A daring new vision of quantum theory from one of the leading minds of contemporary physics
Quantum physics is the golden child of modern science. It is the basis of our understanding of atoms, radiation, and so much else, from elementary particles and basic forces to the behavior of materials. But for a century it has also been the problem child of science: it has been plagued by intense disagreements between its inventors, strange paradoxes, and implications that seem like the stuff of fantasy. Whether it's Schrödinger's cat--a creature that is simultaneously dead and alive--or a belief that the world does not exist independently of our observations of it, quantum theory challenges our fundamental assumptions about reality.
In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, theoretical physicist Lee Smolin provocatively argues that the problems which have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved and unsolvable, for the simple reason that the theory is incomplete. There is more to quantum physics, waiting to be discovered. Our task--if we are to have simple answers to our simple questions about the universe we live in--must be to go beyond quantum mechanics to a description of the world on an atomic scale that makes sense.
In this vibrant and accessible book, Smolin takes us on a journey through the basics of quantum physics, introducing the stories of the experiments and figures that have transformed our understanding of the universe, before wrestling with the puzzles and conundrums that the quantum world presents. Along the way, he illuminates the existing theories that might solve these problems, guiding us towards a vision of the quantum that embraces common sense realism.
If we are to have any hope of completing the revolution that Einstein began nearly a century ago, we must go beyond quantum mechanics to find a theory that will give us a complete description of nature. In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin brings us a step closer to resolving one of the greatest scientific controversies of our age.
In this deep dive into quantum theory, Smolin (The Trouble with Physics), a Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics faculty member, explains what's missing from the field and what's needed to unify physics as a whole. Aiming to show that "conceptual problems and raging disagreements that have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved and unsolvable, for the simple reason that the theory is wrong," Smolin discusses the "puzzles at the heart of quantum mechanics." He breaks down alternative interpretations, testing how well they express a realist theory of the universe, where reality does not depend on observers being present. From pilot wave theory and its eerie concept of how paths not taken in life "are traced by an empty wave function, ready to guide atoms, which, however, are elsewhere," the many worlds interpretation, and wave-function collapse, Smolin elucidates complex science without equations. Readers end with Smolin's own work on the "causal theory of views," which posits a universe consisting "of nothing but views of itself, each from an event in its history," where scientific laws act to make views as diverse as possible a potential way forward. Occasionally, necessarily, textbook-dry, Smolin's work nonetheless demonstrates there isn't a thing in nature whose "contemplation cannot be a route to a wordless sense of wonder and gratitude just to be a part of it all."
Uncertainty is alive and well
I have been reading books on physics for 40 years. Nearly all the authors have brandished their view of reality and proclaimed their Ideas about all the things THEY know. Lee Smolin is different. Smolin confronts how little we know at all.
While Bohr unequivocally viewed reality as merely a description. Smolin seems to think, deep down, there is an objective construct deeper than that. He, like Albert Einstein preferred to believe our existence is rooted in something other than description unto itself. I don’t know who is right. But while quantum behavior has been well tested, the recursive philosophy of its founders may not be the ultimate path.
Smolin’s skepticism may be the ultimate truth to Bohr’s unshakable beliefs. Because as Bohr and Heisenberg posited, uncertainty rules. You can be sure and still be wrong.