TAKING THE QUANTUM LEAP: The New Physics for Nonscientists by Fred Alan Wolf

TAKING THE QUANTUM LEAP: The New Physics for Nonscientists

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The first half of physicist Wolf's tour of quantumdom reads like a latter-day version of Gamow's One, Two, Three Infinity, now with rock-group lyrics as epigraphs, and Koren-style cartoon illustrations by Ed Taber. The prose, indeed, is every bit as exhilarating as Gamow's, and exhibits the same passion to explain-humorously. So once more we plunge into the beginnings of atomic theory with Zeno's paradoxes and Aristotelian resolutions thereof, and move through the Renaissance and Newton to Michelson and Morley and the death of ether. With the birth of the electron, the quantum, and relativity, Wolf provides commendable explanations of visions and revisions of atomic models; he is fine, in particular, on the Uncertainty Principle. Then something happens. Wolf turns out to be a disciple of David Bohm, and sympathetic to the ideas of Eugene Wigner and others who have pushed quantum theory to its utter logical (or nonlogical, paradoxical) limits. Suddenly the world is a never-never land--or perhaps an ever-ever land--in which the observer creates reality by the very act of observation. You determine whether Schrodinger's cat, caged with a potentially lethal radioactive atom, will live or die (the atom decays, or not) by the mere act of opening the cage. You are in effect a quantum solipsist: ""You are the 'you-niverse,' "" Wolf says archly. Soon he is also paying homage to Jaynes' idea that consciousness only came into being a short time ago (the breakdown of the bicameral mind). It all amounts to ""qwiffs""--quantum wave functions--and ""pops""--intrusions made by the observer. And all this potentiality frees us to choose--to gain free will out of indeterminacy. Far better a state of freedom but unpredictability, Wolf concludes, than a perfectly certain world in which ""particles would follow well-determined paths with exact locations. . . ."" Such a world, we're assured, would mean the inexorable loss of energy and the disappearance of atoms, nervous systems, life. Enjoy the book for its bravura, then, not for its revealed truth.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0060963107
Publisher: Harper & Row