Book Review (Posted on 10-05-2017)
Some writers just sure know how to explain and teach a subject, namely ones that many deem are too complex for the average person. Heck, even if you have some mathematical prowess, there exists some subjects which are too much to fathom. One of my favorite authors of all time John Gribbin
expressed his amazing talent talking about a subject I fantasized in wanting to understand: Quantum Physics
Gribbin starts with a little history of the development of the Quantum Theory, and how we began observing the super-tiny objects bouncing about every which way science has succintly call "atoms." Since then, came the important thirty years where scientists/physicists were on a hot trail in composing various theories about the quantum world. One of the famous debates and observational theories ever published was about Light
. Is Light a wave or a particle? Suddenly you learn of light defined under the wave-particle duality
, as its behavior and direction are, well, let's just say, travels in a way "where it wants" unless disrupted by a solid and/or gravity. Just when studying physics starts with motions and accelerations, quantum physics starts with light. Reading that part will surely make you not see light in the same way again.
Along the way, Gribbin also introduces the Mechanics
of the quanta
, introducing the entire atom and its inner properties. While Gribbin has iterated some of the physicists' view of the atomic behavior, the graphical representation of the atom is the same one we all learned in school: a spherical ball with electrons rotating around the nucleus. Gribbin kindly tells the reader to reject that view of the atom since, historically and observationally, we don't know what an actual atom looks like, where it will end up (calculating the atoms' "state"), and if the electron surely revolves around the nucleus like the Earth rotating around the Sun. That should give all the science enthusiasts some serious consideration, because, as you'll read on this review, Gribbin makes a perfect statement regarding the nature of these tiny, energetic "things" that build everything around us, including us.
It might interest you to know that throughout the development and discovery of the quantum theory, it's stunning how the mathematical disciplines of Probability
are integrated and crucial for this area of study. More Math? Why is that? Two words: Uncertainty Principle
. The fact that Einstein
Principle, on how to deduce the properties of the atom's behavior, where it will end up and its decaying properties really had Einstein stumped. What this Principle simply defines is that, regardless of its state, position or its likelihood of decay, we can never know the exact "motive" of the atom. There's no way to accurately predict, via time or its gravitational attraction to other atomic nuclei, of what or where the atom will end up. Perhaps it's too tiny to observe, and that's where physicist Erwin Schrödinger
composed his famous thought experiment: Schrödinger's Cat
Before you read on, no, no cats were "killed" during the composition of the experiment. You can chill out and serve yourself a two-scoop ice cream now.
Originally written in 1935, Schrödinger composed a thought experiment explaining the oddity of the atom's behavior, but to something relatable to real life organisms. Let me try to explain it as general as I could: the experiment involved the timing and tracking of radioactive particles, tied to a Geiger counter
, working closely with a bottle of cyanide poison all packaged in a box. Inside that box is an innocent, unassuming cat, to which, with all the items in place, will determine the fate of "Felix's friend." The paradox lied in the fact that there isn't any to know if the radioactive particles will decay, or not, UNLESS
we look/observe. The fact that there's a likelihood it will decay, the particles trigger the counter to break the bottle of poison, and therefore, killing the cat. However, and in reference to the Copenhagen interpretation
, another phenomena you'll learn about, there's a chance that the cat is alive and no radioactive decay occurred. Okay, so why would the cat be both dead and
alive? That's what makes quantum physics difficult to understand: there's truly no way of knowing if the decay happened or not unless we observe it. You know what that means? The atoms could do whatever it may please, until you realize its current/final state when you observe it. Does this mean that the atoms are self-aware? Ooooh, now we're getting into extremely deep territory.
After reading a few other physics books previous to this, I always felt physicists often scoff at philosophers and their infinite wisdom. Now that quantum physicists have hit a huge roadblock where they can't find a way around, suddenly they need the intelligence of philosophy to define what it is that Reality
is trying to convey, and why there is something instead of nothing. Why is the Universe running in such a way that contradicts the laws of Logic? Does the Universe know its own Fate, and where it's headed to? There are so many deep, yet unanswered questions, we're barely even scratched the surface. According to Gribbin, physicists agree on the notion of Determinism
but how are we to know what took place before
the Big Bang
—the comsological phenomenon that gave 'birth' to the Universe, Time and everything in it?
The book didn't end that way but left the reader with a good intention to never stop reading, keep at-most with technological break-throughs as they will add advancements to physics, along with any new theories taking place. Gribbin closes with the aim to continue searching, and it is only a matter of time we will end our search for Schrödinger's Cat.
Such a beautifully written book, and I knew it from the start. I enjoyed what I read so much, I purposely would read this book very slow and re-read certain parts since I really didn't want to book to end. Overall, it left me with an enormous hunger to search for Schrödinger's Cat—to go out and find for myself about the realities and observations of what makes us human in a complex Universe. Given that I'm often surrounded by drama queens, egotistical coworkers, immature people, politically insecure people and downright unfriendly pessimists (I didn't choose to be with these people), I know I can break out of my own matrix and contribute to the good these scientists have done, not only for school or for themselves, but for all of us even though we don't ask for it. So yes, it made me realize my own worth and my mark in society—to do good, and contribute to the good.
It's truly rare for a writer to make a reader like me feel that way. I want to observe; I want to help search for the truth—for the innocent cat that shyly volunteered in the experiment in the name of unlocking a paradox; I want to understand the language of the heavens (Mathematics) and find the true reason I came here (though I'm thankful for earning the chance to be here); I want to befriend the heavens and find out its history, for I know, the Universe can hear and feel my every being.
Once again, another excellent volume by Mr. Gribbin, and an extra thank you for clearing out my intellectual clutter at the end of the book. I want to pursue the sciences (i.e. Math, Physics and Cosmology). I aim to go outand do good. I want to help search for Schrödinger's Cat.
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