"A thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science." --New York Times Book Review
An Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review
Longlisted for PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing
Longlisted for Goodreads Choice Award Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's solipsistic and poorly reasoned Copenhagen interpretation. Indeed, questioning it has long meant professional ruin, yet some daring physicists, such as John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett, persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth. "An excellent, accessible account." --Wall Street Journal "Splendid. . . . Deeply detailed research, accompanied by charming anecdotes about the scientists." --Washington Post
Quantum physics is "stubbornly mute on the question" of what is real, writes science writer Becker in this fresh debut. Most physicists in the early 20th century believed quantum physics revealed nothing about the everyday world; it was seen as the "shut up and calculate method." It's the dissenters to that view who take center stage here: scientist David Bohm challenged the status quo with his pilot-wave theory in the 1950s; Hugh Everett followed his curiosity to the sci-fi like "many-worlds" interpretation; and John Stewart Bell's "scathing critic's pen" led to his eponymous theorem, later called the "most profound discovery of science." Catchy chapter openers ("It was the Summer of Love in New York City, and John Clauser was cooped up in a room at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies") and vivid biographical portraits enliven even dense theoretical explanations with wit and bite. Readers trace decades of experiments, alternative philosophies, and surprising drama in the physics boys' club to three intriguing possibilities: "Either nature is nonlocal in some way, or we live in branching multiple worlds despite appearances to the contrary" or quantum physics is incomplete. With his crisp voice, Becker lucidly relates the complicated history of quantum foundations.
What is real
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