A brilliantly original and richly illuminating exploration of entanglement, the seemingly telepathic communication between two separated particles--one of the fundamental concepts of quantum physics.
In 1935, in what would become the most cited of all of his papers, Albert Einstein showed that quantum mechanics predicted such a correlation, which he dubbed "spooky action at a distance." In that same year, Erwin Schr�dinger christened this spooky correlation "entanglement." Yet its existence wasn't firmly established until 1964, in a groundbreaking paper by the Irish physicist John Bell. What happened during those years and what has happened since to refine the understanding of this phenomenon is the fascinating story told here.
We move from a coffee shop in Zurich, where Einstein and Max von Laue discuss the madness of quantum theory, to a bar in Brazil, as David Bohm and Richard Feynman chat over cervejas. We travel to the campuses of American universities--from J. Robert Oppenheimer's Berkeley to the Princeton of Einstein and Bohm to Bell's Stanford sabbatical--and we visit centers of European physics: Copenhagen, home to Bohr's famous institute, and Munich, where Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli picnic on cheese and heady discussions of electron orbits.
Drawing on the papers, letters, and memoirs of the twentieth century's greatest physicists, Louisa Gilder both humanizes and dramatizes the story by employing their own words in imagined face-to-face dialogues. Here are Bohr and Einstein clashing, and Heisenberg and Pauli deciding which mysteries to pursue. We seeSchr�dinger and Louis de Broglie pave the way for Bell, whose work is here given a long-overdue revisiting. And with his characteristic matter-of-fact eloquence, Richard Feynman challenges his contemporaries to make something of this entanglement.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
The story of quantum mechanics and its lively cast of supporters, heretics and agnostics has always fascinated science historians and popular science readers. Gilder's version differs from the familiar tale in two important ways. First, by focusing on the problem of entanglement--the supposed telepathic connection between particles that a skeptical Einstein called spooky action-at-a-distance--Gilder includes more recent developments leading to quantum computing and quantum cryptography. Second, Gilder exercises--not wholly successfully--a daring creative license, drawing excerpts from papers, journals and letters to construct dialogues among the scientists. Science is rooted in conversations, Werner Heisenberg once wrote, and Gilder's created conversations reveal personalities as well as thought processes: Do you really believe the moon is not there if no one looks? asks Einstein. Less comfortable aspects of the era are also part of Gilder's story, the uncertainty and fear as one scientist after another fled Nazi Germany, the paranoia of the Manhattan Project and the McCarthy era. Gilder's history is rife with curious characters and dramatizes how difficult it was for even these brilliant scientists to grasp the paradigm-changing concepts of quantum science. 20 illus., 15 by the author. (Nov. 12)
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November 10, 2008
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