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Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science Paperback – February 12, 2008
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Praise for David Lindley's Uncertainty
“Provides a useful précis of the mind-blowing progress of physics in the early 20th century.” —The New York Times
“Lindley captures the passion of the struggle, showing both the public controversies and the sometimes harsh private judgments. . . . The story is told with verve.” —Nature
“A physicist and skilled science writer, Lindley neatly sketches the players and chessboard at the Solvay Conferences, where Einstein lost his battle against the quantum world.” —USA Today
“Charmingly written and a delight to read. . . . Highlights the human element of science.” —The Economist
“Layers keen human drama on top of mind-bending scientific advancement.” —Discover Magazine
“Brilliantly captures the personalities and the science surrounding the most revolutionary principle in modern physics. . . . Truly thrilling.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
“Far and away the best popular account of the development of quantum mechanics I have encountered.” —Michael D. Gordin, American Scientist
Top customer reviews
The mysterious behavior of sub-atomic particles remains central to the work of theoretical physicists today. Lindley provides a fascinating account of the debate that took place a century ago among a group of brilliant theorists concerning the puzzling movement of electrons within the atom. The evident unpredictability of that movement was a revolutionary finding, one that has set the course of what became known as quantum mechanics and related issues within physics ever since. It seems hard to believe that these sweeping new developments took place a hundred years ago.
Lindley does a masterful job of sketching in the background and vicissitudes of the arcane and enormously intricate discoveries relating to sub-atomic particles that developed both before and after World War I.The temperament, rivalries, and eccentricities of the geniuses who thought, worked and argued over them are equally well described. And what an extraordinary group they were: Heisenberg, Bohr, Kramer, Born, Dirac, Pauli, Schroëdinger, and of course, Einstein, who until his death in 1955 never reconciled himself philosophically to the idea that a principle of uncertainty could exist within the realm of physics.
It’s an extraordinary and exciting historic tale. I feel indebted to David Lindley for his skill in making it comprehensible to an entirely non-scientific reader such as me.
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., Mach and Carnap) with ease and brevity, yet capturing the essence of the issues. His descriptions are what might be termed "stream of consciousness" physics, because he has the ability to enter and explore highly heterogeneous modalities of consciousness, without ever leaving the physics far out of the picture. After you have read this wonderful book, try Abraham Pais' biographies of Einstein and Bohr. They are more work, but more than worth the effort.