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4.0 out of 5 stars An undergraduate's guide to quantum physics, 15 Sep 2010
This review is from: Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Quantum Theory: a Very Short Introduction, by John Polkinghorne, Oxford University Press, 2002, 128 ff.

An undergraduate's guide to quantum physics
By Howard Jones

The author of this little monograph, John Polkinghorne KBE FRS, was the Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University for a decade before 1979 when he resigned to study to become an Anglican priest. In his many books he has made a special study of the relationship between science and religion and is one of the recipients of the Templeton Prize that is awarded for illumination of the spiritual dimension of being.

This is not the simplest or most absorbing book on the subject I have read. I found Frank Close's monograph in the same series, entitled Particle Physics, more absorbing and much easier to read. Chapter 2 for example introduces us to matrix mechanics and eigenvectors. There's nothing really scary here and most of the maths is in an Appendix but the terms and several of the 'explanations' are likely to deter non-mathematicians I think. No-one other than mathematics graduates will make anything of the Hamiltonians and partial derivatives in another Appendix.

But the text itself is readable and informative, and it includes subjects like consciousness and Gamow tunnelling and explains the role of such luminaries as Max Born and Paul Dirac. Each subject is dealt with in small, bite-sized pieces, each of which is reasonably self-contained; so it is not necessary to tackle all of the more challenging ideas in order to extract information from the later portions. In Chapter 3 the author says: `At most times and in most places, the universe has been devoid of consciousness'. That's a surprising statement for a priest to make. It has certainly been devoid of human consciousness but I would have expected a priest to maintain that the consciousness of God was present eternally.

The book does explain simply for non-scientists some of the incredible consequences of the ideas that underpin quantum physics and explains the common terms. However, I suspect that non-scientists will find the book rather intimidating. It would therefore make an excellent introductory volume for undergraduates in physics or chemistry. The approach is holistic and spiritual, which is entirely appropriate, following on from the ideas of Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics. Readers interested in this subject may also want to look up Manjit Kumar's 2009 book Quantum on the same subject.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Introducing Quantum Theory
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Location: Wales, UK

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