Sunday, November 27, 2011

Too short — (but still timely) — A review of The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments” by Jim Baggott

Jim Baggott wrote one of the most fascinating books about history of science I ever read. It is written with a kind of wit and vigor that makes its reading no less fascinating than a good criminal story.

But quite seriously it brings readers closer to the understanding of the huge importance of quantum mechanics for our modern thinking, for our understanding of reality and for modern philosophy (although Jim does not indulge in „philosophizing” at all!). There are many important spindles around which the author threads his tale, like that about the responsibility of scientists for using their discoveries in politics and in wars (important part of the book is auto-citation from another Baggott's book „Atomic — The first war of physics”).

But the most important motif of the book is the quest to understand the peculiar nature of reality revealed by Quantum Theory in the beginning of XX century. The discoveries made by then became the central in the famous debates between Einstein and Bohr, and they continue to this day. Jim Biggott presents the latest experiments and their interpretations and shows how bizarre is this reality. It is the reality of our bodies and of our world and of everything we know. The reality QM portraits is of  the world which cannot be thought of as objectively existing as it was assumed to be when only classical mechanics and our common perception were known. The book ends with this disturbing picture of the reality and leaves us with more questions then answers....

This is extremely interesting and open issue in science and it is really amazing that through exact science human knowledge comes to the fundamental problems philosophy tackled for centuries. Are we closer to solutions of these problems? Not really...

From the other perspective, the book was exceptionally pleasant to read for me, because the large part of my own life was closely bound to Quantum Physics. My 1992 PhD (Oh G ! — it was almost 20 years ago) and later, my great and long adventures (I was working for HyperCube) with Quantum Chemistry gave me fantastic opportunities to come closer to understanding of all these matters. In my PhD (link to database in Polish is here) and in my related works (see this) I explored the Feynman's Path Integrals. It was so nice to read a part of the book devoted to this remarkable theory! With Quantum Chemistry  the book is not dealing — perhaps it could not deal with all offsprings of Quantum Mechanics :-)

Here is also a nice video recording of Jim, talking about the book himself !

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