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Quantum Theory at the Crossroads: Reconsidering the 1927 Solvay Conference [Hardcover]

Guido Bacciagaluppi , Antony Valentini
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 30, 2009 0521814219 978-0521761314 1
The 1927 Solvay conference was perhaps the most important in the history of quantum theory. Contrary to popular belief, questions of interpretation were not settled at this conference. Instead, a range of sharply conflicting views were extensively discussed, including de Broglie's pilot-wave theory (which de Broglie presented for a many-body system), Born and Heisenberg's 'quantum mechanics' (which apparently lacked wave function collapse or fundamental time evolution), and Schrödinger's wave mechanics. Today, there is no longer a dominant interpretation of quantum theory, so it is important to re-evaluate the historical sources and keep the debate open. This book contains a complete translation of the original proceedings, with essays on the three main interpretations presented, and a detailed analysis of the lectures and discussions in the light of current research. This book will be of interest to graduate students and researchers in physics and in the history and philosophy of quantum theory.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"Overall, Quantum Theory at the Crossroads provides an important and inspirational history of quantum mechanics, being most valuable for its translation of the conference proceedings and its account of de Broglie's often neglected wave theory."
Martin Jähnert, Physics Today

"... Bacciagaluppi and Valentini have put together a most useful volume for historians and philosophers of physics alike. The excellent introduction and the important sources make this volume a most valuable contribution to the philosophy and history of quantum mechanics. It should be included in the reading list of every class on that subject, and it should be read by anyone who is concerned with the conceptual problems of quantum mechanics. I also recommend it to physicists who are looking for a good place to start reading about the historical emergence of interpretational problems of modern quantum theory."
Tilman Sauer, ISIS

'Considering the development of quantum mechanics, Quantum Theory at the Crossroads offers a very stimulating viewpoint as its authors take a rather polarizing stance. Overall, it provides an important and inspiring history of quantum mechanics, being most valuable for its translation of the conference proceedings and its account of de Broglie's often neglected pilot-wave theory.'
Martin Jähnert, Metascience

"... this book could play a role in guiding readers to the original works of de Broglie and Bohm, and ... promote a more open-minded appreciation of their contributions than is customary even now."
Contemporary Physics

"... the book is already a very important contribution to our understanding of the Fifth Solvay Conference. The translation of the proceedings will make the various voices of the various participants much more accessible to a wide audience, and the historical account of how the conference came to be, how the various participants thought about and prepared their own contributions, and how the proceedings themselves were prepared will be an eye-opener for many readers. The truth about the conference is far more interesting than the fictions that are usually promulgated, and the authors do an excellent job debunking those fictions. Perhaps the lesson to learn here is that contemplating the Fifth Solvay Conference is a bit like taking a Rorschach inkblot test. The authors' own contemplation is ambitious, thought provoking, delightfully detailed, and itself deserving of further contemplation."
MICHAEL DICKSON, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA for Philosophy of Science

"On the whole, the authors' arguments are well thought through and balanced. But in my opinion the most vital aspect of the book is that it highlights de Broglie's historical position and tries to understand why his achievements were neglected, and for this reason alone I would recommend this book."
Jan Faye, University of Copenhagen, Denmark for Centaurus

Book Description

The 1927 Solvay conference was perhaps the most important meeting in the history of quantum theory. Contrary to popular belief, the interpretation of quantum theory was not settled at this conference, and no consensus was reached. Instead, a range of sharply conflicting views were presented and extensively discussed, including de Broglie's pilot-wave theory, Born and Heisenberg's quantum mechanics, and Schrödinger's wave mechanics. Today, there is no longer an established or dominant interpretation of quantum theory, so it is important to re-evaluate the historical sources and keep the interpretation debate open. This book contains a complete translation of the original proceedings, with background essays on the three main interpretations of quantum theory presented at the conference, and an extensive analysis of the lectures and discussions in the light of current research in the foundations of quantum theory. The proceedings contain much unexpected material, including extensive discussions of de Broglie's pilot-wave theory (which de Broglie presented for a many-body system), and a theory of 'quantum mechanics' apparently lacking in wave function collapse or fundamental time evolution. This book will be of interest to graduate students and researchers in physics and in the history and philosophy of quantum theory.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 558 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (November 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521814219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521761314
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 7.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,309,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sacred Texts October 17, 2010
By Sammy
Format:Hardcover
Being able to read the original papers presented by de Broglie and Schrodinger at the 1927 Solvay Conference, and the ensuing discussions, is thrilling. Realizing the depth of those early 20th century physicists' background in classical mechanics, electromagnetism and relativity is an education in itself. That alone would make this collection worth the stiff price. The expert, technical commentary by B & V is extremely valuable. A paperback edition for students is needed.

The book is a page-turner. OK I didn't slog through the lengthy paper by Bragg, but I should have.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and insightful scholarship March 14, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book offers a critical perspective on some of the historical events that led to a premature (yet largely ongoing) "consensus" regarding the foundations of quantum theory. At the same time, the book serves as a joyous invitation to inquiry into this fascinating area of physics.

I've read a number of brief accounts of the 1927 Solvay Conference, and to a first approximation the picture they offer is "Bohr and Einstein argued while some other guys watched." This book offers a different perspective, which has the benefit of being supported by the actual text of the proceedings. The level of scholarship in this book seems excellent. In addition to the fascinating conference proceedings, the historical/physical analysis and perspective is interesting and often quite different from conventional accounts. In particular, the exposition of de Broglie's development of pilot-wave theory is quite thorough. While I certainly didn't share the common perception that de Broglie was some random hack who lucked into discovering a formula for particle wavelength, I had no idea how developed and sophisticated his ideas were. Furthermore, the book's analysis of Pauli's criticism was tremendously interesting. To be honest, I found most everything in the book to be really interesting (though I didn't read all parts with equal scrutiny).

I will have to strongly disagree with another reviewer who seems to imply that this subject is already thoroughly explored; to the contrary, I feel that the authors' analysis of the conference is rather unlike any other I've seen.
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5 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This book is not for the layman. It may be useful to PhD quantum mechanics and philosophers of physics who are used to reading boring uninspired traditional academic prose. There are two much better books on the same subject both written by women - the late Mara Beller's "Quantum Dialogues" and Sheila Jones's "The Quantum Ten". Read them first.

For the record I am partial to Bohm's ontological interpretation of quantum theory and am not opposed to Valentini et-al's defense of it.

Jack Sarfatti, PhD (physics, University of California degree)
[...]
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