Thursday, January 29, 2009

Entanglement by Amir Aczel

This was a good book, but more as a brief history of quantum theory instead of providing the reader with a true understanding of it.
Entanglement could almost be seen as a series of mini-biographies of the quantum greats (Planck, Young, Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, Schrödinger…) and recent contributors (Bell, Aspect, and others); with explanations of the core concepts thrown in along the way. I don’t think this is entirely the fault of the author though, because the concepts are so complicated and any true understanding would require a sophisticated mathematical background. So, lacking that or unable to present it, one is left with giving an audience a description in words of counter-intuitive concepts and findings, backed up by complicated experimental data.
There was decent coverage of the double-slit experiment, wave-particle duality, Bohr-Einstein debates, entanglement (obviously), teleportation and computing. I learned that it isn’t the particle that gets teleported, but a quality of it (which seems to make it slightly more plausible to me for some reason).

The key issue that I wanted to understand, whether the limitations of quantum theory have to do with reality or measurement, still remains unresolved. Part way through the book I thought it was reality and not measurement or apparati that lead to the odd quantum results. But after finishing the book it now seems as if measurement, or even the possibility of measurement(!), changes outcomes. It really does seem as if there are a few valid interpretations, which very smart people disagree about. Interestingly, because quantum theory is so precisely and repeatedly replicated, interpretive differences are less a problem here than in most other domains. Quantum mechanics is an interesting representative of the testament replicative power of a science theory, in that one needs theory for understanding, but as long as (mostly predictable) results continue to accrue the validity increases.

In sum, the work is a useful exploration of the history of entanglement and a decently appropriate place from which to launch further explorations into the odd phenomena of quantum theory.


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