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on 6 November 2005
In Search of Schrodinger's Cat was mind blowing in 1985, now 20 years on much of the theory put forward in Schrodinger's Cat has been proved by experiment. Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality is what science/physics should be, interesting and thought provoking.
John Gribbin doesn't treat the reader as a complete imbecile or as the next Richard Feynman but pitches the book just right with the correct balance of technical details and clear analogies. There's not too many books on quantum theory that you can't put down, but this is without doubt one such book.
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on 11 October 2011
You know it's Christmas when that classic slice of early-eighties schoolboy humour A Hundred and One Uses of a Dead Cat ('we're still flogging it') re-surfaces in W H Smiths. Erwin Schrodinger's cat-in-the-box isn't featured - its fate probably wasn't sufficiently macabre - but its fame as the popular face of quantum absurdity guarantees this particular cat its own place in history. Sixty years on, perhaps it's time the cat was finally laid to rest? Gribbin thinks so, and reporting from the cutting edge of quantum research he explains how physicists are trying to take absurdity out of the equation.

Schrodinger's Cat highlights the consequences of quantum mechanics in laymen's terms and exemplifies the 'Copenhagen Interpretation', which has been the orthodox view of quantum mechanics since the 1930s. The main thrust of the Copenhagen Interpretation is that alternative outcomes of the experiment exist only as probability waves until an external observer checks the result. This reliance on an observer to 'collapse the wave function' leads to a morass of philosophical debate which serves to emphasise that this is a crutch for interpreting quantum behaviour, not an explanation of it. Gribbin argues that the Copenhagen Interpretation is what makes quantum mechanics hard to understand, and he leads us through the alternatives that have appeared over the last couple of decades before revealing his own 'best buy'.

The book focuses, as does much of quantum research, on what happens to electrons as they go through 'the experiment with two holes', as Richard Feynman called it. Many of the apparently strange consequences of quantum behaviour can be attributed to the fact that we still don't really know what electrons are, and it's hard to break away from classical models such as 'waves' and 'particles'. To paraphrase Feynman, things on a very small scale don't behave like waves, particles, clouds, billiard balls - or like anything we have ever seen. What quantum mechanics shows us is that waves and particles in the classical sense may be mere shadows that reveal some aspects of a higher order we haven't yet figured out.

Although billed as a sequel to Gribbin's earlier work In Search of Schrodinger's Cat , this book is complete in its own right. Gribbin updates the cat-in-the-box experiment by shooting the moggie's hypothetical offspring off to opposite ends of the universe in spaceships, but the kittens provide little more than a cute title, reappearing only briefly in the final chapter where their fate is left an exercise for the reader. I won't spoil the book by revealing its conclusions, but Gribbin's aim is to reveal the most promising explanation of the mechanics underlying quantum behaviour. 'Most promising' means an explanation that is easily understood, and one that doesn't carry around any philosophical baggage. To give you a little clue, it does at first appear to involve time travel, but this is a moot point once we've learned about how photons experience time.

This is a challenging book that repays a second reading: the subtleties of some of the experiments Gribbin describes are difficult to impart in laymen's terms and it's easy to miss some of the detail first time around. Gribbin isn't going to challenge the Dead Cat book (this year anthologised in a bumper edition with its two sequels) as a stocking filler, but if you want something to revive your intellect buds from the festive torpor, Schrodinger's Kittens is an entertaining and stimulating read.
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on 12 August 2001
It is very rare to find a science book that is both informative and easy to understand. John Gribbin seems to manage to do just that in this book following on from the In search of Schrodinger's Cats. The ideas are built up in such a way that someone with no knowledge in the subject can access the ideas presented in the book immediately and Gribbin then goes on to develop these ideas in such a way that you are made to think about the implications. The authors own interest in the subject shines in the way that he writes and this adds to the readers discovery of an area of physics that is apparently difficult - John Gribbin should be congratulated for making it appear simple and wanting the reader to find out more. If you are doing A levels physics this is a must have!!
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on 23 May 1998
John Gribbin's book is the strongest refutation yet of Neils Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum world. The refutation is given credibility by Gribbin's describing leading edge experiments (most performed within the last five years) that shakes the Copenhagen Interpretation to its very foundation. He also makes the reader aware that the mainstream physicists are guilty of blindly accepting Bohr's quantum "house of cards" without question. Why? Primarily because Bohr was an obnoxious intellectual bully who shouted down any objection to his interpretation and campaigned unceasingly and forcefully for its acceptance. Bohr's argument was given further unquestioned credibility by John von Neuman-one of the greatest of mathematicians-supposedly proving that no hidden-variables theory could properly describe the quantum world. John Bell-not one to be intimidated by either Bohr or von Neuman's unquestioned genius reputations-showed in 1966 that von Neuman's proof, "...is not merely false but foolish!" Sadly, Bohr succeeded in his propoganda mission and science found itself having to tolerate the ludicrous notion that the Universe exists only because we perceive it! For those who find this a bit hard to accept I would stronly recommend John Gribbin's book. Whether you agree with Gribbin or not the book makes one realize that "religious fervor" is not confined to to the religious community. Bohr for one was full of it!
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 1999
Being a wildly creative divergent thinker myself I have little confidence in venturing into a territory which appears to be the province of eggheads, anoraks and other folk low down on one's party invitation list. However Schrodinger's Kittens drew me in from page one and for the first time ever I had the weird sensation that I understood this strange world and,having understood it, my world view was changed - forever. Or at least until the next theory comes along. Now I casually raise Quantum Theory at parties, loudly contradicting those who haven't read this wonderful book, and find gorgeous young scientists draping themselves at me,weak with admiration. A funny,intelligent and intelligible read.
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on 16 October 2008
This is one of the best books I have read that reviews both classical and quantum physics to explain the nature of physical reality. Although somewhat outdated, it describes all major schools of thoughts (interpretations) of quantum reality in layman's terms with comparisons and numerous references to the work of other authors. Although this is written for a general reader; it requires some knowledge of undergraduate level physics.

The physics of reality revealed by the quantum physics centers on two facts; wave - particle duality of matter, and the results of Thomas Young's double slit experiments. Several schools of thought originated to interpret reality based on this observation; most notable is the Copenhagen interpretation. According to this interpretation, the particle wave spreads throughout the universe, and it could appear anywhere in the universe until it is observed. The very act of observing the wave make wave functions to collapse as a particle at the point of observation (detection), and it will be observed at that location with certainty. But as soon as we stop looking at the wave, then probability wave leaks from that location and spreads to the universe, hence we are unable to predict the path of the wave from one point of detection to the next moment in time. The particles know more about the world than just the immediate locality, which is strange in terms of human perception of day-to-day reality dictated by classical laws of physics. The main contention is the human observer determines if the particle behaves like wave or particle and it is impossible to determine the physical state (wave or particle) prior to the measurements. In essence, matter at the most fundamental level is unreal until it is observed by a human being. The Copenhagen school of thought offers a holistic view of quantum world. Another feature of the quantum world is that wave and particle states are complimentary properties; that is both states can not exist at the same time but matter could be either in one or the other state. This is due to the Heisenberg's uncertainty principle which states that the momentum of a quantum object and its position can not be measured at the same time. This is not measurement problem but due to quantum uncertainty because the position refers to the particle nature as it will have a definite existence, but the momentum is a measure of wave nature of the object moving in a certain direction at a definite speed. Thus complementarities results directly from this principle.

John Gribbin explores the absurdity of Copenhagen interpretation to explain the outcome of a thought (Schrodinger's kittens) experiment to explain quantum entanglement, and whether a human observer is essential to crystallize quantum reality. Bell's inequality and Aspect's experiment show that entangled quantum entities behave as one system no matter which interpretation is used. The instantaneous nature of feedback in the entanglement of quantum particles is explained by Wheeler - Feynman model of electromagnetic radiation, which has two sets of solutions to Maxwell's equations. One set of solutions, the common sense solution describes waves moving outward from an accelerated charged particle and forward in time. The second set of waves describes waves travelling backwards in time and converging on to the charged particle. When proper allowance is made for both sets of waves interacting with all charged particles in the universe most of the complexity cancels out leaving only the familiar common sense (retarded) waves to carry electromagnetic influences from one particle to another. As a result of these interactions each individual charged particle is instantaneously aware of its position in relation to all other charged particles in the universe. The waves must also move backwards in time (advanced waves) so that they provide feedback at the source of wave production so that every particle in the universe is an integral part of the whole electromagnetic web. Wheeler - Feynman theory provides for particle here and now to know about the past and future states of the universe. John Cramer extended these equations to Schrodinger's wave equations. John Cramer's transactional interpretation states this; when an electron vibrates it attempts to radiate by producing a field which is a time-symmetric mixture of retarded wave propagating into the future, and advanced wave going into the past atemporally. In Cramer's words the emitter can be considered to produce an offer wave travelling to the absorber, this in turn returns a confirmation wave backwards to the emitter and the transaction is compete with a handshake. In reality this sequence of events is atemporal it all happens at once. In this, there is no need to assign a special status to the observer. The dramatic success in resolving the puzzles of quantum physics is at the expense of accepting just one idea that the quantum wave can travel backwards through time. On the positive note that it doesn't violate cause-effect reality because cause can not exist if there is no effect in the transactional interpretation. In addition, the freedom of will prevails in physical reality without being bogged down technicality of quantum laws.

1. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat
2. The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries That Challenge Our Understanding of Physical Reality
3. Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics
4. Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality
5. Einstein's Moon: Bell's Theorem and the Curious Quest for Quantum Reality
6. Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality? (Canto): Illusion or Reality? (Canto)
7. Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity
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on 6 December 2012
A really good book on quantum physics for people who have not studied physics. Explorers some really crazy but very interesting theories about the quantum world. Highly recommend.
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on 27 August 2008
This book is all over the place. It includes a 'history of light', and entertaining philosophical diversions, but fundamental insights are infrequent. Quantum reality is lost in the technicolour fog.

The author passes over his previously favoured "Many World Interpretation" for Cramer's "transactional" approach. Hardly mainstream physics. Gribbin himself seems half hearted about it. He sets up the kittens' thought experiment, but leaves them hanging on for 150 pages. He gets back to the kittens in the last few pages, but produces a far too hurried explanation of Cramer's "solution" .

It's essential, in a book of this nature, to give the best account of your main opposition. Then you dismantle it using your best arguments against it. Gribbin doesn't do this. He simply dismisses Copenhagen with little argument, and gets on with the "gosh, wow" stuff. The reader deserves to be treated better.

The title suggests this book might explain how quantum mechanics fits into a considered vision of reality. It doesn't deliver.
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on 30 January 2016
love this book...clear, worth reading twice
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on 5 November 2006
This books claims that Transactional's (or Cramer's) interpretation of quantum mechanics has solved all the mysteries of the theory. I'm not sure that the author would hold the same opinion ten years after that (the book is dated 1996).

In fact, there is growing consensus today that the right interpretation is so called "decoherence". For a comparison of interpretations, look for Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics in Wikipedia

Anyway, as is always the case with Gribbin's books, reading is insightful. The travel is worth the reading, although the final conclusion may be wrong. Only the final chapter (even only part of it) is devoted to explain Cramer's interpretation.

John, we'd very much like to have another book like this, but devoted to the "decoherence" approach!
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