2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A valuable sourcebook but with typos
, 12 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of (Hardcover)
This ~1100 page work is a sourcebook of seminal papers intended to give a historical overview of the development of quantum physics over the course of the twentieth century. The selection of papers (translated into English) is excellent (although some reviewers have complained about omissions), and they have been skilfully arranged into chapters by theme. In addition there are historically important lecture notes and book extracts. There is a good, brief introduction by Stephen Hawking, and also useful commentaries at the start of each chapter, written by Joel Allred (and presumably approved by Hawking). Despite the publisher's blurb, this is certainly not aimed at the typical lay reader. Only someone who has substantive previous knowledge of quantum theory up to at least the equivalent of undergraduate level will be able to benefit much from it.
[The following paragraph is too harsh - I will correct it in a comment.]
What might have been a superb book has been marred by shoddy proofreading. There are numerous glaring typographical errors that unfortunately extend to the formulae. Phi and psi get mixed up, subscripts or exponents are printed in normal font or vice-versa, and so on. I do not think that this makes the book unreadable - if you know the maths you will usually be able to work out what is wrong. But it makes reading these papers even more challenging and wastes considerable time. Moreover one cannot be confident that any equation taken from the text is correct.
Chapter five on philosophical issues is representative of the others. The first item is Max Born's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he describes his statistical interpretation of the wave function. The second is Erwin Schrodinger's discussion of his famous thought experiment involving a cat. Sadly, essentially only the paragraph quoted in every popular science book is given. Next is the Einstein, Podolski, Rosen (EPR) paper arguing that the description of reality given by the wave function cannot be complete. Niels Bohr's reply follows. His paper asserts that the inevitable interaction between the apparatus and the quantum state being measured prevents us having full knowledge of all physical quantities. Both EPR and Bohr frame their discussion in terms of conjugate variables. Next come two papers by David Bohm describing his hidden variables interpretation. This is important philosophically - its ontology is highly non-local and deterministic. Bohm explains how EPR type experiments are to be interpreted, and where John von Neumann's argument, that quantum theory is inconsistent with hidden variables, goes wrong. In the final paper John Bell focuses on another concern of EPR - that there cannot be `spooky action at a distance' as this (prima facie) contradicts the principle of relativity. Bell proves that if locality holds then a certain inequality must follow. Quantum theory disobeys this inequality. Bell gives examples in which Bohr's explanation for the EPR paradox is no longer reasonable.
The commentary for chapter five is somewhat slanted towards orthodoxy: Bohr and the `standard' Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics are vindicated; Bohm is pooh-poohed; EPR were simply wrong; Schrodinger's cat is absurd; and all is well with the world. But it was the theoretical work of the `realists' - Einstein et al. (fruitfully wrong) and Bell (who elsewhere wrote, "The aim remains: to understand the world. To restrict quantum mechanics to be about piddling laboratory experiments is to betray the great enterprise.") - that led to the experimental proof of entanglement. EPR, Bell, Schrodinger and Bohm were all deeply committed to attempting to find a comprehensible ontology for quantum mechanics. Bohr on the other hand took the attitude that from now on physicists should merely explain how our knowledge of the world changes. His active and influential discouragement of any scientist wishing to investigate `the nature of reality' delayed the discovery of how radically entangled our universe actually is. Despite its success as a calculating tool there is still no uncontroversial interpretation of quantum theory.
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