminates the meaning of unique personhood. A challenging and civilizing tour-de-force.

Jorge J. E. Gracia
Identity and individuality have been constant subjects of study and speculation among intellectuals from time immemorial, but almost everyone approaches them from narrow disciplinary points of view. Peter Pesic's Seeing Double is a successful challenge to this approach, for it successfully mixes physics, literature, and philosophy in an account that is both suggestive and enlightening. Written in a clear and elegant style, this is a logical starting point for anyone who wants to delve into these topics.

Abhay Ashtekar
An enchanting analysis of individuality and identity that should delight laypersons, humanists, and scientists alike. Peter Pesic recounts how some of the deepest thinkers from Homer and Aristotle to Leibniz and Einstein wrestled with the 'genuine questions' about identity, each adding an unforeseen dimension and changing their scope in the process. As Dr. Pesic guides us through the evolution of thought, we cannot but marvel at nature's uncanny ability to reveal, time and again, that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Meet the Author

Peter Pesic is Tutor and Musician-in-Residence at St. John's College, Santa Fe. He is the author of Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science; Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature; Abel's Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability; and Sky in a Bottle, all published by the MIT Press.

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