Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point

Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point : New Directions for the Physics of Time

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The arrow of time and the meaning of quantum mechanics are two of the great mysteries of modern physics. This important book - written for non-specialist readers, as well as physicists and philosophers - throws a fascinating new light on both issues, and connects them in a wholly original way. In considering attempts to understand the arrow of time in physics, Huw Price shows that for over a century physicists have fallen repeatedly for the same trap: treating the past and future in different ways. To overcome this natural tendency, we need to imagine a point outside time - an Archimedean viewpoint, as Price calls it - from which to think about the arrow of time in an unbiased way. Taking this Archimedean viewpoint, Price asks why we assume that the past affects the future but not vice versa, and argues that causation is much more symmetric in microphysics: to a limited extent, the future does affect the past. Thus he avoids the usual paradoxes of quantum mechanics, without succumbing to the rival paradoxes of causal loops and time travel.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 154.94 x 228.6 x 25.4mm | 589.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • line figures
  • 0195100956
  • 9780195100952

Review quote

An attempt to grapple with the ... problems of the arrow of time with a high degree of analytical care, John D. Barrow, Nature 383, 228 (1996) if words like "entropy" and "nonlocality" get your synapses buzzing then you'll find Price's analysis very stimulating indeed, even if you don't go along with his controversial conclusions * Scotland on Sunday * the treatment is wide-ranging and substantial. The discussion is carefully signposted and chapters contain point-by-point summaries of the argument and the author's principal conclusions. * Nature * philosophically well presented book ... For anyone who has read just the odd book on the nature of time and cosmological questions this is the ideal book to read next to find a fairer, less partial exploration of other thinkers in the field, and the too often neglected gratitude that the modern celebrity scientists have given them ... The Philosophers verdict: Praiseworthy, all round. * The Philosopher Vol 87 no 2 * The book is a tour de force. Price addresses some of the most difficult issues in physics and philosophy, and offers highly original solutions. Yet the book is written in a style which assumes no previous knowledge, and will be accessible to any reader who is prepared to think hard. In the course of his book, he makes real progress with the direction of time. If he leaves us with a new problem at the end, this only testifies to the number of old problems he has
resolved along the way. * TLS * This work is teeming with fresh insights and may be fairly said to light the fires of our imagination. It is a work that deserves to be widely read and to have a place in every science library. * Dennis H. Rouvray, Endeavour, Vol. 20, no. 4, 1996 * Huw Price's book is a significant contribution, remarkable in its scope.
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About Huw Price

Huw Price is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Sydney.
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Back cover copy

Why is the future so different from the past? Why does the past affect the future and not the other way around? What does quantum mechanics really tell us about the world? In this important and accessible book, Huw Price throws fascinating new light on some of the great mysteries of modern physics, and connects them in a wholly original way. Price begins with the mystery of the arrow of time. Why, for example, does disorder always increase, as required by the second law of thermodynamics? Price shows that, for over a century, most physicists have thought about these problems the wrong way. Misled by the human perspective from within time, which distorts and exaggerates the differences between past and future, they have fallen victim to what Price calls the "double standard fallacy": proposed explanations of the difference between the past and the future turn out to rely on a difference which has been slipped in at the beginning, when the physicists themselves treat the past and future in different ways. To avoid this fallacy, Price argues, we need to overcome our natural tendency to think about the past and the future differently. We need to imagine a point outside time - an Archimedean "view from nowhen" - from which to observe time in an unbiased way. Price then turns to the greatest mystery of modern physics, the meaning of quantum theory. He argues that in missing the Archimedean viewpoint, modern physics has missed a radical and attractive solution to many of the apparent paradoxes of quantum physics. Many consequences of quantum theory appear counter-intuitive, such as Schrodinger's Cat, whose condition seems undetermined until observed, and Bell's Theorem, which suggests a spooky"nonlocality", where events happening simultaneously in different places seem to affect each other directly. Price shows that these paradoxes can be avoided by allowing that at the quantum level the future does, indeed, affect the past. This demystifies nonlocality, and supports Einstein's unpopular intuition that quantum theory describes an objective world, existing independently of human observers: the Cat is alive or dead, even when nobody looks. So interpreted, Price argues, quantum mechanics is simply the kind of theory we ought to have expected in microphysics - from the symmetric standpoint.
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Table of contents

Preface ; 1. The View from Nowhen ; 2. "More Apt to be Lost than Got" - the Lesson of the Second Law ; 3. New Light on the Arrow of Radiation ; 4. Arrows and Errors in Contemporary Cosmology ; 5. Innocence and Symmetry in Microphysics ; 6. In Search of the Third Arrow ; 7. Convention Objectified, and the Past Unlocked ; 8. Einstein's Issue - the Puzzle of Contemporary Quantum Theory ; 9. The Case for Advanced Action ; Overview ; Bibliography ; Notes
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Rating details

118 ratings
3.66 out of 5 stars
5 26% (31)
4 30% (35)
3 31% (36)
2 11% (13)
1 3% (3)
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