Jim Al-Khalili – Paradox

A fun and fascinating look at great scientific paradoxes.

Throughout history, scientists have come up with theories and ideas that just don’t seem to make sense. These we call paradoxes. The paradoxes Al-Khalili offers are drawn chiefly from physics and astronomy and represent those that have stumped some of the finest minds.

For example, how can a cat be both dead and alive at the same time? Why will Achilles never beat a tortoise in a race, no matter how fast he runs? And how can a person be 10 years older than his twin?

With elegant explanations that bring the listener inside the mind of those who’ve developed them, Al-Khalili helps us to see that, in fact, paradoxes can be solved if seen from the right angle. Just as surely as Al-Khalili narrates the enduring fascination of these classic paradoxes, he reveals their underlying logic. In doing so, he brings to life a select group of the most exciting concepts in human knowledge.

Paradox is mind-expanding fun.

Author: Jim Al-Khalili
Narrator: Matthew Waterson
Duration: 6 hours 54 minutes
Released: 19 May 2003
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Language: English

User Review:

parakeet rutted

Firstly (as the author admits) these are not Paradoxes. It is not clear why the author then calls them Paradoxes anyway. As an example he attempts to present one real paradox – “this statement is a lie”. Unfortunately this is not actually a paradox. If the statement was made as an example of a paradox then “this statement is a lie” is true and this leads to no contradiction. That statement is not false, as it is indeed a lie. Instead “this statement if false” is paradoxical. If the statement is true it leads to a contradiction, and it is false it also leads to a contradiction. This at the opening of the book was a bad sign.

Luckily (?) the rest of the book was not about logical paradoxes, but instead about non-obvious non-paradoxical problems:

Monte Hall Problem
Achilles and the Tortoise
Maxwell’s Demon
Pole in the Barn Relativistic Length Dilation
Twins Paradox Relativistic Time Dilation
Grandfather Murder Time-Loop
Laplace’s Demon Future Prediction
Schrodinger’s Cat Superposition
Fermi Paradox Extraterrestrial Life

The author effectively throws a bunch of conventional words at each of these problems but does not actually explain very much (except for the Monte Hall Problem). He says a bunch of conventional things relativity and quantum reality which boil down to “it is weird and crazy, just believe the equations”. I have studied relativity and quantum mechanics and can successfully use these equations, but that does not resolve the enigmas.

There are a couple of major problems with this book. Firstly the author repeatedly speaks about the state of the universe between measurements as if this was a real thing. Wiser quantum physicists are careful to say these equations do not describe the world between measurements, only the likelihood of actual measurements.
He talks about particles taking both paths (which is nonsense). This author also blurs the concepts of “expending energy” and utilizing low-entropy (energy is never consumed or expended only transformed). Quantum reality is not crazy, people are just stupid. See Smolin’s new book on Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution for more reasoned comments about entropy and quantum reality.

The other problem is the author says “the ONLY way to explain this is X”. Really? The ONLY way? This kind of certainty is absurd and is the worst kind of popularization of science.

I would not recommend this book to anyone.

The narration was clear, clean and well paced with good production quality.