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Publisher's Summary

The untold story of the heretical thinkers who dared to question the nature of our quantum universe 

Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr's students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favored practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin.

And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2018 Adam Becker (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Best Science Book This Year!

If this book were a meal, it would be bursting with such flavor that you could not help going back for seconds. Indeed I read it a second time and chose to listen to Sean Carroll's Mysteries of Modern Physics lectures, from The Great Courses series, as the accompanying glass of wine and dessert because it reenforced the ideas presented in Becker's book. Listening to Sean Carroll's lecture series along with reading this book allowed me to think about how all of the discoveries made in the quantum world apply to time. I warn you though, it's a rabbit hole. Since there are no final answers yet, your brain might get caught in an obsessive trap. I have now moved on to re-reading Lisa Ranall's Warped passages, not because I am convinced of other dimensions, but because thinking about pocket dimensions and/or bubble universes seemed extremely important to me after reading Becker and Carroll together. I also can't seem to stop thinking about how all of this relates to gravity, and keep rereading sections of Gravity's Engines by Caleb Scharf. Sometimes I feel so sad when I realize I will die before someone can answer the burning questions in my mind about the way the universe works, but nothing feels better than thinking about what we do know.

While mainly focusing on the measurement problem in quantum physics (does the wave function collapse) , Becker recounts the history of many of the major discoveries and provided an extremely intuitive account of the following aspects of quantum mechanics:

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle
Double slit
Schrödinger's cat
Everett's many worlds
Copenhagen Interpretation (probability / wave function collapse)
The Bohr - Einstein debates
EPR paradox

Becker included in depth and intensely refreshing biographies of John Bell and his inequality and David Bohm's unorthodox ideas. The biography of Bohm was particularly of interest to me because not too long ago I finished a series of books about the discovery of quantum theory and while many of those books covered the other people highlighted in this book, none of them covered Bohm in the manner Becker did.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. Rating a book like this always makes me realize how my previous 5 star ratings muddy the waters. I want there to be a 6 star rating you could use once or twice a year, so that you can really set a book apart from others. This book would be worthy of that 6 star rating.
#tagsgiving #sweepstakes #BestScienceBook

28 people found this helpful

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Good, "light" "read"... potential caveat below...

Any additional comments?

The thesis of this book is that there still exists an unresolved and embarrassing discrepancy between the Copenhagen interpretation of the measurement problem and alternative, “equally valid” interpretations (i.e. many worlds, pilot waves, decoherence, etc.) for enough physicists to consider it an "interesting" topic still, but not to all.

Written by a philosopher+physicist, the book leans more toward what I would expect from a journalist-philosopher who enjoys “controversial physics porn”. I gave it high marks because I think it is a great book for the general populace; and because, though I thought at first I would have preferred deeper analysis of the physics concepts underlying the main thesis of the book, I was happy to have explored this lighter perspective. In fact, it has inspired me to check out at least one other similarly-titled book.

37 people found this helpful

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The book ends "I don't know"

This book is not really about what is real and the author does not know.
Instead it is yet another, middle of the pack, retelling of a slice of the history of quantum theory.

This book does a few things better than others in this sub-sub-genera:
It disparages the Copenhagen interpretation of QM as not fit to be a theory.
It focuses on Bell, Bohm, and Everett as examples of those that questioned the Copenhagen interpretation.

This was fine as far as it went, but the author either does not understand or does not believe these alternative theories. He goes on about randomness being fundamental to quantum reality while Bell, Bohm, and Everett are trying to say there are alternatives to randomness (deterministic non-locality or multi-world or something else).

I prefer The Trouble with Physics which. I think, makes similar points better and clearer.

The narration is good, clear, and has a pleasant upbeat tone.

30 people found this helpful

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What IS real?

I was attracted by the title of the book --what is real, and was interested in a physicist's view on the meaning of life. After all, "what is real" seems relevant to the questions of how we should perceive our surroundings, interact with the realities, interpret our fates, and live our lives. I think that quantum physics (the Copenhagen Interpretation), with its reluctance and somewhat mysticism, provides some sense that the universe is ultimately probably unknowable and we should accept the limitation of human intellect. "Shut up and calculate", the motto of the Copenhagen Interpretation, can also mean "relax and live your life" and all is well.

By issuing an attack on the Copenhagen Interpretation for its failure to address the Measurement Problem, the author subscribes several other approaches including the Pilot-Wave model and the Many-worlds interpretation. He seems to suggest that the Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg weren't serious about the reality, and there is apparent lack of explanation of a quantum superposition and what happens between measurements. I admit the weirdness of quantum mechanics as presented by the Copenhagen interpretation, but isn't the many-worlds view of infinite un-interactive worlds just as weird and sounds even more unbelievable and unreal? By finding out what the real, isn't it a scientist's responsibility to present all possibilities? Why the author simply brushed aside Eugene Wigner's hypothesis that human consciousness may play a role in quantum phenomena (last chapter)?

4 people found this helpful

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Best by far on quantum physics

Best by far on quantum physics and I have many books on the subject. Makes more sense out of all the various theories.

4 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

This is a wonderful work about the history and philosophy of science! Though specifically about the history and philosophy of quantum mechanics, the nature of that history and philosophy intertwines it with other significant events of the twentieth century. The book also discusses deeply the nature of the scientific community and peer review as a group of humans working together with all of the benefits and downsides constantly derived from human nature and interactions. This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it!

3 people found this helpful

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Too biased

Kinda biased. Don't agree that science should be political. Should be last bastion for rationality.

3 people found this helpful

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So much more depth than other books about the history of quantum physics

I am a non-physicists, but enjoy the topic and have read many books on the subject intended for the lay audience. I realized how much I had been missing once I started listening to this. Excellent.

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Good history of quantum theory

Overall I thought this was an excellent history of the foundations and growing up of quantum theory as well as how the biases of large figures in the field have had vast impact on the way that quantum theory is taught and thought of today. As mathematics is not used in this book there are sections that are rather awkward, but that perhaps can't be helped given the confines on non-mathematical language. In the last two chapters there are times where the defense of philosophy and the critique of scientists comes across as overly preachy, but it doesn't ruin the text as a whole.

If you are at all interested in the history of science, or if you are a physicist, then I think it is well worth your time to read

3 people found this helpful

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Where are the figures referred to? PDF please!

Great narration and history, but can be difficult to follow when complicated ideas are discussed without a PDF. Examples are when narrator refers to multiple figures ("see figure such and such") when talking about thought experiments related to Bell's inequality. I searched in vain for a PDF associated with the book, which it certainly SHOULD have.

14 people found this helpful