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Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness
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131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"Quantum Enigma" opens with a colleague's objection to the book: "Though what you are saying is correct, presenting this information to non-scientists is the intellectual equivalent of allowing children to play with loaded guns."

Visualizing the quantum enigma is not difficult, the authors reveal it with stories and diagrams that any careful reader can understand. It is a lot like watching a magic show: the rabbit disappears - it is an enigma. But a disappearing rabbit we all know is a trick with some reasonable explanation that resolves the enigma. In the case of the quantum enigma, it is no trick, but an experimental fact, and the enigma remains unresolved. This creates a metaphysical crises once you really grasp the meaning of it, which is what makes this book so difficult, the implications and what it could mean. The authors call it physics' "skeleton in the closet", or a "loaded gun", because it is so strange in its implications and how it can be interpreted, it transcend physics, which makes many uncomfortable.

Beyond the quantum enigma and how scientists came to discover it, the book discusses consciousness studies and suggest, intuitively, that there is a connection between the quantum enigma and consciousness - perhaps understanding one can lead to the other. I found this the most provocative, and also the most difficult part to understand. The last 50-pages took nearly as long to read as the first 150 and I am still not on firm ground - but that may be the point, no one is. The implication that we are creating the universe as we discover it (John Wheeler's eye looking backwards) is great fun and makes paraphenomena and "law of attraction" and "what the bleep" stuff look small-minded when considering the possibility!

My only regret is I can not take the University of CA (Santa Cruz) course this book came out of as there are some areas that I just don't understand and could use further help with. It may be asking too much but some authors have web sites with FAQs, or forums, or even interact through Amazon. In any case hope to see and read more about this subject in the future.
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165 of 176 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Quantum mechanics is one of the most tested and verified theories of modern physics. However, there are several parts of quantum mechanics that can only be described as bizarre. Of course the physicists discuss and argue the implications of the strange behavior of the quantum world but very few average people fully understand the problems. In Quantum Enigma the authors explain the history of quantum mechanics, how it was developed over the years, and why it is both the most cohesive theory of modern physics and at the same time the most controversial in its application. What makes their book exceptional is how easy it is to understand. Using simple language they are masters at taking a complex subject and explaining it in a way that anyone can understand. Quantum Enigma is highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand the basics of quantum mechanics including the various problems that come along with it.
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264 of 292 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First, I want assure readers who are not physicists, and even those who are not science-enabled, that they have nothing to fear in reading "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness." The book is written for the ordinary literate reader and no understanding of physics or general science is assumed by the authors (both physicists). And it is a fascinating read!

I should like to think that virtually everyone is somewhat familiar with the term "quantum theory" (or quantum mechanics). Unless one has been living under a rock from birth, with no access to television, newspapers, or magazines, it is hard to escape from having some general idea of quantum physics and the contributions it has made to our modern technological environment. As the authors point out in Chapter Eight: "Quantum mechanics works well in science, but how important is it practically? In fact, one-third of our economy involves products based on quantum mechanics." For those who like percentages instead of fractions, that's 33 and 1/3 percent! That's a lot of products, including such common items as "lasers," transistors, and the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines one hears about in hospital commercials all the time. Have a DVD player? Thank quantum mechanics. Have a new TV, cell phone, or microwave oven? Thank quantum mechanics. When one looks around at all the neat technological devices we have today, it is not difficult to see that "one-third of our economy involves products based on quantum mechanics."

Now that we have the importance of quantum mechanics out of the way, why was this book written in the first place? Well, for some physicists at least, the theory, in its deepest understanding, presents a situation which the authors refer to as the "quantum enigma." This "situation" may also be important to us ordinary thinking mortals as well and could be especially so for professional philosophers and students of philosophy. Why? Because the "situation" raises a fundamental question regarding the nature of what we commonly call "reality." But before we get into that matter, we need to ask: What is an "enigma"?

My Webster's New World Dictionary defines an enigma this way: "(1) a perplexing statement; riddle; hence, (2) a perplexing, baffling, or seemingly inexplicable matter...," -- and "mystery" may be an appropriate synonym. I think this definition is right on the mark for how the authors use the word "enigma" in their book. But what is the "enigma" discussed by the authors? Quantum mechanics (or theory) is part and parcel of an empirical science we know as "physics" and physics is considered a "physical" or "natural" science, a science which depends on such things as observations, quantitative measurements, systematic experimentation, testable hypotheses, and so on. The job of empirical scientists is to study phenomena "out there" in the natural (or physical) world without regard to any "nonphysical" entities which may or may not actually exist. They deal with "physical reality," an objectively-defined reality which exists "independently" of our observations or wishes. Or so it is supposed.

What would happen, however, if this supposition turns out to be not quite true or correct? What would happen if it turns out that quantum theory forces us to believe that "physical" reality is actually "created" by our observation of it? What would happen if quantum mechanics, supposedly a "physical" theory within a "physical" science, was shown to be "intimately connected" with "consciousness," a decidedly "nonphysical" phenomenon traditionally held to be within the domain of psychology, an academic discipline not usually categorized as a "physical" science (except for those who belong to the school of Behaviorism, of course -- once popular, now without much influence in the academy according to my sources). In other words, what happens when "physics encounters consciousness"? Hence the subtitle for this book and the "enigma" discussed.

The problem basically is this, as the authors explain: "Quantum theory ... tells us that observing an object to be someplace 'causes' it to be there. ... [A]ccording to quantum theory, an object can be in two, or many, places at once -- even far distant places. Its existence at the particular place it happens to be found becomes an actuality only upon its (conscious) observation. ... This seems to deny the existence of a physically real world independent of our observation of it." So, at this point, physics seems to encounter consciousness. And this seems to be the problematic "enigma" and it is, according to the authors (and some other physicists), a kind of "skeleton in the closet" for modern physics.

Now, this proposal that "observation creates reality" is not exactly new. In fact, it has been considered a traditional "philosophical" problem and discussed by philosophers for millennia. "To be is to be perceived" (or some variation thereof) is a proposition promulgated by philosophers who are "metaphysical idealists" or "epistemological idealists" (depending on whether "being" or "knowledge of being" is emphasized) and this philosophical position has always been the bane of more "realistic" philosophers, including yours truly, who falls entirely within the tradition of Classical Philosophical Realism and supports a position within that tradition called "contextual realism." I don't have a problem with the "enigma" that many physicists (and apparently the authors) do have. Unfortunately, space prohibits me from getting into this matter in any detail.

Although "Quantum Enigma" did not challenge my philosophical position, it was interesting to read about the various ways that physicists are attempting to deal with the "enigma." The authors note that their book is "controversial" and, indeed, I suspect that would be true among physicists and philosophers who hold to a philosophy of "scientific materialism." I found the book easily readable, although some may have to read the chapter about Schrödinger's cat more than once (can a cat be both dead and alive at the same time?). Thankfully, the authors provide a list of additional readings for both the general reader and advanced student and also a detailed index of topics. All in all, highly recommended.
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167 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is by far one of the most concise and simplest elucidations of various quantum phenomena... treating Copenhagen interpretation, the famous EPR paradox, Bell's theorem & inequality and more. Since I am not a physicist or physics major, I found their approach welcoming and I cannot critique the physics of the book, but I do have some major qualms with Quantum Enigma.

My prime objection to this book is that the authors implicitly believe in the reality & truth of free will throughout the text. I was a student in Bruce Rosenblum's class at UC Santa Cruz so I was able to ask questions to one of the authors of the book. The issue of free will was one that Rosenblum was not a fan of discussing, often dismissing the nearly uniform proclamation of the natural sciences that free will (i.e. our conscious control of choices) is an illusion.

This is may not seem like a profound objection to a book about physics, but Rosenblum & Kuttner insist themselves on the importance of free will to their book: "the existence of a quantum enigma depends crucially on free will." (p.168) If this is true, one would expect a substantial discussion of this concept yet the authors devote less than 2 pages to it. In these 2 pages, the authors admit, "Though it is hard to fit free will into a scientific worldview, we cannot ourselves, with any seriousness, doubt it. J.A. Hobson's comment seems apt to us: `Those of us with common sense are amazed at the resistance put up by psychologists, physiologists, and philosophers to the obvious reality of free will.'"

This quotation is essentially saying that Rosenblum and Kuttner cannot accept the notion that free will is an illusion because of "common sense." Physicists of all people should know that our so-called "common sense" and our intuitions are often skewed and sometimes totally incorrect. Quantum mechanics is a perfect example of this - as is Copernicus' discovery that we live in a heliocentric system - yet this notion of not trusting our "common sense" seems to not occur to Rosenblum and Kuttner in relation to free will. Often in the Quantum Enigma course (Physics 75), Bruce Rosenblum would simply say, "I know I have free will" - a statement that should make any philosopher, physicist, or biologist cringe - and presumably anyone who values empirical data over subjective "intuitions." Why should we trust our intuitions and "common sense" over the empirical data in this one case of our apparent free will?

The quotation above also belies a major problem with Quantum Enigma, where physics supposedly meets consciousness. The views of those fields named in the quotation above - psychologists, physiologists, and philosophers - are notably absent from Rosenblum and Kuttner's book. In Quantum Enigma where "physics meets consciousness," David Chalmers' book from the 80s is invoked often; they also mention Libet's studies from the 1980s. The problem with this is that an immense amount of research has been done since the 1980s in the blossoming field of neuroscience, which relate directly to our notions of intention, free will, consciousness, and self-representations. None of these findings are even mentioned even in passing in Quantum Enigma.

Patricia Churchland, a philosopher and neuroscientist, states in her book Brain-Wise, "So far, there is no evidence at all that some neuronal events happen without any cause... Importantly, even were uncaused neuronal events to be discovered, it is a further, substantial matter to show that precisely those events constitute choice." From a biological perspective, there appears to be no room for free will. Rosenblum and Kuttner even admit as much when they begin the quotation above with the phrase, "Though it is hard to fit free will into a scientific worldview..." If free will is hard to fit into a scientific worldview, and "the existence of a quantum enigma depends crucially on free will," would it not seem practical to devote a little more than two pages to the discussion of free will? Wouldn't it be necessary to understand the views of biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers on these issues of consciousness and free will to have a full, accurate, scientific picture of the situation?

Certainly physics can expect to "encounter" consciousness because physics intends to find a holistic explanation of the universe, and consciousness is obviously part of the universe physics intends to explain. In our search to understand both quantum mechanics and consciousness, we must be honest and open to all sides of the story. Unfortunately, Rosenblum and Kuttner leave out the arguments from biology, psychology, neurology, and some physicists when discussing the quantum enigma where "physics encounters consciousness." This is an overwhelming handicap, especially because of the authors' supposedly "common sense" presupposition that humans have free will. I admit that there is certainly a quantum enigma that presents itself in what we know as the "measurement problem," and Rosenblum and Kuttner should be congratulated to attempt to bring this to light to combat pseudoscience. But to understand the Quantum Enigma, we cannot start with presupposed truths, especially including the notion that we have free will.

With this in mind, I give the book 3 stars for its extraordinary conciseness with which it explains the phenomena of physics but the lack of biology, philosophy, neuroscience, etc. severely handicaps their interpretations and conclusions.
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91 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
I teach physics for a living. For quite a while now I've been assigning Martin Gardner's Relativity Simply Explained to my students as supplementary reading, and I'd been hoping that Quantum Enigma would do for quantum mechanics what Gardner's wonderful little book does for relativity: give an entertaining, well-written, nonmathematical discussion of the subject, including open questions and philosophical questions. In my opinion Quantum Enigma doesn't do that. I have four general criticisms of the book:

(1) It's dull, and it gets off to a terribly slow start. Chapter 1 is a summary of what the book is going to discuss, which is only going to be of interest to, or comprehensible to, a physicist. Chapter 2 has some personal reminiscences, which are not likely to be of interest to anyone at all. Chapter 3 is a parable; only a physicist will understand the point of the parable. Chapter 4 is about classical physics. Chapter 5 is more classical physics. We don't get to quantum mechanics until chapter 6. Ugh.

(2) It simply doesn't explain things very well. Chapter 6 is a good example. It starts off with a historical presentation of Planck's analysis of blackbody radiation. Why? It may be the first thing that happened historicaly, but it's the most confusing possible way to introduce students to quantum mechanics. Planck, after all, didn't have the faintest idea what he was doing; he simply introduced quantization as a mathematical trick to get the right answer.

(3) The central point about consciousness is poorly developed. The authors set up the Copenhagen interpretation as a straw man, and then argue that the Copenhagen interpretation doesn't make much sense unless we give consciousness a special place in our interpretation. They are absolutely right. The Copenhagen interpretation doesn't make much sense unless one gives consciousness some special status. Since consciousness is a physical phenomenon arising from physical interactions at the atomic level, this shows that the Copenhagen interpretation has some fundamental weaknesses. This doesn't prove anything about a relationship between consciousness and quantum mechanics, it only proves that there's something unsatisfying about the Copenhagen interpretation. The logical conclusion would be that we might want to examine other interpretations, such as the many-worlds interpretation. The authors devote a few pages to the many-worlds interpretation -- this in a 200-page textbook on the interpretation of quantum mechanics!?

(4) The first sentence of chapter 1 is "This is a controversial book." I disagree. Most of the book is noncontroversial, and the rest (the part about a supposed link between quantum mechanics and consciousness) is not controversial, it's just poorly developed. "Controversial" implies an idea that's being actively discussed among experts, and one on which a significant fraction of the experts takes each side. The claimed connection between quantum mechanics and consciousness is in this sense no more "controversial" than creationism.
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77 of 88 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For a long time, I've been felt a bit guilty because I don't understand quantum mechanics and soon feel dizzy after a short foray into the Theory of Relativity. To my delight, I discovered early in this book that even Albert Einstein didn't readily understand this stuff. Hmm. Score one for these authors.

The basic premise of Quantum Enigma is that Quantum Mechanics--which is hugely important to modern civilization and the technology we enjoy---presents some intriguing questions that appear to have their answers beyond science. Those questions center around the idea of consciousness.

Rosenblum and Kuttner present and explore these questions, taking the reader on a ride that is sometimes exciting, sometimes tedious, and frequently mind-boggling. The tedious parts last only a moment and you shoot right past them.

What about the mind-boggling parts? Those are probably where Quantum Enigma most earns its cover price. Rosenblum and Kuttner don't pretend to have pat answers. What they do is present a particular aspect of the enigma (there are several to look at) and seemingly rotate it around so you can see all sides of it. You're often left with more questions than you started with, but that is apparently the point. And it puts you in good company--count among your co-questioners such celebrity physicists as Niels Bohr, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Erwin Schrodinger.

One technique they use to present a particular aspect of the enigma is they tell a story. For example, we first go to a fictional place called Neg Ahne Poc. That's Copenhagen spelled backwards. The reason for that name becomes very clear in the book. We go there through the eyes of a fictional physicist, who is the one actually going there in the story. We observe the physicist engage in an experiment conducted by the Rhob of the village. Rhob is Bohr, as in Niels Bohr, spelled backwards. There's a lot of this cute stuff in the book, which shows the authors do try to keep from taking themselves and other physicists too seriously.

It's interesting to know how an author came to write a particular book. In this case, the authors had been teaching a course by the same name as this book. So, Quantum Enigma makes use of that experience, including the reactions of students. It provides quite a bit of interesting information, going back to Copernican physics and highlighting the differences between (and commonalities of) classic physics and modern physics.

The book itself is controversial, because many people feel polite scientists aren't supposed to discuss these kinds of things. They especially aren't supposed to discuss them with non-scientists. Why the concern? The world is full of pseudo-science, false claims, and downright whacky notions. When physics looks at the non-physical, purveyors of whacky notions may gain credence and deceive even more people. So, "crossing the line" from physical particles to non-physical consciousness makes physicists uncomfortable.

Rosenblum and Kuttner are not only comfortable discussing the link between physics and consciousness, they are adept at it. If you want something that will stimulate your intellect without frying your brain, Quantum Enigma--at barely over 200 pages--is just the thing.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I found Rosenblum and Kuttner to be sincere in their intentions, honest in their presentation, reasonable in their interpretations, and commendable for their obvious efforts to present this challenging subject to a general audience. In short, I like the authors and what they tried to do. As a result, I'm saddened to report that I finished this book feeling disappointed. The problem is that this book is unbalanced and incomplete. More specifically:

1. Simpler topics are sometimes overexplained to the point of tedium, whereas many of the more difficult and pivotal topics are brushed over much too quickly and therefore inadequately explained.

2. There's a great deal of repetition in the book, and it's not always clear that the authors are repeating themselves rather than making a new point. This causes considerable confusion, not to mention wasting the reader's time.

3. Too much time is spent on tangential topics, some of which could have been omitted entirely. For example, much of the discussion of classical physics is superfluous.

4. The discussion of alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics is surprisingly skimpy, even though that's supposed to be a major focus of the book.

5. The discussion of the relationship between consciousness and quantum mechanics is also surprisingly skimpy and shallow, even though that's advertised as THE central topic of the book. In this regard, I found the book to be a teaser.

The other reviews of this book are mostly quite positive, and that's a main reason why I read this book (combined with my interest in the consciousness angle). Since my review is among the minority which are relatively negative, it's legitimate to ask whether the fault lies with me. So let me note that I've taken two university courses in the philosophy of physics during the past two decades, both of which emphasized quantum mechanics and were significantly more advanced than this book (our texts were Particles and Paradoxes: The Limits of Quantum Logic and Quantum Mechanics and Experience, plus we read journal papers). I did well in those courses, and even found a fundamental conceptual error in a final exam question which was missed by both my fellow students and the professor until I pointed it out. So I do think that I'm qualified to evaluate this book and render an unfavorable judgment, and I fear that the reviewers who liked this book didn't have the background to realize where this book is lacking.

Needless to say, I unfortunately can't recommend this book, either for beginners or for review, especially since there are plenty of better books out there.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Quantum Enigma and it has left me stunned.

Although I am sure many folks would not agree, I think the topic of this book examines the most important questions facing us humans -- the fundamental nature of consciousness and "reality", and how the two interact. The authors explain how quantum theory clearly shows that microscopic particles behave in a way that does not "make sense". Not only can those particles exist in two places at once, but the theory shows that they only exist when observed by something or someone. And since our everyday macroscopic objects are theoretically made up of those tiny particles, what does that mean about the chair I am sitting on? Is it there only because I am here? As stated on page 156, "There is no way to interpret quantum theory without in some way addressing consciousness."

This is not a "pop-quantum" book like the Tao of Physics or The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Nor does it present nonsensical extrapolations of quantum theory to spiritual phenomena, as in the "What the Bleep..." movie. But it does explore realms where most physics text books do not go -- the juncture of physics and philosophy. It shines a bright light on physicists' "skeleton in the closet", the enigmatic meaning of quantum theory.

The book is written in a friendly and entertaining manner, without sacrificing depth or seriousness. I enjoyed the photos of the great minds of quantum theory - Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, etc - the guys who knew from the start that quantum theory required a different world view.

It may be true, in some sense, that nothing exists unless and until "observed"! How can that possibly be? The authors don't provide an answer, but the beauty of this book for me was the courageous and competent way in which it asks the questions. And they freely admit that "The more deeply you think about quantum mechanics, the more strange it seems." No kidding.

--Joel Nisson
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have read several books explaining the various interpretations of quantum theory but none as clear and complete as this one. A little humor thrown in helps too. But I have to disagree with some reviewers who found the book "easy" or "not difficult" to understand. Quantum theory is inherently complex and counterintutive, and the experiments involve concepts that even the layman with a science background will find challenging (at least this one did.) To their great credit, the authors have written about these concepts and experiments comprehensively and more clearly than any similar book I have read. But that doesn't mean the book does not challenge the mind. It does, which means I would not recommend it for those with no science background (and even less so for those many intelligent and well educated people who nevertheless are proud of their scientific ignorance - we have all met them). The author's paucity of jargon is refreshing. For example, the awkward word "nonlocality", though the concept is central to any discussion of quantum phenomena, is never used. The book is perhaps most distinguished by its fascinating, but not unplausible speculations, which scientists who have left their quantum enigma skeletons in their closets are too "scientifically correct" to make. In light of the author's intellectual courage, it is unfortunate that the important body of rigorous, scientific experiments in paraphenomena - which, like quantum experiments, point directly to human consciousness as the basis for future theories of these enigmatic phenomena - are rather glibly dismissed. Of course, the authors are not alone; almost no books written by scientists even mention this important body of scientific work.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book was written for a general audience; presupposing that this audience has little or no background in mathematics or physics, and as a result this book is completely devoid mathematics. The book is an outgrowth of a course that the authors teach to a general non-physics-major audience. Having taught this material as a college course has enabled the authors to "get the kinks out" and provide a very coherent treatment. As noted, this treatment is not oriented towards physicists (although the authors state that many take the course) and therefore the physics is provided in a very general way. As such, I think that some of other reviewer's criticism that the physics treatment was superficial misses the point that it was never meant to be more than superficial.

Like some of the other reviewers I have also read Herbert's Quantum Reality and Gribbin's in search of Schrodinger's Cat, as well as several other similar books. The background material is not as detailed as that provided in Gribbin's book and the alternative approaches to the quantum reality are not as detailed as that provided by Herbert, but I liked Quantum Enigma better than any of the other book of this genre that I have read. I found the discussions of EPR, Bells theorem and the verification of Bell's theorem to be superior in Quantum Enigma. (To be fair, as far as the experimental verification of Bell's theorem goes, the best results were either not yet available when these other books were written or had just been done.) The writing in Quantum Enigma is very clear and the more difficult ideas have been clarified by the use of simplified experiments that preserved the essence of the ideas, while removing many of the complications.

The first half of the book is devoted to a general discussion of background material - it discusses Newtonian, 19th century physics and the development of quantum mechanics. This is a very general treatment; suitable for those who are not generally interested in physics. However, for those who are, it may seem overly basic, but nonetheless I found some of the generalizations to be very informative. However, if you are primarily interested in the development of quantum mechanics I would recommend Gribbin's book, especially if you want a little more detail than that presented in Quantum Enigma, but if you want a stripped down and very simplified version of the development of quantum mechanics I would recommend Quantum Enigma.

The next quarter of the book focuses on the "skeleton in the quantum mechanics closet", namely that a quantum mechanics description of atomic particles and photons requires an observation for them to become "real". This assertion rests firmly on experiments that have been verified numerous times. For instance, individual photons exhibit interference effects, when this should not occur, but do not when the location of the photon is defined by an earlier observation. This observation, in effect, makes the photon real instead of just a manifestation of a wave function that is capable of being in more than one place at the same time and therefore of being able to interfere with itself. When it has been previously observed it acts like a "real" particle, which cannot interfere with itself. The question of observation creating reality is very strange and is the enigma of the title. Einstein objected to this observation required reality and developed thought experiments aimed at showing that this could not be so; that atoms, electron, photons, etc. should be objectively real and not require observation to be so. The final part of this section of the book shows, strange as it seems, how Einstein was shown to be wrong. Describing this is for a general audience is not easy, but I think that the authors have succeeded admirably. Succinctly describing the quantum enigma is very challenging and this book does a much better job than the others that I have read.

The final quarter of the book deals with the subjects of consciousness, free will and the general implications of "the quantum enigma". I was not overly fond of this part of the book, but you may find it interesting. However, if this is what you are primarily interested in, I would recommend Herbert's "Quantum Reality" as it goes into more detail concerning this subject.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the mysterious enigma supporting the foundation of quantum mechanics - an enigma that Richard Feynman cautioned one should never consider too closely lest one get be sucked down a drain from which there is no return. This book seeks to describe the quantum enigma, hopefully without the dire consequences that Feynman warned of.
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