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the Complete Review
the complete review - science / philosophy

A World Without Time

Palle Yourgrau

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To purchase A World Without Time

Title: A World Without Time
Author: Palle Yourgrau
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005
Length: 184 pages
Availability: A World Without Time - US
A World Without Time - UK
A World Without Time - Canada
Einstein/Gödel - France
Gödel, Einstein und die Folgen - Deutschland
  • The Forgotten Legacy Of Gödel And Einstein

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good introduction to Gödel, and useful discussion of his time-theory (and the reception thereof)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist . 9-10/2005 Gregory H. Moore
The New Yorker . 28/2/2005 Jim Holt
Physics Today F 1/12/2005 Klaus Hentschel
Salon . 23/3/2005 Laura Miller
Scotland on Sunday . 17/4/2005 Andrew Crumey

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yourgrau's book, A World Without Time, although by no means perfect, is a vast improvement on Goldstein's. (...) Yourgrau discusses Gödel's incompleteness theorems more adequately than Goldstein does." - Gregory H. Moore, American Scientist

  • "Gödel's conclusion went almost entirely unnoticed at the time, but it has since found a passionate champion in Palle Yourgrau" - Jim Holt, The New Yorker

  • "Pressed by his publishers, Yourgrau tried to keep the book on a popular level; thus almost no topic receives more than half a page of discussion. (...) Nothing can be gained from this whirlwind tour except, perhaps, enough hearsay for small talk at the next party. (...) The book’s main thesis is simply balderdash." - Klaus Hentschel, Physics Today

  • "This book tells the intriguing story of Albert Einstein's friendship with a reclusive, neurotic man who claimed he could prove that time is an illusion. Even today, Kurt Gödel's findings remain controversial, and Palle Yourgrau -- a professor of philosophy -- has done much to keep them alive." - Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A World Without Time is an in-between sort of book. Yourgrau notes in his Acknowledgments that he previously wrote a book on this subject for philosophers, and that this one is meant to be another version, "accessible to normal readers". Making it accessible, it seems, involves adding biographical colour -- and trying to emphasise the relationship between Gödel and Einstein (best friends in their later years, at Princeton). The Gödel-Einstein relationship (both the personal and the professional) is a significant part of the book (and of some interest), but make no mistake: this is a book about Gödel, and Yourgrau's main point of interest is Gödel's brief essay in an Einstein tribute-volume published in 1949, "A Remark about the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy".
       Certainly, however, the biographical background information is of some interest: Yourgrau traces both Gödel and Einstein's lives, focussing on the professional part (but noting relevant personal details as well) -- and specifically the philosophical aspect of their work. He sees both very much as philosopher-scientists, and notes the difficulties this posed (since other philosophers often proved less than willing to accept that they might have something to offer in that field). Yourgrau nicely sketches out Gödel's early work, culminating in the incompleteness theorem, but it's Gödel's relativity work that is of particular interest to him, and the centrepiece of the book.
       Yourgrau manages to convey fairly clearly what exactly Gödel demonstrated in his short paper, taking Einstein's theory of relativity and focussing on the knotty time-issue, presenting a world model in which he could show "that t, the temporal component of space-time, was in fact another spatial dimension". The implications and consequences are profound and far-reaching; the possibility of time-travel (of sorts) it allows for has captured the popular imagination, but there's a lot more to it. Yourgrau does a fine job of outlining it -- and usefully also shows how little work has actually been done in this area, as reactions to the paper have been limited, both in quantity and quality.
       Aside from the central philosophical issues raised, Yourgrau makes a number of interesting points, specifically about professional attitudes among academics (rather unprofessional, it seems, though limited perspectives and an unwillingness (or inability) to appropriately deal with revolutionary thought is an age-old problem). Occasionally he gets sidetracked and carried away by other ideas -- what he calls the "Vienna syndrome", for example, which is how he explains why Gödel was so reluctant to leave the city in the late 1930s (a syndrome that Yourgrau then also finds in Berlin when he briefly turns his attention there, and variations of which he could find pretty much anywhere else he cared to look ...). Yourgrau shows some flair (including using epigraphs by Anaïs Nin and e.e.cummings), but can't always rein himself in, actually offering sentences such as: "They swam in a sea of ultraempiricism, but managed somehow not to get wet." But overall the deceptively breezy style helps make it an accessible and entertaining read; only the philosophy-focussed sections might be a strain for some (and he tries his hardest to make his explanations as accessible as possible, with decent results).
       Yourgrau is a big Gödel fan, and thinks he -- and his philosophy -- haven't gotten the attention and recognition they deserve, and A World Without Time certainly makes a good case for that position. Indeed, the book leaves one curious to learn more about both the man and especially his work. Yourgrau calls him "a truly subversive thinker", and it's thought that appears well worth exploring in more depth. (It should be remembered also that Yourgrau here only focusses on Gödel's two best-known ideas, but Gödel also did considerably more; Yourgrau mentions some of it, but a fuller exposition would also be of great interest.)
       A World Without Time is a good introduction to the man and some of his thought (and the implications thereof), and should be of particular interest to anyone unaware of Gödel's contributions to philosophy and relativity theory.

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A World Without Time: Reviews: Kurt Gödel: Albert Einstein: Palle Yourgrau: Books by Kurt Gödel under review: Other books about Kurt Gödel under review: Other books about Albert Einstein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Palle Yourgrau teaches philosophy at Brandeis.

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© 2005-2023 the complete review

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