Raghu's Reviews > Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality

Quantum by Manjit Kumar
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Nov 07, 09

Read in November, 2009

Manjit Kumar's book is a fascinating history of one of the most fundamental areas of science.Just as the title says, it is a history of the great debate about the nature of reality with Einstein and Neils Bohr leading the opposing views. Quantum Mechanics has always been a fascinating subject for me, mainly because I could never hope to understand it enough, however much time I spent on it. This brilliant work takes you through the history of the ideas behind quantum mechanics from the late 19th century all the way till the latter half of 20th century.
Manjit Kumar sets the stage slowly as he describes the contributions of great scientists ranging from Rutherford, Max Planck, Einstein, Bohr, de Broglie, Pauli, Heisenberg, Dirac and Schroedinger. Their works are captured along with a short historical background to provide the context. Then the stage is all set for the great question about the nature of reality. Bohr and Heisenberg and many others insist that there is no objective reality. Bohr says: 'There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum mechanical description.It is wrong to think that the task of physics to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."
On the other hand, Einstein insists on his belief in the existence of a causal, observer-independent reality. He says: "What we call science has the sole purpose of determining what is". Einstein and his Princeton team produce an ingenious thought-experiment called EPR that casts a major shadow on the Bohr-Heisenberg view called the 'Copenhagen Interpretation'. However, for all practical purposes, most scientists by the mid-20th century accept the Copenhagen view and get on with their science. Albert Einstein toiled till his death to find a Unified Field theory from which he hoped to derive the laws of Quantum Mechanics. But he wasn't successful.
The book brings out the essence of those exhilarating times in science when great minds battle year after year on the nature of Reality amidst two major world wars and the looming threats of fascism and communism. In spite of their battles for decades, both Bohr and Einstein were such great human beings, having a great regard and affection for one another. The other giants like de Broglie, Pauli, Heisenberg and Schroedinger also show great respect and regard for their opponents' views and keep egos and personalities out of the equation.
Manjit Kumar's narrative brings out all these essential human qualities quite vividly. He has a great ability to write. The book is lucid and delightfully accessible in spite of the difficult subject matter. I enjoyed reading it immensely. In many ways, it is like a thriller, as you keep looking for the next thought experiment that Einstein would come up with to counter Bohr only to find out how the Copenhagen team overcomes each of these hurdles. I would recommend it strongly to anyone interested in popular science in general and Quantum Mechanics in particular.
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