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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.