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Beyond Weird

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  664 ratings  ·  98 reviews
'This is the book I wish I could have written but am very glad I've read' Jim Al-Khalili

‘I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.’
Richard Feynman wrote this in 1965 – the year he was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for his work on quantum mechanics.

Quantum physics is regarded as one of the most obscure and impenetrable subjects in all of scien
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 22nd 2018 by Bodley Head
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The Fault, Dear Brutus, Is Not in Our Stars

Quantum theory is probably the best possible proof of the validity of Pragmatist philosophy. No one understands what the theory means. And as Philip Ball says, “No one tells you that it often lacks any justification beyond the mere (and obviously important) fact that it works.” And this has a startling implication: It’s not just the physical world that is different from what we thought; reason itself must be something much more obscure than we have ever
Manuel Antão
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Crazy Magic: "Beyond Weird" by Philip Ball

“The main thing you need to know about entanglement is this: it tells us that a quantum object may have properties that are not entirely located on that object.”

In “Beyond Weird” by Philip Ball

“What, though, if the photon polarizations were already determined from the outset by hidden variables, only to become manifest when the measurements were made? Then there’s no problem: we’re back with th
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
Ask scientists what quantum mechanics tells us and you will get a variety of contradictory explanations. Where does that leave the rest of us? Ball tries to help us understand the issues around quantum mechanics. He provides perspectives I had not read before. He employs science as well as philosophy. For language, while inadequate on many occasions, is at a total loss when it comes to the quantum. In Ball’s words “In quantum theory, words are blunt tools. We give names to things and processes, ...more
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
In Beyond Weird, Philip Ball argues that we are undermining and oversimplifying quantum mechanics by calling it weird. It’s something that most of us, the media and even scientists have done. Quantum mechanics is much more than that and it is a disservice to just use such a common and easy way to describe it, for want of better wording. The problem is that we might not have the right words to describe quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is famous for being ambiguous. As a result, it’s one of the
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I always try to get alternate viewpoints from as many scientists as I can. I also enjoy sorting out my understanding of quantum physics, searching for better stories, better analogies, and just... BETTER. This book is one of the BETTER. It may not be as charming as some and I don't mind how it skimps on biographies and jumps right into the SCIENCE, but it does fall short in outright describing the math. (That may be a good thing for some. Especially if you're not in the mood to crunch math.)

To b
Peter Tillman
The great physicist Ernest Rutherford said, around 1915: "If you can’t explain your physics to the barmaid, it is probably not very good physics."* It's fair to say that Quantum Mechanics/quantum physics (QM) isn't even close to passing the Rutherford Test. But it's getting closer -- and there's hope, says Philip Ball.

Ball has written about as good a popular introduction to QM as anyone could, perhaps because he got his start as a chemist, as did I. And Ball's book has gotten many, many favorabl
a very good overview of the controversies and theories of the foundation of quantum physics with lots of recent interpretations and experiments that have started to change the "usual" story one reads about (Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger etc) in both major and subtle ways

Highly recommended and very readable and accessible without too much math
Jon Ureña
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beyond whatever subject I end up being interested in from time to time, quantum mechanics, the study of the processes that lie at the bottom of reality, is the most interesting subject. If you disagree, you can physically fight me. I tend to come back to books on quantum mechanics from time to time to learn about the recent discoveries, which in a field as bizarre as this one could mean a complete reframing of reality.

This is the kind of book on quantum mechanics you read after you've been hit w
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not gifted mathematically. It confounds me. Always has. Always will. However, that doesn't diminish my fascination with some theories. Which annoys me to no end! I don't understand quantum physics on a level that smarty pants folk do...;-) but from just my own little perspective it makes sense to me. I actually sometimes use it as a mind game "when I'm bored." It's probable possibilities are astounding to me. I remember when I first heard about the string theory, and I thought "well, let's ...more
Ed Erwin
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, science
For years there was very little published comparing different interpretations of QM. Suddenly there seems to be a flood of them. While I loved What Is Real? by Adam Becker, this one might be even better. Becker was re-telling the history of QM and discussing the personalities of the scientists along with talking about interpretations. Ball skips almost completely over the history and personalities and just gets right down to what we currently know and several attempts at interpretation.

Becker wa
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is a book that tries to describe the weirdness of quantum mechanics. And I think it does a great job. Although it is written primarily for the general audience, I don't recommend it if you're not familiar with the ABC of QM. There are much simpler books out there.

Quantum mechanics doesn’t tell us how a thing is, but what (with calculable probability) it could be, along with – and this is crucial – a logic of the relationships between those ‘coulds’. If this, then that.
What this means is th
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was a bit hesitant about reading this book initially as I thought who needs yet another popular science book about quantum mechanics or the history of quantum mechanics. I decided to pick up a copy as Jim Al-Khalili gave it a glowing review.

The good news is that this isn't just another history of quantum mechanics, but a great up to date account of where quantum theory is today. There is a lot of focus on the interpretation of QM from Many Worlds, Copenhagen Interpretation etc. through to mod
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
Well, I like it, but should I recommend it?

It really depends. If you are just curious intellectually then go ahead and check it out. It's not very easy though, after all you are trying to learn quantum physics. But it's manageable. That's an incredible feat that the author was able to achieve. I have zero background in quantum physics, though do work with probability. But Philip Ball speaks in such an intelligible language (despite him repeatedly saying the limit of language in expressing quantu
Nov 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Took me a while to finish this book. It’s a reasonably good summary of what’s known and mostly what’s unknown about quantum mechanics. A bit too long and a bit repetitive. For me, the most important discovery was the notion/interpretation of QBism which I wasn’t aware of until now.
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This brand new book - from one of the most prolific science divulgators, consistently delivering high to very high quality works on whatever field he chooses (and he chooses among very diverse ones) - fills a gap in many ways in the scenario of quantum mechanics literature. It is less technical than Ghirardi's "Un'occhiata alle carte di Dio" but as engaging; it is far less technical than Bricmont's "Making sense of quantum mechanics" but it is wider in scope, even concerning deep matters. While ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is not a review of the book - the book is fantastic with new insights pouring out in every section and with nary a word wasted. The rest of the writeup is an extended summary of my takeaways for whatever they are worth.

Beyond Weird makes one think more than almost any other book on the subject. This reviewer has read dozens of books on quantum physics over the last two decades. For years, I have been swayed by, and against, different interpretations. Like any amateur, my impressions were ro
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Ball provided the lay reader, me, an excellent distillation of the current frontiers in quantum physics, something of a second derivative to the underlying research in the field. Nary an equation appears; even the chapter titles are free of numerical ordering. And what from it?

Mr. Ball capably reviewed the principal themes and characters involved in quantum physics today. We met Messrs. Schrödinger, Bohr, Planck, Heisenberg, Feynman, et alia. We read of entanglement, superposition, collapsin
David Good
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great book exploring the latest thinking on the meaning of quantum mechanics, one of the the strangest and most rigorously tested theories in all of science. Philip Ball steps through some of the key concepts of quantum mechanics, such as superposition, entanglement and decoherence, explaining what the latest research has to say about them. He also reviews the main historical interpretations of quantum mechanics in the light of the latest research and shows their failings. He covers the Copenh ...more
Rob Adey
I had high hopes for a Philip Ball quantum book as he's a good and original pop science writer. The fact I didn't get on too well with it is probably because he pours super-cooled water on the multiple worlds interpretation, as well as some of the other famously strange bits of quantum physics. Not knowing the maths or actually being a physicist of any kind I've got no way of sensibly deciding whether he's wrong or not, of course (though as far as I can make out he has a chiefly hypocritical rea ...more
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is, I think, the book on quantum mechanics I've been wanting to read for 15 years—though my ability to embrace it may be due to my experience with the less-comprehensive titles I've read in the meantime. Superb, even if I did get snarled once or twice in Ball's explanations of experiments.

Interesting, though, how many shades of Kant and Wittgenstein I kept encountering. I'm not sure if that's because they've greatly influenced quantum physicists, Ball, or if I just saw them because I love t
Jon Pensak
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
I found this disappointing. The overall tone is off-putting as Ball condescends to historical figures and oversells the extent to wish decoherence answers outstanding questions in QM. (E.g., as far as I understand, the interpretation makes no unique, testable predictions.). Ball's self-promotional slant steers him away from going into any topic too deeply and instead we get a lot of repetition of a few reductive ideas. One is left wondering how constructive much of the "foundations" work being d ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A refreshing new angle for me. Great that it took us through to current thinking and was about the ideas and not the personalities. Learned a lot about superposition, entanglement and decoherence - at least in flashes - way beyond my understanding in most ways but a very satisfying and interesting read. I definitely want more of these up to date books as the subject evolves.
Amar Pai
Jan 17, 2019 marked it as gave-up-on
Will this be it? Will this be the book that finally, truly explains quantum physics in laymans terms, so that a even a dunce like me can follow along ?

(view spoiler)
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
After reading these ~350 pages I now feel like I know less about Quantum Mechanics (QM) than before I started. There were times when some of the concepts were beyond my comprehension (e.g. Popescu-Rohrlich boxes) but hopefully with some more reading and research, I'll be able to understand them.

Ball starts to say, fundamentally that the crux of QM is that measurement on a system affects the outcome of measurements on the system itself. Quantization is not a requirement for QM. The book did solve
Arun Mahendrakar
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not a physicist by any means, but I've read about Quantum Physics earlier. However, this book explains the arcane concepts of duality, superposition and entanglement in much simpler language. If you are into gathering information about quantum, this is a great book to start with. There aren't many equations, though I would've been okay with a few more of those in the book.

Some deeply-thought provoking statements in the book:

"Quantum objects are not sometimes particles and sometimes waves. Quantu
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The book explores many interesting concepts that are less common in popular science books. The author analyses them from both science and philosophy point of view. He also presents each concept with an opposing view. I genuinely liked the author's take on Many-Worlds interpretation. I would definitely re-read this book, although it took me some time to get through it. Reading it first time I wasn't able to grasp all given information, however I enjoyed it a lot. ...more
Greg Hovanesian
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. Quantum Physics isn't just a science: it's a philosophy of the world. Philip Ball is Greatest Science Writer I've Ever Read. ...more
Nick Spencer
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
good but demanding
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading if you're interested in quantum physics. This is head and shoulders above any other book on the subject for a lay audience. ...more
Angie Reisetter
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-related
This is simply the best book in the interpretation of quantum mechanics I've ever read. And I've read many, from popular science books to physics textbooks. Ball has a take-down of the many worlds interpretation, for which he has little patience, but that isn't the main focus of the book. He starts with the Copenhagen interpretation, but criticizes it as insufficient and unsatisfying, mostly because it states that we are simply not allowed to ask certain questions.

He offers a different, more co
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Philip Ball (born 1962) is an English science writer. He holds a degree in chemistry from Oxford and a doctorate in physics from Bristol University. He was an editor for the journal Nature for over 10 years. He now writes a regular column in Chemistry World. Ball's most-popular book is the 2004 Critical Mass: How One Things Leads to Another, winner of the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. It e ...more

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“The world is sensitive to our touch. It has a kind of 'Zing!' that makes it fly off in ways that are not imaginable classically. The whole structure of quantum mechanics may be nothing more than the optimal method of reasoning and processing information in the light of such a fundamental (wonderful) sensitivity. — Chris Fuchs” 2 likes
“For many decades quantum theory was regarded primarily as a mathematical description of phenomenal accuracy and reliability, capable of explaining the shapes and behaviours of molecules, the workings of electronic transistors, the colours of nature and the laws of optics, and a whole lot else. It would be routinely described as ‘the theory of the atomic world’: an account of what the world is like at the tiniest scales we can access with microscopes. Talking about the interpretation of quantum mechanics was, on the other hand, a parlour game suitable only for grandees in the twilight of their career, or idle discussion over a beer. Or worse: only a few decades ago, professing a serious interest in the topic could be tantamount to career suicide for a young physicist. Only a handful of scientists and philosophers, idiosyncratically if not plain crankily, insisted on caring about the answer. Many researchers would shrug or roll their eyes when the ‘meaning’ of quantum mechanics came up; some still do. ‘Ah, nobody understands it anyway!” 1 likes
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