My INSTINCTIVE reaction to a magnum opus of this kind is one of skepticism. The publishers describe it as "a survey of all basic knowledge. As it unfolds under the reader's eyes there emerges from it the vision of one universal order that rises above the underlying chaos in which our lives are still so largely immersed." One at once fears long, windy, abstract generalizations couched in obscure and foggy language, and this is indeed what one usually gets. It must, however, be said at once that Professor Halle's book is not of that genre. He writes well, and his many pages are a pleasure to read. Whether or not he has proved his point about order and chaos, it is at least fairly clear what he is trying to prove and what the arguments are which lead him to that conclusion.
The book is an attempt to summarize the development of universal history and to show that "order" emerges from "chaos." The author begins with the physical universe, first the world of the very large, the stars and galaxies, then that of the very small, atoms and particles. He explains Einstein's theory of relativity and Planck's principle of uncertainty. He warns the reader that this part of the book is stiff reading. It certainly is to the nonscientist, who cannot easily judge its validity, and the same applies to much of the next section on the origins and development of life. Part three on "Mind" is easier to follow, and this is equally true of the remaining parts -- "Civilization" and "What Mind Creates." The publishers are right to claim that quite apart from the main theme of the book, this "immense survey. . . constitutes a general education in itself." It will undoubtedly be very useful for anyone who wants to lay his hands quickly on a short account of Sumerian civilization. Egyptian culture, Chinese religion or Greek literature. The author would concede that these chapters, by the nature of the space allotted, must omit a great deal; but he could fairly claim that they do not mislead or distort.
The question is whether Halle has really shown that the direction in which the universe is moving is from "chaos" to "order." I must confess to a certain doubt whether he has. Much depends on what is meant by the words.
"When in Part One we examined the very small, item by item, we saw how it represented the chaos of the Uncertainty Principle, but how the ever greater combination of items that in themselves represented chaos represented an ever greater order in terms of statistical probability, until the equivalent of a perfect order was attained. This perfect order was what we saw when we examined physical being in the large, as provisionally represented by the Theory of Relativity."
Does this really amount to anything more than expressing the principle on which insurance companies and public opinion pollsters work, viz: That you can predict by a law of averages certain mass results in terms of longevity or electoral preference, though you can never assess how long an individual will live or how he will vote.
And even if Halle is right about the emergence in some sense of order out of chaos in the world of physics or biology, it is by no means clear that such a process is also going on in the evolution of human history. Halle indeed agrees that at this particular moment the opposite may be occurring. "A normative order," he rightly says, is "founded on tradition and has derived its authority from custom." These, however, require time to become established, centuries indeed. What will happen if conditions of life change too rapidly for such customs to become established?
"Then, in the common metaphor, [men] will be at sea. . . they will have no established basis on which to conduct their lives, regulate their behavior, and make their decisions. They will lose their mental stability, they will be prey to a succession of outlandish fashions in thought, they will be swept one way and then another by convulsive mass movements representing the capriciousness of mob psychology under the influence of security or even panic. . . I foresee a proliferating chaos of the mind and of human society the world over in the period immediately ahead."
Halle considers that such a period will only be a temporary setback in the march of man toward a perfect order. I hope he is right, but surely it is at least possible that mankind might destroy itself entirely. What Professor Halle has done, even if he has not proved his thesis, is to make us think. And that is in itself no mean achievement.