Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

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Product Details

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
6.44 X 9.55 X 1.14 inches | 1.33 pounds

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About the Author

Jim Holt, a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.


... an eclectic mix of theology, cutting-edge science (of the cosmological and particle-physics variety) and extremely abstract philosophising, rendered (mostly) accessible by Mr. Holt's facility with analogies and clear, witty language.
Winding its way to no reassuringly tidy conclusion, this narrative ultimately humanizes the huge metaphysical questions Holt confronts, endowing them with real-life significance. A potent synthesis of philosophy and autobiography.
The author takes on the origin of everything in this wonderfully ambitious book encompassing mathematics, theology, physics, ethics and more.--Michael S. Roth
The pleasure of this book is watching the match: the staggeringly inventive human mind slamming its fantastic conjectures over the net, the universe coolly returning every serve.... Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings--the absence of answers; the experience of awe--strike me as profoundly related. His book is not utilitarian. You can't profit from it, at least not in the narrow sense.... And yet it does what real science writing should: It helps us feel the fullness of the problem.--Kathryn Schulz
A guided tour of ideas, theories and arguments about the origins of the universe.... Through discussions with philosophers of religion and science, humanists, biologists, string theorists, as well as research into the scholarship of days past--from Heidegger, Parmenides, Pythagoras and others--and an interview with John Updike, Holt provides a master's-level course on the theories and their detractors. The interludes find the author positioning himself as an existential gumshoe, but also working through the sudden loss of a pet and, later, the death of his mother. Holt may not answer the question of his title, but his book deepens the appreciation of the mystery.
It's the mystery William James called "the darkest in all philosophy" "[W]hy is there something rather than nothing?" For Jim Holt, it is a question that may never find an answer, but one endlessly worth asking. In this highly engaging book, Holt visits great thinkers in mathematics, quantum physics, artificial intelligence, theology, philosophy, and literature. These conversations don't lead him toward any conclusion, but they make for a lively, thoughtful read, whether your worldview tends toward Spinoza (in which "reality is a self-sustaining causal loop: the world creates us, and we in turn create the world") or like Stephen Hawking, still searching for the final theory of everything.--Kate Tuttle
He [Jim Holt] leaves us with the question Stephen Hawking once asked but couldn't answer, 'Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing?'--Ron Rosenbaum
A reminder that the quest for foundational truths is not only a supremely human activity but also one that brings us, if not absolute truth (which may be unknowable), at least better and better approximations of the truth... A gifted essayist and critic... Holt intersperses his intellectual investigation with brief but revealing glimpses of his own life, including the death of his mother, when existential musings on the nature of being seem anything but abstract.--Jay Tolson
[Holt] is a spirited interlocutor and a deft explainer, patiently making sense of subjects ranging from Platonism to quantum mechanics, while nonetheless marveling at their seemingly fantastical nature... This cheerful persistence--combined with anecdotes celebrating the thrills of travel, good food, and drink--helps to sweeten what is, finally, a somber vision, in which reality may take the form of 'infinite mediocrity' and 'the life of the universe, like each of our lives, may be a mere interlude between two nothings.'