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Paperback | $16.95 Trade | £11.95 | ISBN: 9780262661737 | 192 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 11 illus.| August 2003

Seeing Double

Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature


The separateness and connection of individuals is perhaps the central question of human life: What, exactly, is my individuality? To what degree is it unique? To what degree can it be shared, and how? To the many philosophical and literary speculations about these topics over time, modern science has added the curious twist of quantum theory, which requires that the elementary particles of which everything consists have no individuality at all. All aspects of chemistry depend on this lack of individuality, as do many branches of physics. From where, then, does our individuality come?

In Seeing Double, Peter Pesic invites readers to explore this intriguing set of questions. He draws on literary and historical examples that open the mind (from Homer to Martin Guerre to Kafka), philosophical analyses that have helped to make our thinking and speech more precise, and scientific work that has enabled us to characterize the phenomena of nature. Though he does not try to be all-inclusive, Pesic presents a broad range of ideas, building toward a specific point of view: that the crux of modern quantum theory is its clash with our ordinary concept of individuality. This represents a departure from the usual understanding of quantum theory. Pesic argues that what is bizarre about quantum theory becomes more intelligible as we reconsider what we mean by individuality and identity in ordinary experience. In turn, quantum identity opens a new perspective on us.

About the Author

Peter Pesic is Tutor and Musician-in-Residence at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He is the author of Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science; Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature; Abel’s Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability; and Sky in a Bottle, all published by the MIT Press.


“... an ambitious but sober reminder of the deep philosophical questions revolving around the ideas of individuality, identity and distinguishability.”—Levy-Leblond, Physics World

“... offers a rare insight into the bizarre quantum realm and its implications for our sense of self.”—PD Smith, The Guardian

“Pesic suavely creates a masterpiece by saying much in little space.”—Ray Olson, Booklist

“Peter Pesic's new book is an elegantly brief, accessibly-written series of essays of an interdisciplinary sort ... ”—


“An enchanting analysis of individuality and identity that should delight laypersons, humanists, and scientists alike. Peter Pesic recounts how some of the deepest thinkers from Homer and Aristotle to Leibniz and Einstein wrestled with the 'genuine questions' about identity, each adding an unforeseen dimension and changing their scope in the process. As Dr. Pesic guides us through the evolution of thought, we cannot but marvel at nature's uncanny ability to reveal, time and again, that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.”
Abhay Ashtekar, Director, Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry, and Eberly Professor of Physics, Pennsylvania State University

“Identity and individuality have been constant subjects of study and speculation among intellectuals from time immemorial, but almost everyone approaches them from narrow disciplinary points of view. Peter Pesic's Seeing Double is a successful challenge to this approach, for it successfully mixes physics, literature, and philosophy in an account that is both suggestive and enlightening. Written in a clear and elegant style, this is a logical starting point for anyone who wants to delve into these topics.”
Jorge J. E. Gracia, Samuel P. Capen Chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo

“Reaching from Homer's Iliad and ancient Greek philosophy to modern chemistry and current physics, Pesic's new tour de force is a fitting sequel to his Labyrinth, this time concentrating on age-old philosophic puzzles on identity and their re-emergence in the transition from nineteenth-century physics to quantum field theory to illuminate the conceptual structure of science.”
George E. Smith, Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Department of Philosophy, Tufts University