Book review: What We Cannot Know

What we cannot know

Let me try something new. A book review. I am by no means a professional reader or critic. I like reading books, all kinds of them. And since I have this blog anyway, I might as well drop a few lines about what I read.

Let’s start with What We Cannot Know by Marcus du Sautoy. After reading a review in the newspaper, I was really curious about this book. In it, mathematician Du Sautoy tries to answer the question what we cannot know. So not things we do not know yet, but things we will likely never be able to know. Ever. Sounds like a pretty hard question to me.

The book explores a variety of edges of science. Physics, the big (expanding universes) and the small (quantum physics). Neuropsychology. And mathematics of course. Du Sautoy takes you on a journey to all of these edges, explaining in plenty of detail what has been discovered so far. Eventually, he arrives at the edge, which leads to the question of whether we can go beyond this edge?

I love reading about these scientific journey. Having read books on chaos and string theory before, the physics chapters are not very novel. But still a good read. Turning to the issue of consciousness, things are mostly new to me. The same goes for the mathematics chapters. The background information is good stuff, a lot to learn there. However, I’m not sure if the book really achieved its goal. Do I know what we cannot know? I actually don’t know (anymore).

A few things annoyed me while reading the book. The overload of question marks for example. It is not uncommon to have a full paragraph consisting of questions. “Is this really all there is? Why can we not go further? Is there a reason? Can we ever know? Should I add more questions here?”. Also, I did not understand why “God” was part of this book. Du Sautoy kept coming back to god (in whatever form). I thought this was farfetched. The book is good enough without a discussion on the meaning of god.

So, to conclude my first ever book review. What We Cannot Know is a fun book to get plenty of background knowledge in physics, mathematics, and psychology. But does it really answer its original question?