This engaging book is part of the American University Studies series. As such, it attempts to present a summary of sciences current understanding of the physical world, and to point out that humankind’s questioning across the ages has had a continuity, especially concerning the problem of paradox and reality. The author, a professor of information theory at Louisiana State University, finds these same questions articulated in the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and in Greek literature. He also observes at least two types of answers: the atomist’s belief that all knowledge can be reduced to a set of concepts and particles, and the intuitionist’s belief that reduction is impossible. The intuitionists hold that our understanding of the universe reflects the nature of our minds; hence the best approach is one that seeks ways to describe complex systems behavior.
Kak identifies two basic assumptions — causality and determinism — that have helped scientists discover order in nature. But some scientists take the position that, if carried too far, these assumptions can undercut the attempts to study human consciousness and volition. Another potential conflict is between analytic (i.e., logical, mathematical) and synthetic (i.e., observational, empirical) knowledge. Kak works through these paradoxes, taking the position that a science of consciousness can assist the resolution of these purported contradictions.
When he deals with biology, he observes serious problems for those trying to apply physics to a study of life forms. How does one reconcile the stability of biological structures with the increase of the complexity and organization of living organisms? Which came first in the origin of genetic information — the proteins or the nucleic acids?
Kak sees the phenomenon of sell-awareness as one of the most baffling puzzles of science. Computers lack self-awareness, at least at this point in time, so can be of limited assistance in studying this enigma. Kak suggests that mathematics, language and information theory can play a role in this investigation, and cites some remarkable insights for Gargya, Shakatayana and Panini, three ancient Indian phi1osophers who debated the origins and rules of grammar and word-meanings
From the beginning to the end of the book, Kak has come full circle. Although Western science has learned a great deal about the workings of the physical universe, many of the mysteries of human consciousness are as baffling as they were during ancient times. In 153 pages, the author has given his readers a concise picture of some of what is known about physical reality, and has provided them with questions that will leave them both wiser and more modest.