Jon Turney: Review of "Impossibility: the Limits of Science and the Science of Limits",
by John D. Barrow, Oxford University Press, L18.99, 279 pages.

Financial Times, Weekend April 11/April 12 1998 WEEKEND FT page V

Deeper problems lie in logical limits, such as those found at the roots of mathematics. Here, impossibility and randomness are two of the governing ideas of the 20th century, and they are united in the concepts which Gregory Chaitin has formalised about the "compressibility" of data.

If science is the search for ways of encoding data in simpler forms, then Chaitin finds it is impossible to know for sure whether a general string of symbols representing data can be compressed further.

Finally, and easier on the reader's limited brain, there are limits set by the laws of physics. These go far beyond Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle, that one cannot measure the speed and position of a particle simultaneously.

Take the velocity of light, for example. Einstein's cosmic speed limit means that we will never have ultimate knowledge of the universe...