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Unread 09-29-2006   #1 (permalink)
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Default Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality: Solving the Quantum Mysteries Tag: Author of In Search of Schrod. Cat

Astrophysicist John Gribbin first introduced the general public to the world of quantum physics in 1984 with his book In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. A dizzying, counterintuitive domain, the quantum world is so strange that Richard Feynman, the greatest physicist of his time, admitted, "nobody understands quantum physics."
Science has not stood still in the years since In Search of Schrödinger's Cat was written, and in this new book, Gribbin brings us up to speed on the latest developments. New interpretive models have been put forth about the nature of particles and light; experimental evidence has turned over many of the basic precepts of the Copenhagen interpretation, which says that until it is observed, the subatomic world exists only as a probability wave, lacking any objective reality independent of observation. The new models offer not only a paradigm independent of an observer, but also begin to unite quantum phenomena with relativity and Newtonian mechanics. This is not to say that the quantum realm has become more comprehensible. With particles existing simultaneously as particles and waves, feedback loops, and waves that move forward and backward in time, the quantum world is still a strange, strange place; it's just a little less solipsistic.
As in his previous books, Gribbin deftly translates the abstruse mathematics of these new theories into a highly readable narrative that informs as it entertains. Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality is a book that can be enjoyed by expert and layman alike.
Customer Review: Well-written but not imaginitive enough
Well the whole "transaction" theory of quantum mechanics the author champions in this book is as laughable as the whole multiple-universe theory and the "Copenhagen Interpretation". It is more grasping at straws and seeking the desperate remedies the author bemoans. The fact is, we've reached the observational limits humans have because we need photons to act as measurment tools and we are trying to get to "particles" that we assert are smaller than photons (which are not in fact either particles or waves, so we are already using the wrong language to describe reality's "building blocks" already). Science has no conceptual model to discuss reality as it exists, only as people make it out to be. Thus is needs a new set of tools, or it needs in any case to stop embarrassing itself by at least shutting its collective trap until it has something to share that doesn't sound like it's the ramblings of a lunatic. So I give the book 3 stars becasue it is well-written though, in terms of style. However the book leaves the reader knowing nothing particularly new or helpful. We still have no idea what all this stuff we call reality is.
Customer Review: A little difficult
Although I'm not really a math/physics type person, I enjoy the popular books on the subject and have read a number. John Gribbin's book Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality was a little harder for me to get into, but there was a fair amount of new-at least to me-material. Part of the problem was that the author tended to repeat himself. Although if I plowed onward I usually discovered his purpose in doing so. Part of the problem is that he covers a lot. The book has a fairly extensive history of the who's who of physics, starting with the early Greek philosophers for whom experiment was largely impossible (even the thermometer is a fairly new invention) to the likes of Galileo and Newton (for both of whom experiment was an imperative). The section on Modern Times is interesting in that it shows where thinking has gone wrong as well as right, and shows the interconnectedness of research in physics, one break through or thought experiment leading to further advances. I certainly found the degree to which Einstein was beholding to previous theorists surprising; he has become such an icon, that he seems to stand alone, head and shoulders above the rest. Just the idea that scientific understanding had reached a level at the turn of the century that the discovery of relativity was "ready" to be made was a surprise to me. It makes even more obvious that advances have their "time" and that much in science and technology moves forward in lock step. In Desperate Remedies the author discusses in greater depth the various interpretations of quantum theory including, for instance, the well known Copenhagen Interpretation, David Bohm's pilot wave theory, and the many worlds theories, putting them into perspective and describing how each is different from the others and how each stands up to experiment. He has his own biases, but he is fairly up front with it, explaining his reasons for them. To those with a greater background in physics and/or math, this may seem arrogant, but to those of us who haven't a clue, it's helpful. One of the benefits of the last chapters was that Dr. Gribbin points out clearly that all of the theories about "reality" are just paradigms that allow their authors to draw conclusions, design experiments and test results. He also points out that these same paradigms can confine thinking, confusing the metaphor with the described phenomenon, or channel thinking so much that experiments are designed to find certain things while neglecting other things. I thought his own idea of combining all of these theories and sifting out the relevant portions of each to make a master theory an interesting one. The bibliography is fairly extensive and annotated, which allows the interested to follow up on some of the areas of interest, whether particular theories or biographies. Most of these are quite current, from the 80's and 90's, the oldest being 1873 and 1934 (Tyndall, On light; and Dunne, An Experiment with Time.) I'm not sure I'd advise the first time dabbler to start with this book. I think it might be too confusing to start with, but it would definitely be a good one for those with at least some background in the genre. I agree with another reviewer; read 10, then go on to this one. The Universe Next Door: The Making of Tomorrow's Science by Marcus Chown, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe by Martin J. Rees, Matter Myth by John Gribbin, and P. C. W. Davies, and About Time by P. C. W. Davies might interest the beginner.


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