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Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science Hardcover – February 20, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (February 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385515065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385515061
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The uncertainty in this delightful book refers to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, an idea first postulated in 1927 by physicist Werner Heisenberg in his attempt to make sense out of the developing field of quantum mechanics. As Lindley so well explains it, the concept of uncertainty shook the philosophical underpinnings of science. It was Heisenberg's work that, to a great extent, kept Einstein from accepting quantum mechanics as a full explanation for physical reality. Similarly, it was the Uncertainty Principle that demonstrated the limits of scientific investigation: if Heisenberg is correct there are some aspects of the physical universe that are to remain beyond the reach of scientists. As he has done expertly in books like Boltzmann's Atom, Lindley brings to life a critical period in the history of science, explaining complex issues to the general reader, presenting the major players in an engaging fashion, delving into the process of scientific discovery and discussing the interaction between science and society. Thus, Lindley presents a very good chapter dissecting historian of science Paul Forman's iconic, if terribly flawed, analysis of the same time period. (Feb. 20)
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Review

“Lindley brilliantly captures the personalities and the science surrounding the most revolutionary principle in modern physics. At stake are our deepest philosophical beliefs about reality. This book is so lucid that the issues are not merely understandable but truly thrilling.”

—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Einstein: His Life and Universe

“In this always smart, and often beautiful, book, David Lindley illuminates some of the most intriguing theories in physics. The ideas themselves take their shape through the equally complicated lives and hopes of scientists determined to make sense of a seemingly impossible universe. In illuminating both—the elusive and elegant laws of physics, the scientists who struggled to decipher them—Uncertainty rightfully reminds us that the most difficult puzzles in the world around us are solved by both our minds—and our hearts.”

—Deborah Blum, author of Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

“Lindley’s description of one of the most dramatic revolutions in scientific thinking is truly fascinating. The ideas, and the lives of the originators of these ideas, become masterfully intertwined.”

—Mario Livio, senior astrophysicist, Space Telescope Science Institute, and author of The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number


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Customer Reviews

The book is wonderful for lay persons.
C. Phipps
The actual scope of the book goes well beyond quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
Metallurgist
Anyone interested in modern physics would find this book worth reading.
Timothy Haugh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 108 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on March 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Quantum and its resulting uncertainty has haunted physics since Max Planck first brought the idea up (with a certain amount of distaste) in 1900. Einstein added to the trend in 1905, although he did not like the result either. Niels Bohr at first did not appreciate the prospect, but eventually put his own interpretation on it. Werner Heisenberg followed the quantum theory to the Uncertainty Principle, which essentially tolled the death knell to classical deterministic physics.

David Lindley has produced a new rendition of this story in "Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science." While this story has been told by various authors before, it has never had a clearer or more succinct exposition than this one. Here are all the players, not only Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Planck, but the Curies, Pauli, Dirac, Born, Schrödinger and many others. In the end we are left with the triumph of quantum physics, but also with a much more uncertain universe where the old mechanistic model simply will not answer the ultimate questions. Quantum mechanics won't answer them either, but in a quantum universe these questions may make no sense anyway! Perhaps (we may hope)they can't be answered because the questions are not yet properly formulated! Only if we can unite quantum theory with relativity (the unified theory) can we hope to answer anything in a definitive way and this has not so far been accomplished!

Lindley's book is not a comprehensive treatment of the problem, but a short history of the idea and an explanation of why quantum theory matters.
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58 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Uncertainty, Mr. Lindley has written a very user-friendly history of the philosophical changes that came about in physics through the growth of our understanding of quantum physics. As a teacher of physics, I am always looking for books on the subject that are readily understandable by the average intelligent reader. This one certainly fits the bill.

Please note, however, that the focus here is more on theory and philosophy than what might be termed "hard science." There is very little talk of experiments and there is nary an equation in the entire book. Instead, this is a story of theorists and their attempts to interpret and give meaning to the strange things that were happening in physics in the first decades of the twentieth century. Moreover, it is a story of how some of the greatest minds in science disagreed strenuously over these things.

Despite the subtitle, many more names flow through this narrative than Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg. We also get insight into Pauli, Dirac, Born, Schrodinger, and many others. In fact, Einstein really plays little more than a supporting role here. (I suppose having his name on the cover--and first, no less--means more readers are likely to pick it up.) Readers looking for a lot on Einstein will have to look elsewhere. (Relativity theory is barely mentioned in this book on quantum mechanics.) It is Heisenberg who really is center stage. Not at all surprising since it is his uncertainty principle that gives this book its title.

In the end, Lindley gives us a lot of good history, a bit on personalities and a bit more on scientific philosophy as it relates to quantum theory. He also offers real insight into how the scientific mind works and how theory is hashed out by its practitioners in a way that should be accessible to most readers. Anyone interested in modern physics would find this book worth reading.
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on September 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read two graduate texts on quantum mechanics recently. The first took an historical approach, beginning with Planck's work on black-body radiation, then Einstein's treatment of Brownian motion and light quanta, proceeding on to Bohr's atom, Compton scattering, the Zeeman effect, and so on. The second started out by saying (I paraphrase), "Here's Schroedinger's equation. The rest of the book goes through various solutions, with different potentials."

I find it completely incredible that this little equation can have so many implications, none of them ever having been found to be wrong. Lindley's book is about the "meaning" of quantum mechanics, a project that most physicists consider irrelevant at best. I still remember listening to Feynman's Cal Tech lectures on quantum mechanics, where his urged his student not to try to figure what the equation "means." Rather, he urged them just to solve it and get an intuitive "feel" for how it works. Quantum mechanics doesn't "mean" anything. It just is.

This stance is not enough for many people, including virtually all of its creators, who worked in the dizzying years of discovery, 1900 to 1927. Bohr' model did fit some of the specroscopic data on hydrogen very well, but he spent most of his intellectual (as opposed to organizational) energy thereafter ruminating on the principle of complementarity and the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. The next generation of physicist could not have cared less. When asked about Bohr's interpretation, Dirac replied that there were no equations, so there was nothing of interest there.

This may be the bast book ever written on the topic, despite its elementary nature. Lindley handle complex topics (e.g.
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