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A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein

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It is a widely known but insufficiently appreciated fact that Albert Einstein and Kurt Goedel were best friends for the last decade and a half of Einstein's life. They walked home together from Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study every day; they shared ideas about physics, philosophy, politics, and the lost world of German-Austrian science in which they had grown up. What is not widely known is that in 1949 Goedel made a remarkable discovery: there exist possible worlds described by the theory of relativity ...
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A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein

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It is a widely known but insufficiently appreciated fact that Albert Einstein and Kurt Goedel were best friends for the last decade and a half of Einstein's life. They walked home together from Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study every day; they shared ideas about physics, philosophy, politics, and the lost world of German-Austrian science in which they had grown up. What is not widely known is that in 1949 Goedel made a remarkable discovery: there exist possible worlds described by the theory of relativity in which time, as we ordinarily understand it, does not exist. He added a philosophical argument that demonstrates, by Goedel's lights, that as a consequence, time does not exist in our world either. If Goedel is right, Einstein has not just explained time; he has explained it away.

Without committing himself to Goedel's philosophical interpretation of his discovery, Einstein acknowledged that his friend had made an important contribution to the theory of relativity, a contribution that he admitted raised new and disturbing questions about what remains of time in his own theory. Physicists since Einstein have tried without success to find an error in Goedel's physics or a missing element in relativity itself that would rule out the applicability of Goedel's results. Philosophers, for the most part, have been silent -- a scandal to which this book is a response.

A World Without Time, addressed to experts and non-experts alike, brings to life the sheer intellectual drama of the companionship of Goedel and Einstein, and places their epoch making discoveries -- which can only be measured on a millennial scale -- in the context of the great and disturbing intellectual movements of the twentieth century, in physics, mathematics, logic, philosophy, and the arts. It contains, as well, a poignant and intimate account of the friendship between these two magnificent thinkers, each put on the shelf by the scientific fashions of their day -- and ours -- and attempts to rescue from undeserved obscurity the brilliant work Goedel did, inspired by Einstein, which made clear for the first time the truly revolutionary nature of the theory of relativity, which to this day is hardly recognized.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What if time is only an illusion, if it doesn't actually exist? Yourgrau, a Brandeis professor of philosophy, explains that Einstein's general theory of relativity may allow for this possibility, first realized by the great logician Kurt Godel. Godel is best known for his incompleteness theorem, one of the most important theorems in mathematical logic since Euclid. In a typically brief paper written for a Festschrift to honor his friend and Princeton neighbor Einstein, Godel theorized the existence of what have come to be called Godel universes: rotating universes in which time travel is possible. But if one can travel through time, how can time as we know it exist in these other universes, since the past is always present? And if time doesn't exist in other universes, then it may not exist in ours either. Yourgrau (The Disappearance of Time) writes that Godel's paper was almost universally ignored, and he claims that since the logician's death, philosophers have gone out of their way to try to denigrate his work in fields other than logic. This book will appeal to fans of Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach and to Einstein junkies, and makes a fascinating companion to Rebecca Goldstein's Incompleteness (Forecasts, Dec. 20), but all readers who enjoy a good thought experiment or having basic preconceptions about their world challenged will enjoy this. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An account of the spacey philosophical/mathematical territory charted by 20th-century European uber-minds, from the perspective of Austrian-born Kurt Godel, supported by Albert Einstein. Yourgrau (Philosophy/Brandeis) devotes the bulk of his text to the birth and academic life of "the Godel Universe" (the forgotten legacy to which the subtitle refers), a radical cosmological view made plausible by Einstein's theories. In the magical, rotating Godel Universe, time is merely another sort of space, and therefore an actual rocket ship could, if it goes fast enough, travel back in time. It's an unpopular theory, and the author gives ample attention to its detractors while remaining an unabashed cheerleader for Godel. (Stephen Hawking is one of the more prominent members of the opposition, which Yourgrau blithely attributes to the theory's shocking implications.) When he writes of real space and real time, the author does a superb job of portraying the thinkers from a human perspective, describing Godel as "gaunt, harrowed, and haunted, peering through thick glasses like an owl from another dimension." He depicts Kurt and Albert as complementary entities, despite their contradictory characters. Both German speakers made multiple visits to sanitoria over their lifetimes, but Godel was a theist, baptized Lutheran, whereas Einstein was a culturally Jewish, "deeply religious unbeliever." Einstein was a fan of Beethoven and Mozart, Godel of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Unlike James Gleick's Chaos (1987) or Simon Singh's Fermat's Enigma (1997), which both effectively make high-level intellectual concepts understandable to the average reader, Yourgrau's narrative displays less concernfor pandering to nonacademic stragglers. At times it reads like the account of a scholarly hockey game; after an idea has passed from Leibniz to Wittgenstein to Goldfarb to Frege to Husserl to Capek and back, it's easy to lose track of the goal. And that's not the only reason many readers, even science buffs, will be left in the space dust. Intellectually provocative, of more interest to scholars than the general public, but accessible to the motivated sub-genius. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465092932
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 12/27/2004
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Palle Yourgrau is a Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University. His 1999 monograph Gödel Meets Einstein, the only book-length work on Gödel's cosmological ideas, has caused a resurgence of interest among philosophers in Gödel's ideas about time and relativity. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

1 A conspiracy of silence 1
2 A German bias for metaphysics 9
3 Vienna : logical circles 21
4 A spy in the house of logic 51
5 It's hard to leave Vienna 77
6 Amid the demigods 89
7 The scandal of big "T" and little "t" 119
8 Twilight of the gods 145
9 In what sense is Godel (or anyone else) a philosopher? 161
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Paperback copy

    Found this book to be interesting and engaging. The relationship between einstein and godel is rarely mentioned and its interesring to see how the two interacted.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2007

    Just a note

    From New Scientist,April 14 2007, 'Axis of evil a cause for cosmic concern'. Some believe it is just a figment of overactive imaginations. But evidence is growing that the so-called 'axis of evil'-a pattern apparently imprinted on the radiation left behind by the big bang-may be real, posing a threat to standard cosmology. According to the standard model, the universe is isotropic,.. The first sign that this might not be the case came in 2005.... in the map of cosmic microwave background created by NASA's WMAP satellite. It seemed to show that some hot and cold spots in the CMB are not distributed randomly, as expected, but are aligned along what Magueijo dubbed the axis of evil. .... .... The Quasar finding has support from another study, however. Michael Longo of the Univeristy of Michigan in Ann Arbor analysed 1660 spiral galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and found that the axes of rotation of most galaxies appear to line up with the axis of evil. According to Longo, the probability of this happening by chance is less than 0.4 percent.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2006

    It's About Time

    Beyond the apocalyptic sense, we might be running out of time not the 'time' handed down from a Homeric Cronos or from Ecclesiastes (For everything there is a season...) or Prufrockian events (There will be time, there will be time. To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...). Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (GTR) introduced a much more elemental, modern and, at least for some of us, counter-intuitive idea of 'time' that melded a constant (the speed of light) and a mass-curved geometry into spacetime, whose effect was, nevertheless, relative! In GTR, the temporal space from 'here' to 'there,' from 'now' to 'then,' massively complicated, shrinks and expands in a tangled warp. At least it did until Kurt Godel in his searing analysis added new, astonishing gyrations befitting his place as a preeminent mathematician, erstwhile physicist and the most celebrated logician since Aristotle. Palle Yourgrau, the Henry A. Wolfson Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis University has devoted a great deal of his academic career to understanding Godel and particularly what most of us take for granted - the concept of time - which Godel believed was THE key issue of philosophy (p. 111). In a World Without Time, Yourgrau continues the explication of Godel's insights into GTR that he explored earlier with his Godel Meets Einstein: Time Travel in the Godel Universe (Open Court Press, 1999). Godel and Einstein were colleagues and close friends at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ, where both had been given safe haven from the Nazi scourge of the 1930s. Together, they walked to and from their offices talking philosophy, politics and especially relativity theory. As Yourgrau describes it, on one of these walks Godel pushed beyond Einstein arbitrary conception of a relativistic universe and then later expanded on this in an Einstein Festschrift [P.A. Schilpp (Ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court, 1949/18]. Godel proposed that in GTR there could be a universe whose rotation on its axis would make time stand still. Yourgrau provides fascinating detail about the lives of both men, describing their academic roots in mathematics, physics and philosophy with particular emphasis on the cross currents between Kantian (epistemological) and Leibnitzian (ontological) fundaments Newtonian theory the work of Russell and Whitehead, Wittgenstein and Hilbert and Husserl the development of Positivism in the heady atmosphere of Viennese culture the Einstein-Godel preference for the Platonic tradition the elements in the development of GTR Godel's logical system the vexing concept of time in the history of philosophy from Parmenides to Heidegger the Einstein-Godel special relationship in Princeton. Yourgrau does a wonderful job of presenting this rich intellectual background while, at the same time, bringing Einstein and Godel, 20th Century titans, down to earthy, everyday circumstance. Particularly, there is Einstein's loosey-goosey lifestyle and the pathetic contrast between Godel's soaring intellectual achievements and lifelong paranoiac fears resulting in delusional, fatal self-starvation. (In this connection, see also A.R. Cellura's The Genomic Environmennt and Niche-Experience, Cedar Springs Press, 2005). Rebecca Goldstein's recently published Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel (W.W. Norton, 2005) is also well worth reading. But, A World Without Time's denouement is the exegesis of a Godelian Universe where time freezes, like winter's ice, into a place one might visit just as possibly as a trip you might take to Chicago, if you could go fast enough! In a rarely recognized subtlety, Godel's idea also challenges the bedrock of science - the concept of causality. As Yourgrau points out, Godel preferred fairy tales (his favorite: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) to prosaic accounts of experience. Yet, a Godelian Universe that permits time travel, though obviously con

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2005

    Yes, and then there's Time.....

    Question: If a rotating universe is truly rotating, what context is it rotating within ? Whatever the context, it too must contain a description of time, perhaps separate from the relativistic concept of time. If so, perhaps the limitations of time cirticized by Godel, are a result of an incomplete description of time in relativistic terms. The text is very good. However, important descriptions of items in the book leave me vacant. I still don't know what an 'A' series description of time is. The author tries to explain it in one paragraph. Come on. Isn't it the authors job to tell you clearly what he is describing ? No, I won't accept the retort, if you need to ask you didn't understand. I don't have to take a test on this stuff. It's the authors job to explain it to me. I think only Phoilosophers worry about 'Positivism etc.' any more. Why ? I would like to know. The sniping described by the other philosophers on Goedels' work seems like typical academia and the importance of his discoveries about time are well concieved, and illustrated in the book. Why are physicists dead silent on the issue? Even vibrating strings need time to vibrate within... The authors description of Godels' work is really neat. Makes me want to start measuring Galaxy spin vectors. Stay tuned....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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