QBism remains controversial, but scientifically inclined readers will share von Baeyer’s enthusiasm and come away with a...

QBISM

THE FUTURE OF QUANTUM PHYSICS

“There is a strangeness about quantum mechanics that is rooted not in its mathematical complexity but in the paradoxes and enigmas that have bedeviled it from birth.” Since that birth 90 years ago, scientists regularly explain quantum physics, in all its weirdness, to the general public. Here’s the latest.

As “a quantum mechanic in retirement,” von Baeyer (Emeritus, Physics/Coll. of William and Mary; Information: The New Language of Science, 2004, etc.), who has spent 50 years “teaching the subject in universities, operating its mathematical machinery in my research, and struggling to bring its message to the general public,” describes an ingenious new approach, QBism, that eliminates the paradoxes. Readers may have to take this on faith, but they will not regret the effort. Traditionally, quantum phenomena are measured by statistics. One can’t locate an electron; one can only determine the probability of finding it somewhere—anywhere in the universe. This oddity isn’t helped by the fact that traditional statistics says nothing about single events. Bayesian statistics (the “B” in QBism) include an observer who estimates the probability that data such as the precise location of the electron is true and then updates the probability when new information arrives. Using comprehensible analogies (none from physics), the author demonstrates how QBism eliminates quantum weirdness. Schrödinger’s famous cat is no longer both dead and alive as long as it remains unseen; the observer can calculate the odds that it’s one or the other. “QBism implies a radical change in perspective,” writes von Baeyer. “It turns the traditional top-down view upside down by offering a bottom-up depiction of the universe…[and] seeks to find the universal in particular personal experiences.”

QBism remains controversial, but scientifically inclined readers will share von Baeyer’s enthusiasm and come away with a feeling, if not a deep understanding, of quantum phenomena that doesn’t require suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-50464-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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