Cover image for The quantum moment : how Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty
The quantum moment : how Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty
Crease, Robert P., author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, [2014]
Physical Description:
viii, 332 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
The authors-- one a philosopher, the other a physicist-- draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum's rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding while also exploring the quantum's manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace.
The Newtonian moment -- Interlude : The Grand Design -- A pixelated world -- Interlude : Max Planck introduces the quantum -- Quantum leaps -- Interlude : Niels Bohr uses quantum leaps to make atoms go -- Randomness -- Interlude : Albert Einstein shows how God plays dice -- The matter of identity : a quantum shoe that hasn't dropped -- Interlude : Wolfgang Pauli and the Exclusion Principle, Satyendra Bose, and bosons -- Sharks and tigers : schizophrenia -- Interlude : Erwin Schrödinger's map, Werner Heisenberg's map -- Uncertainty -- Interlude : The Uncertainty Principle -- Reality manufactured : cubism and complementarity -- Interlude : Complementarity, objectivity, and the double-slit experiment -- No dice! -- Interlude : John Bell and his theorem -- Schrödinger's cat -- Interlude : the border war -- Rabbit hole : the thirst for parallel worlds -- Interlude : multiverses -- Saving physics -- The now moment.
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QC174.123 .C74 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QC174.123 .C74 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QC174.123 .C74 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QC174.123 .C74 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The discovery of the quantum--the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities--planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.

Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverses, quantum leaps, alternate universes, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy, reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.

Is a "quantum leap" big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky, or a fundamental shift in the way we think?

All the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this pathbreaking book. The authors--one a philosopher, the other a physicist--draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum's rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps and mistranslations, jokes and gibberish, of public discussion about the quantum. Their book explores the quantum's manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum's implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.

The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.

Author Notes

Robert P. Crease is the chairman of the philosophy department at Stony Brook University and the author of several books on science, including The Quantum Moment and The Great Equations. He lives in New York City.

Alfred Scharff Goldhaber is a professor of physics at Stony Brook University whose research ranges from elementary particles to cosmology. He also teaches an unorthodox course that introduces quantum mechanics by way of optics.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* When scientific pioneer Erwin Schrödinger highlighted the conundrums in quantum physics by imagining a cat simultaneously alive and dead, he little dreamed that he was creating a T-shirt icon. Crease and Goldhaber a philosopher and a physicist respectively examine both the conceptual theorizing behind Schrödinger's perplexing feline and the T-shirts that theorizing unintentionally inspired. Without taxing readers with the rigorous mathematics, the authors recount the discoveries that shattered Newtonian physics, explaining with marvelous lucidity how Max Planck's tentative idea that light might propagate as packets sparked a revolution redefining the cosmos. As traditional understandings of continuity and causality disappeared in the wonderland of quantum mechanics, influential nonscientists discerned broad cultural implications in this paradigm shift. Readers see in particular detail how new scientific understandings of quantum leaps, of complementarity, and of uncertainty have permeated nonscientific thought, affecting everyone from poets, to artists, to late-night comedians, to (yes) T-shirt designers. Even cartoonists now regularly crib from physicists! Though the authors acknowledge that many of those appropriating the jargon of quantum physics have no clue as to its scientific meaning, readers will learn to appreciate the imaginative process that transforms quantum formulas into new metaphors for understanding the human condition. An exhilarating romp for the intellectually adventurous!--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Histories of quantum theory are typically dense with complex, abstract ideas, but philosopher Crease and physicist Goldhaber, both of Stony Brook University, offer a new twist, adding a fascinating look at the ways the mainstream world has embraced (though not always accurately!) the concepts of quantum mechanics. Pop culture took up the quantum cause with far more gusto than most physicists. When first proposed, quantum theory was deemed "ugly, weird, unpredictable,"¿ and "quite distasteful."¿ Experimentalist Robert Milliken tried to kill the idea, but his lab results kept confirming it. The authors cheerfully discuss how much Einstein, along with many of his peers, hated the way the theory allowed uncertainty to toy with reality. While physicists struggled to fill in the missing bits of their incomplete theories, quirky quantum ideas became parts of a "sphinxian riddle"¿ that captured the mainstream imagination and inspired everyone from cartoonists and sculptors to such writers as Ian Fleming and John Updike. Crease and Goldhaber have written an accessible and entertaining history that embraces both the science and the silliness of quantum mechanics. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Crease (philosophy; Physics World columnist) and Goldhaber (physics, C.N. Yang Inst. for Theoretical Physics, both Stony Brook Univ.) explore the history of the quantum and the true meaning of metaphors such as Schrodinger's cat, quantum leaps, Hook's spring, and more. The authors begin by discussing Sir Isaac Newton and the Newtonian world, then cover quantum physics and study of the micro, a particle so small that scientists rely upon metaphor to discuss it. The authors make the connection to popular culture, where the ideas of quantum physics have sparked interest in a wider, nonphysicist audience. While the title is written with the general reader in mind, a basic knowledge of physics and quantum physics will aid in its understanding. VERDICT Readers who want to comprehend quantum physics, creativity, metaphor in physics, and the history of modern quantum physics will enjoy this work. A lighter read than a science text, this is more accessible to the average person and will be enjoyed by creative readers who have a scientific leaning.-Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen, Oregon Inst. of Technology, Portland (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This especially interesting book examines the origins of quantum mechanics-material previously mined in a number of similar books. It is the result of a collaboration between a philosopher (Crease) and a physicist (Goldhaber), both professors at Stony Brook University, who co-taught several classes on the subject. The physics discussions are mostly qualitative yet surprisingly clear and accurate. Some equations do appear, but they may be omitted by those for whom any mathematics is forbidding. Treatments of the uncertainty principle, wave particle duality, and Bell's theorem are excellent. These are interwoven with both biographical material and social and literary connections. They are made to be seamless and always to the point. The interplay of ideas and the people who created them contains some new, for this reviewer, and helpful insights. The quotes from original sources support the authenticity and enliven the treatments. A collection of notes (with references) is quite extensive and supplies additional explanatory material. The tone of the text benefits from an extensive set of cartoons that enhance the insights and the readability. This work is a pleasure to read. It belongs in all college libraries. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All students, researchers/faculty, and general readers. --Kenneth L. Schick, Union College (NY)