Physics

In Search of Schrodinger's Cat – Quantum Physics and Reality

In Search of Schrodinger's Cat was one of very few popular science books published in the early 1980s on the subject of quantum mechanics. The title of the book refers to a famous thought experiment (paradox) devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger. The thought experiment presents a hypothetical cat that apparently can be simultaneously dead and alive (or neither dead nor alive), depending on an earlier random event, and assuming that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics can be applied to everyday objects.

For those of us who are not physicists, the book covers, in a rather accessible manner (especially in its first half), a number of key theories, ideas, and paradoxes such as the dual nature of light, the double-slit experiment, the structure and the inner workings of atoms, Plank's constant and its history and significance, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics and its possible far-reaching philosophical implications, the Compton effect, the Copenhagen interpretation, etc. Often incorrectly depicted as just an experimental limitation, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (the central idea of ​​quantum mechanics), is explained quite nicely (and I believe correctly) in this book. The author also gives a couple of great examples of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics (eg, Dirac's mathematical prediction of the existence of positrons, the electron's antiparticle).

The author's style of writing is engaging and pleasant to read. The book is filled with relevant historic references, which I personally always find useful, as they help with putting everything in a right prospective and context. Even though it is thought provoking, the second half of the book, which deals with more speculative questions related to quantum mechanics (eg, the many-worlds theory), is less satisfactory and less focused.

I recommend this book as an easy, non-mathematical introduction to the basic concepts of quantum mechanics, arguably the most fascinating scientific theory ever formulated by human mind. To fully understand and truly appreciate quantum mechanics, however, one has to sharpen one's mathematical pencil and dig deep into vector algebra with all its eigenvectors and eigenvalues. There are no shortcuts. Thus, my caveat lector: advanced students will almost certainly learn nothing new of importance in this book.

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