When I called my local bookstore to ask if they had Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat, it had the feel of a classic prank call. Fortunately for me, the clerk took me seriously. The result was one of the most interesting and engaging books I’ve read in a long time.
As the 1900s drew to a close, physicists actually expected that once the solutions to a few vexing problems were in hand, they’d have everything they needed to explain the physical workings of the entire Universe. Close, but no cigar. In fact, the search for those answers opened the door to an entirely new field of physics – Quantum Physics.
While classical physics was the physics of the readily observable, quantum physics is the physics of the microscopic. In this new book, Paul Halpern explores the personalities and history behind the switch from a view of the workings of the world that was deterministic — if A is in one place and moves with X force in Y direction, it will arrive at point B in Z minutes — to a view of the workings of the world that is probabilistic. And more than that, not just probabilistic, but one in which an object may exhibit characteristics of a particle and a wave at the same time.
Halpern writes about the search for a unifying theory of everything — the theory that brings the reality of the physical workings of the very large and the very small into harmony — in an engaging manner. This is not a dry tome or treatise on the history of science. His choice of Einstein and Schrödinger is not only an obvious one, it is a good one. Schrödinger — the man behind the paradoxical thought problem of the cat in the box who could be at once both dead and alive — was ready to explore the possibilities engendered in quantum entanglement. For him, the idea that what happened to one thing would intimately affect the outcome of another, in perhaps an unanticipated manner, was a distinct possibility. For Einstein, the world was a deterministic whole. In his view, God did not play dice.
Halpern’s treatment of their struggles, as well as his explanations of classical and quantum physics and scientists behind them, are well worth a read.