What We Cannot Know

What We Cannot Know
Genre : Popular Science
Published : 19 May 2016 - 4th Estate
Britain’s most famous mathematician takes us to the edge of knowledge to show us what we cannot know.

Is the universe infinite?

Do we know what happened before the Big Bang?

Where is human consciousness located in the brain?

And are there more undiscovered particles out there, beyond the Higgs boson?

In the modern world, science is king: weekly headlines proclaim the latest scientific breakthroughs and numerous mathematical problems, once indecipherable, have now been solved. But are there limits to what we can discover about our physical universe?

In this very personal journey to the edges of knowledge, Marcus du Sautoy investigates how leading experts in fields from quantum physics and cosmology, to sensory perception and neuroscience, have articulated the current lie of the land. In doing so, he travels to the very boundaries of understanding, questioning contradictory stories and consulting cutting edge data.

Is it possible that we will one day know everything? Or are there fields of research that will always lie beyond the bounds of human comprehension? And if so, how do we cope with living in a universe where there are things that will forever transcend our understanding?


Brilliant and fascinating. No one is better at making the recondite accessible and exciting.

Bill Bryson

I admire and envy the clarity and authority with which Marcus du Sautoy addresses a range of profound issues. His book deserves a wide readership.

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

I felt I was being carried off on a wonderful journey, a thrilling research expedition to the teasing and mysterious boundaries of scientific knowledge, and I never wanted to turn back. Du Sautoy is a masterful and friendly guide to these remotest regions… It is absolutely fascinating throughout, and I really loved it.

Richard Holmes

A delicious addition to the ‘Big Question’ genre

Kirkus Reviews

This brilliant, well-written exploration of our universe’s biggest mysteries will captivate the curious and leave them pondering ‘natural phenomena that will never be tamed and known’

Publishers Weekly

Admirably compact and conversational for such heavy and wide-ranging subject matter... Those eager to have their minds stretched will find this a rewarding and stimulating experience.


An intriguing bird’s-eye view of the landscape of unknowability... To illuminate the darkness as much as possible, Mr. du Sautoy takes us to the edges of different realms of knowledge: chaos, matter, quantum physics, the universe, time, consciousness and infinity. His journey begins with a poetic paean to a precisely machined gambling die and a summary of the history of humanity’s attempts to tame the vagaries of dice.

The Wall Street Journal

The Great Unknown is an engaging, personal, and highly user-friendly voyage into some of the great mysteries and wonders of our world.

Alan Lightman

There is no better guide than Marcus du Sautoy to provide a panoramic view of the boundaries of knowledge.

Robbert Dijkgraaf

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