Non-Fiction Reviews

A Very Short Introduction

(2012) Stephen Mumford, Oxford University Press, 7.99 / US$11.95, pbk, xiii +113pp, ISBN 978-0-199-65712-4


Is whatever it is we perceive real? What is time? Are things more or less than they seem? What is change?  Such questions border on the religious. They are also part of the essence that underpins both science fiction and, of course, science. As such they are very relevant to those with an interest in either, as well as both which means that they are doubly relevant to a large constituent of this site's visitors who have an interest in both science and, its cousin in the arts, science fiction.

As Stephen Mumford explains, Metaphysics is a fundamental branch of philosophy, alongside logic, ethics and epistemology. It is therefore rather important even though few actually study it and most science (and indeed arts SF) university course modules are devoted to it. Therefore Stephen Mumford has done us a service in this small volume that is part of the rather excellent Oxford University 'A Very Short Introduction' series.

In ten brief chapters he explores: what is a table; What is a circle; Are wholes just sums of parts; What is change; How does time pass: what is a person; what is possible; Is nothing something; and what is metaphysics. Along the way we not only get current views (answers) but also a potted history of historical attempts to address these questions. There are even a few references to science fiction itself.

There is much to value in this book. Perhaps importantly for both SF writers and those engaged in formulating hypotheses for science research, is that it provides toolkits for looking at questions that normally we would not be able to begin to answer. Such toolkits can enable the user to gain fresh insights, and certainly a new perspective, on issues of personal interest. Being short and cheaply priced, as with other titles in the 'A Very Short Introduction' series, this is a handy potted reference work that many will find a useful addition to their reference bookshelf. A subject index appendix and a concise further reading list adds to this work's utility.  Recommended.

Jonathan Cowie

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