By Chet Yarbrough
By: Manjit Kumar
Narrated by: Ray Porter
Another book about quantum physics; who cares? Those who believe in miracles may care; those who debate about God may care, and, upon reflection, humanity should care; because, without understanding Quantum and the nature of reality, there may be no future.
Without being overly laudatory or dramatic, Albert Einstein, like Isaac Newton, is one of the most important scientists that ever lived. Manjit Kumar
in “Quantum” writes nothing that would disabuse one of that opinion. The irony is that Einstein reluctantly accepted the theory of Quantum Mechanics but still insisted that God “does not play with dice”; while quantum theory–lives in Las Vegas. Einstein argues, until his death in 1955, that Quantum Mechanics is an unfinished theory to be refined, upon future investigation, to prove that cause-and-effect, rather than probability, is the sine qua non of nature.
Kumar recounts the historical precursors of quantum mechanics prior to the 20th century when a formal theoretical presentation is made at the Fifth Solvay International Conference on physics in 1927. Kumar traces quantum theory’s origin back to “black body radiation” in 1877, the photoelectric effect in 1887, and Max Planck’s 1900 quantum hypothesis. Kumar bogs a listener down with his explanation of “black body radiation” but picks up pace with Max Planck’s quantum hypothesis that offers the most critical element in the discovery of Quantum Mechanics; i.e. measurement. Measurement offers experimental opportunity to prove the utility, if not absolute truth, of Quantum Mechanics.
Quantum Mechanics turns unified field theory upside down because it correctly measures the sub-atomic world with unerring accuracy that suggests all matter and energy in the universe is probabilistically rather than causally controlled. In other words, nothing we see, hear, or feel is made up of stable reality; i.e. all matter and energy, at a sub-microscopic level, is controlled by chance, with “reality” being probable rather than absolute. Kumar shows how the father of Quantum Mechanics, Niels Bohr, carries on a lifelong argument with Albert Einstein that is never resolved. Bohr steadfastly insists on the probabilistic nature of the unseen world while Einstein argues that the theory is incomplete. Einstein is unable to deny the accuracy of experiments that support the truth of Quantum Mechanics but will not acknowledge that the theory is a complete evocation of the nature of the sub-microscopic world. Einstein believes that a new physics will incorporate Quantum Mechanics and return physics to a unified field theory that makes what is seen as deterministic as it is real.
Kumar’s history is entertaining, particularly the last few chapters that provide understandable explanations of the fundamental difference between what Niels Bohr and Einstein believe. Bohr’s beliefs seem to have the upper hand but the question of probability versus determinism remains open.
Getting back to who cares—maybe Einstein’s God is as real as life and miracles are evidence of existence; then again, Quantum Mechanics is saying that reality is probabilistic; i.e. a miracle is not a miracle but a statistical anomaly. Maybe Quantum Mechanics is evidence of alternate realities. While the known earth is choking on industrialization, maybe there is another probabilistic reality that reverses pollution—maybe Quantum Mechanics is a key to open a door to humanity’s alternatives.