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Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat

Paul Halpern
Publisher: 
Basic Books
Publication Date: 
2014
Number of Pages: 
336
Format: 
Hardcover
Price: 
27.99
ISBN: 
9780465075713
Category: 
General
[Reviewed by
Mark Bollman
, on
05/26/2015
]

The title sets the stage for the story told this book: Einstein’s statement that “God does not play dice with the universe” and the thought experiment about Schrödinger’s cat represent, perhaps, the two deepest intrusions of quantum mechanics into everyday experience. From the Introduction (p. 1):

This is the tale of two brilliant physicists, the 1947 media war that tore apart their decades-long friendship, and the fragile nature of scientific collaboration and discovery.

That’s a lot to cover in a single book, and the author masters this challenge most thoroughly. While the science is covered in detail, the tone and narrative are accessible to readers with all levels of mathematical and physics proficiency. The author has served science writing well by casting light on the relationship between these two pioneers of quantum physics.

One further point that’s worthy of mention: A nearly inevitable feature of popular books on the history of science and mathematics is that they focus on the scientific successes; the theories and ideas that have stood the test of time (over whatever time interval might be appropriate for the scientific community to judge them). In Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat, we have the story of an unsuccessful idea. The two physicists’ efforts to develop a theory that transcended quantum weirdness is no less compelling for its ultimate failure. Indeed, there are lessons about the often-messy process of science in this book for students, scientists, and citizens alike.


Mark Bollman (mbollman@albion.edu) is professor of mathematics and chair of the department of mathematics and computer science at Albion College in Michigan. His mathematical interests include number theory, probability, and geometry. Mark’s claim to be the only Project NExT fellow (Forest dot, 2002) who has taught both English composition and organic chemistry to college students has not, to his knowledge, been successfully contradicted. If it ever is, he is sure that his experience teaching introductory geology will break the deadlock.

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