sábado, janeiro 18, 2014

"Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality" by Majit Kumar

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality - Manjit Kumar
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In the 15th chapter the key to Quantum Mechanics (QM). It was Richard Feynman who said, “I think it is safe to say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics.”

This book does not help either.

Quantum mechanics is the spookiest theoretical framework ever devised by man. Cats that are at the same time alive and dead ("Superposition" = "We do not know"; "Collapsing the superposition" = "finding out" whether the cat is alive and kicking), objects that are both particles and waves, etc.

The subject is very interesting, the book not so much. The framing of the debate is way off the mark. A few notes: 

1. Faraday is strangely absent;

2. Gravitation is depicted as a space-warp. Unfortunately the alternative of a field supporting gravitational waves is nowhere to be seen;

3. QM is not relativistic - yet this issue, critical to causality, is missing;

4. It's ridden with unexplained concepts like electron ‘spin’ and exclusion rule. Schrödinger’s wave mechanics was a huge advancement, but relating the wave function to real probabilities was formulaic;

5. The collapse of the wave function and the measurement process is not properly explained;

6. The last years of QM's developments are hardly mentioned, maybe to the high esoteric nature of the subject (eg, quantum gravity). Still it would have been interesting to have at least an appendix dealing with this;

7. It does not draw any philosophical conclusions. Everything seems quite bare;

8. The overuse of amusing stories, anecdotes and quotations breaks up the narrative flow.

Einstein’s main objection to QM was directed at the notion that there's something in nature that allowed "ghostly action at a distance" ("spukhafte Fernwirkung" in Einstein's own words), meaning that faster-than-light speeds had to be possible in QM. He was also quite adamant in denying that an underlying reality existed (through the so-called ‘hidden variables’). Still in his lifetime, he was able to "demonstrate" that the measurement of separated systems could not influence each other directly. If only that were possible (ie, at a distance influence), magic would also be possible... 

There are a few SF books that were able to capture the duality of nature in a more interesting fashion (eg, "One, True Platonic Heaven: A Scientific Fiction of the Limits of Knowledge by John L. Casti").

The last quote in the book by German playwright and philosopher Gotthold Lessing: “The aspiration of truth is more precious than its assured possession”, also epitomizes for me the quest for the ultimate TOE (Theory of Everything).

3 stars for the 2 chapters dealing with the 1927 and 1930 Solvay conferences.

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