Oxford University Press
October 1, 1992
Whether one studies the farthest reaches of outer space or the inner space of elementary particles of matter, our understanding of the physical world is built upon that strange symbolic language we call mathematics. But what exactly is mathematics? And why does it work? Is it just an elaborate computer game? Or merely a human invention inspired by our practical needs? Or is it something larger than life? An immaterial ‘pi in the sky’ reality all of its own? Part of the mind of God? And how do the answers to these questions affect our quest to arrive at an understanding of the Universe?
John D. Barrow explores these tantalizing questions in this book, a lively and illuminating study of the origins, the meaning, and the mystery of mathematics. He takes us from primitive counting to computability, from the counting rituals of the ancients to logics that govern universes other than our own, from Egyptian hieroglyphics to logical friction, from number mysticism to Marxist mathematics. We learn of the origins of counting the world over, the propensities of the human mind for the numerical when in pursuit of the ineffable, and how the discernment of Euclid’s geometry ushered in a new world of philosophical relativism in which traditional truths were dissolved. We meet a host of peculiar individuals who have thought some of the deepest and strangest thoughts that human minds have ever thought. And in an extraordinary final chapter, the Platonic picture of mathematics is developed in a startling new way the challenges us to consider how the mathematics of the future may turn out to be radically different from that of the present, and how it impinges upon our efforts to create an artificial intelligence.
Full of the off-beat and the unexpected and quoting everyone from Lao-Tse to Robert Pirsig, to Charles Darwin and Stephen Leacock, Kurt Gödel and Umberto Eco, Pi in the Sky is a profound – and profoundly different – exploration of the world of mathematics: where it comes from, what it is, and where it’s going to take us if we follow it to the limit in our search for the ultimate meaning of the universe.
John D. Barrow is Professor of Astronomy in the Astronomy Centre of the University of Sussex. He is the author of several highly acclaimed books about the nature and significance of modern developments in physics and astronomy, including The Left-Hand of Creation, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, The World within the World, and, most recently, Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation.