Quantum: Einstein Bohr And The Great Debate About The Nature Of Reality Hardcover – Apr 27 2010
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Exhilarating. . . . Reading [Quantum] is a bit like lifting the hood of your mind and moving the working parts around; it’s challenging and trippy—as only the Dr. Seuss realm of the quantum can be. — Laura Miller (Salon)
As a fairly innumerate non-scientist, I am perversely drawn to books about maths and science and usually abandon them with ignorance intact. However, Quantum by Manjit Kumar … is so well written that I now feel I’ve more or less got particle physics sussed. Quantum transcends genre—it is historical, scientific, biographical, philosophical. — The Guardian
Kumar is an accomplished writer who knows how to separate the excitement of the chase from the sometimes impenetrable mathematics. — Financial Times
[Kumar] leavens the mind-bending with sketches of the remarkable human beings involved in this godlike enterprise. — Sara Lippincott (Los Angeles Times)
A necessary, mesmerizing and meticulous volume. — Sam Coale (Providence Journal)
Kumar brings lucidity and a sense of drama to what is usually considered by lay readers as an esoteric, bubble-chambered subject. He does this without sacrificing the ‘science of it’ at the altar of readability. The triumphs and the tribulations, the politics and the physics, the humanity and the genius of the protagonists all collide to produce the sort of energy that we usually expect in a Le Carre thriller. — The Hindustan Times
A super-collider of a book, shaking together an exotic cocktail of free-thinking physicists, tracing their chaotic interactions and seeing what God-particles and black holes fly up out of the maelstrom… Provides probably the most lucid and detailed intellectual history ever written of a body of theory that makes other scientific revolutions look limp-wristed by comparison. — The Independent [UK]
Lively....Chock-full of colorful characters. — Graham Farmelo (The New York Times Book Review)
One of the best guides yet to the central conundrums of modern physics. — John Banville, author of The Sea
About the Author
Manjit Kumar has degrees in physics and philosophy and has written for Slate, The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, The Independent, and New Scientist. He lives in London.
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Top Customer Reviews
First, as someone who has struggled to understand quantum mechanics when it is presented in textbooks as a whole system, I was delighted to find that physicists have the same problem. Even (if not especially) Albert Einstein. By taking us through the history of it, and enjoying the exhilaration of every incremental discovery, theory and step, I find I am really comfortable reading about it, and have no difficulty assimilating it. When you're along for the ride instead of the textbook, it makes a gigantic difference. Bravo, Kumar.
Second, it became painfully obvious that physics is far more philosophy than science. I felt like the arguments came from my Logic 101 class. Socrates would have enjoyed crossing swords with Bohr. The arguments of the scientists were really basic, philosophical differences of opinion, not the least bit esoteric or idiosyncratic. It seems that medicine is not the only "science" where they tell you to get a second opinion. That was a revelation, and it made physics all that more human.
Third, Quantum confirms a lifelong suspicion that this was and is a young man's game. It seems that every time things started to get stale, some precocious 26 year old student would come along with a new portion of a theory, and rock the establishment. And then live off that discovery for the rest of his life - winning the Nobel Prize (as almost every one of them eventually did), getting professorships - but never shaking the tree again. In music we would call them one hit wonders.Read more ›
to read it all over again once I came to the end. There is not a lot of new content which
cannot be found in biographies or other expositions of the quantum struggle, which ended
with Copenhagen. What makes this book unique is a high-pace narrative style pulling the reader
from one chapter with one fundamental discovery into the next combined with an almost
uncanny ability of the author to unfold most complex physical and philosophical concepts
at that same high pace. The narrative also makes the discussions, tensions and emotions so vivid
that one feels compelled to jump right into the scenes to hear the debates first hand.
Like David Winneberg, I relived my own struggle with Quantum Theory as a student, the
alienation I felt by Bohr's ad-hoc postulates of what I expected the theory should
actually deliver, the psi which yielded results, but didn't seem to have its own meaning, the
interference of possibilities, which affect results without actually having to materialize,
up to the abandonment of objective reality. Back in the 80th, Copenhagen was still the
the dogma and had to be swallowed without objection in order to become a physicist.
I became a mathematician...
Many commentators see the book as a rehabilitation of Einstein. I felt the same way, but
this feeling is actually not justified by the last chapter about the most recent experimental
disproofs of Bell's and Leggett's inequalities, which would have confirmed Einstein's position
(Leggett's at least partly). Copenhagen has once again prevailed.Read more ›
Kumar makes quantum theory readable, if not fully understandable. Unfortunately, quantum mechanics is not really understandable. Our minds, formed through the need to survive in inhospitable surroundings, have been largely built through pattern recognition of macro objects. Well, quantum level behaviour does not apply to macro objects. Since quantum behaviour is 1. quantized and 2. submicro, it does not mirror the behaviour of objects that we can see. Hence the debates. Does God roll dice? Can an object exist in two places at once? Can anything move faster than the speed of light? Is time travel possible?
Kumar rightly concentrates on the history, the characters, and the philosophical debates. That's because they are readable. In doing so, he gives the (false) impression that this is what quantum theory is all about. Sorry, David Wineberg, it's not. Quantum theory is rigorously mathematical. That's why normal people like us have trouble getting it. Its CONSEQUENCES are philosophical, and the physicists, especially the older ones, can debate the philosophical consequences forever without coming to a solid conclusion precisely because of the disconnect between the mathematics and our everyday minds. I, too, had some troubles with the math of quantum mechanics in university. I eventually got it with a lot of sweat and tears. But the physical predictions of the math have so far been completely realized in every experiment.
And of course the Copenhagen formulation is not likely to be the final answer, any more than were Newton's laws. I am waiting for the next formulation to remove the necessity for dark matter, perhaps by a new quantum theory of gravity. Just my prejudice.
None of this takes away from the book.Read more ›