THE COSMIC CODE: Quantum Physics as the Language of Science by Heinz R. Pagels
Kirkus Star

THE COSMIC CODE: Quantum Physics as the Language of Science

Email this review


Quantum physics clarified--with a passion to convey its enigmas as well as its illuminations. Pagels, a theoretical physicist at Rockefeller Univ., appropriately leads in through deterministic physics and Einstein (""For him, it was unthinkable that there was arbitrariness and chance in the fundamental structure of the universe"") to the ""discomforts"" of indeterminism and randomness, the operation of statistical and quantum mechanics. And--""why the indeterminism of the quantum theory is so important for our picture of reality: in principle there is a material basis for the freedom of human consciousness and the evolution of the species."" Pagels then proceeds to review the levels of matter and arrives at today's openended questions about the ultimate particles--quarks, leptons, and gluons. (Gluons? ""The glue that holds the world together."") Along the way, he scrupulously and appreciatively lays out the historic details--with some fine, lesser-known quotes (Pauli, commenting at 19 on a Munich lecture: ""You know, what Mr. Einstein said is not so stupid. . .""); he comfortably works in his own researches, acquaintanceships, and extra-curricular experiences; he describes key experiments and theoretical investigations at length. And his carefully-structured arguments convince the reader that relativity and quantum mechanics are the best solution yet produced to decipher the cosmic code. At the same time, Pagels makes it clear that we cannot use visual metaphor or analogy to ease the transition from Newton and causality to Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, SchrÖdinger, et al. You cannot be a ""closet determinist"" and adhere to the ""quantum weirdness."" Some may feel that he rides the causality-determinism dichotomy too hard, or that he extends his explications too far into chemistry, biology, social events--as part of the grand scheme. Overall, however, he provides a guide for the untutored that is original, skillful, often eloquent.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster