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The Quantum Moment
Cover of The Quantum Moment
The Quantum Moment
How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty
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The fascinating story of how quantum mechanics went mainstream

The discovery of the quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.

Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverse, quantum leap, alternate universe, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy—phrases reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.

Is a quantum leap big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky or a fundamental shift in the way we think?

All of the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this groundbreaking book. The authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum's rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps, mistranslations, jokes, and gibberish in public discussions of the quantum. Their book explores the quantum's manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum's implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.

The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.

The fascinating story of how quantum mechanics went mainstream

The discovery of the quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.

Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverse, quantum leap, alternate universe, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy—phrases reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.

Is a quantum leap big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky or a fundamental shift in the way we think?

All of the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this groundbreaking book. The authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum's rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps, mistranslations, jokes, and gibberish in public discussions of the quantum. Their book explores the quantum's manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum's implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.

The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.

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About the Author-
  • Robert P. Crease is a professor of philosophy at Stony Brook University and a columnist for Physics World magazine. His books include The Great Equations and World in the Balance, among others.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 25, 2014
    Histories of quantum theory are typically dense with complex, abstract ideas, but philosopher Crease and physicist Goldhaber, both of Stony Brook University, offer a new twist, adding a fascinating look at the ways the mainstream world has embraced (though not always accurately!) the concepts of quantum mechanics. Pop culture took up the quantum cause with far more gusto than most physicists. When first proposed, quantum theory was deemed “ugly, weird, unpredictable,” and “quite distasteful.” Experimentalist Robert Milliken tried to kill the idea, but his lab results kept confirming it. The authors cheerfully discuss how much Einstein, along with many of his peers, hated the way the theory allowed uncertainty to toy with reality. While physicists struggled to fill in the missing bits of their incomplete theories, quirky quantum ideas became parts of a “sphinxian riddle” that captured the mainstream imagination and inspired everyone from cartoonists and sculptors to such writers as Ian Fleming and John Updike. Crease and Goldhaber have written an accessible and entertaining history that embraces both the science and the silliness of quantum mechanics.

  • David Kaiser, author of How the Hippies Saved Physics "A fascinating tour of the lives and afterlives of some of the most captivating concepts of quantum theory."
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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The Quantum Moment
The Quantum Moment
How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty
Robert P. Crease
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