The fascinating story of
how quantum mechanics went mainstream
The discovery of the
quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that
energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible
quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.
Quantum imagery and
language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as
multiverse, quantum leap, alternate universe, the uncertainty principle, and
Schrödinger’s cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee
mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy—phrases reinterpreted by each new generation
of artists and writers.
Is a quantum leap big or
small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum
vocabulary pretentious and wacky or a fundamental shift in the way we think?
All of the above, say
Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this groundbreaking book. The
authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six
years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum’s rocky path from scientific
theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored
missteps, mistranslations, jokes, and gibberish in public discussions of the quantum. Their book explores the quantum’s manifestations in everything
from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace.
The authors reveal the quantum’s implications for knowledge, metaphor,
intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and
appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part
of what it means to be an educated person today.
The result is a
celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for
anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.
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“Through the authors’ careful and vivid
storytelling, science and culture inspire and reflect one another, from
Einstein’s theories of relativity to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to
modern conceptions of causality. The authors keep their discussions of these
dense topics clear and fun to read without sacrificing detail…Crease and
Goldhaber provide an excellent reminder that quantum mechanics affects so much
of what we do and say and that concepts imagined one hundred years ago will
influence the physical and intellectual spaces we inhabit in the future. Always
entertaining and meticulously composed, this book will reorient your
relationship with the quantum.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)