The essential thesis of the book is itself not new, nor even is its usage in science:
the ancient Chinese notion that we call complementarity goes way back, and Niels
Bohr applied the idea to quantum physics and the micro world early in the last century.
But never before has the concept been systematically analyzed and elaborated in the
way that is done here — going far beyond particular phenomena like the wave-particle
duality to actually representing a comprehensive principle that encompasses all aspects
of nature, including the ways we observe nature.
The main function of the book is to develop an overall conceptual structure that
is built around the complementary kernel — and then to apply this framework to a
wide range of phenomena, constructs, and theories. Some of the primary topics involve
quantum theory (e.g., the uncertainty principle, the wave function, the problem of
measurement) and relativity theory (e.g., stasis and motion, space and time, gravity,
light), but a great many other subjects are addressed along the way.
One obvious question is why it should matter that so many diverse patterns of nature
can be interpreted in complementary terms, when the quite uncomplementary models
that we have today work very well as they are. The answer goes back to what it means
when we say that the models “work,” and in this regard two later chapters are devoted
to the whole question of what are the appropriate criteria for evaluating a theory
of science, specifically in the form of a discussion about prediction vs. understanding.
The issues are impossible to crystallize in a few words here, but the primary argument
is that a singular criterion of prediction is not sufficient — for it has left us
with an array of fragmented, narrow, arbitrary, and opaque ways of construing nature.
Yet science also has a responsibility to provide a framework of understanding — one
that is coherent, broad, consistent, and transparent.
This is why the established theories cannot be brought together into a unified model:
they are each based upon divergent cross-sections of nature — even though they cover
vast sweeps of nature's terrain, and even though they work very well for purposes
of prediction. Yet they are not based upon a common and consistent theme — which
also explains why they are impossible to understand ... for there is no overarching
and all-encompassing conceptual framework, such as the expanded principle of complementarity
being put forward in this work.
Indeed, the most common critique that comes up repeatedly throughout the book is
that the conventional models are based upon various “one-sided” assumptions — as
opposed to the “two-sided” orientation being presented here. The problem with the
former is a)the one-sided approaches are inherently random as to which side is singled
out for preferred treatment, and b)the overriding two-sided pattern is obscured in
the process — thereby preventing us from identifying this central theme of nature.
In fact, there is a whole chapter later in the book called “The Other Side of Nature,”
which discusses many important examples of classical disputes whereby one side has
been improperly eliminated or overlooked, in favor of the other — or where the two
sides have simply been merged together, in a hyper-reductionist manner.
The book itself is highly readable — lucid in its presentation and rigorous in its
argumentation, as well as being tightly woven and smoothly developed. It is a very
lively discourse that is generally engaging, often exciting, and occasionally passionate.
The writing style is clear and the language straightforward, with technical terms
and specialized lingo being kept to a minimum. Plus, all the issues are fully described
in the book, so there is no need for the reader to have any prior background knowledge
or expertise. All of this is in keeping with a strong undercurrent of populism and
empowerment that pervades the work — by virtue of providing a fresh and broadly accessible
way of thinking about these important issues that is based upon clear logic and sound
reasoning, instead of inscrutable dogma and dissembling mystique. At the same time,
the work is a very sophisticated treatment that will interest academics and intellectuals
in various disciplines like philosophy, sociology, and psychology.
All in all, The Complementary Nature of Reality is a very ambitious and highly original
work which will engage many readers who have a critical mind and an open attitude
about how we should construe the patterns of nature, and what should be the relationship
between science and society.