Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll. September 10, 2019. Dutton, 347 p. ISBN: 9781524743017. Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.
As you read these words, copies of you are being created.
Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and one of this world’s most celebrated writers on science, rewrites the history of 20th century physics. Already hailed as a masterpiece, Something Deeply Hidden shows for the first time that facing up to the essential puzzle of quantum mechanics utterly transforms how we think about space and time. His reconciling of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of relativity changes, well, everything.
Most physicists haven’t even recognized the uncomfortable truth: physics has been in crisis since 1927. Quantum mechanics has always had obvious gaps—which have come to be simply ignored. Science popularizers keep telling us how weird it is, how impossible it is to understand. Academics discourage students from working on the “dead end” of quantum foundations. Putting his professional reputation on the line with this audacious yet entirely reasonable book, Carroll says that the crisis can now come to an end. We just have to accept that there is more than one of us in the universe. There are many, many Sean Carrolls. Many of every one of us.
Copies of you are generated thousands of times per second. The Many Worlds Theory of quantum behavior says that every time there is a quantum event, a world splits off with everything in it the same, except in that other world the quantum event didn’t happen. Step-by-step in Carroll’s uniquely lucid way, he tackles the major objections to this otherworldly revelation until his case is inescapably established.
Rarely does a book so fully reorganize how we think about our place in the universe. We are on the threshold of a new understanding—of where we are in the cosmos, and what we are made of.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Armchair physicists everywhere know how Niels Bohr bested Albert Einstein in their clash over quantum mechanics. But Carroll convincingly shows that Bohr prevailed by offering powerful formulas while dodging the questions Einstein raised about the fundamental realities behind those formulas. Readers revisit these questions by pondering the puzzling consequences of any measurement in Bohr’s quantum system and considering the baffling failure of that system to explain the dynamics of quantum phenomena. Laying aside Bohr’s mystifications, Carroll finds a rigorous response to Einstein’s concerns in the quantum theorizing of Hugh Everett III. Readers will recognize the attractiveness of Everett’s quantum paradigm, offering a clear picture of reality, not merely a blur of probabilities. They will appreciate, too, the conceptual parsimony of a quantum science distilling its entire framework in a single wave formula. But they must confront the paradigm’s controversial implication that every quantum event spawns a new, parallel universe. Though many physicists resist Everett’s notion of physically unobservable universes, Carroll argues persuasively that every available alternative to Everett’s formulation entangles scientists in inconsistencies likely to foreclose progress in developing a much-needed quantum explanation of gravity. Readers in this universe (and others?) will relish the opportunity to explore the frontiers of science in the company of titans.
Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
The latest attempt to describe the “holy grail of modern physics.”Although in theory it works brilliantly, no one fully understands quantum mechanics. However, Carroll works hard—and somewhat successfully—to deliver an accessible explanation. “Quantum mechanics,” he writes, “is unique among physical theories in drawing an apparent distinction between what we see and what really is….If we free our minds from certain old-fashioned and intuitive ways of thinking, we find that quantum mechanics isn’t hopelessly mystical or inexplicable. It’s just physics.” This doesn’t bother most physicists, who belong to the shut-up-and-calculate school, and searching for a deep meaning is unfashionable. Carroll swims against the tide, explaining several theories that attempt to describe what is happening, with an emphasis on his favorite, the many-worlds theory. He begins by pointing out that in our everyday world, the world of classical mechanics, every object has two features: a location and a velocity. Everything is transparent; whatever happens to that object is explained by classical laws of physics—essentially Newton’s. In contrast, every quantum object has one feature: a wave function defined by Schrödinger’s 1926 equation, which explains what happens when one measures it. Although true for objects of any size, quantum mechanics becomes essential at the atomic and subatomic levels. Some popular writers proclaim that this demonstrates our ignorance or perhaps a mysterious spiritual element in the universe. The author disagrees but admits that, as a description of how reality works, it makes no sense. Eschewing mathematics, Carroll labors mightily to reveal the meaning behind quantum mechanics with a major detour into general relativity, both of which might benefit from at least a little math. Readers who remember freshman college physics will be intrigued; others will struggle.
About the Author
Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993. His research focuses on issues in cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His book The Particle at the End of the Universe won the prestigious Winton Prize for Science Books in 2013. Carroll lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Jennifer Ouellette.
His website is preposterousuniverse.com.
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