The untold story of the heretical thinkers who dared to question the nature of our quantum universe
Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism (the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist) and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr's students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favored practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth.
"In What Is Real? Adam Becker tells a fascinating if complex story of quantum dissidents...An excellent, accessible account."―Wall Street Journal
"A thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science...[Becker] leads us through an impressive account of the rise of competing interpretations, grounding them in the human stories, which are naturally messy and full of contingencies. He makes a convincing case that it's wrong to imagine the Copenhagen interpretation as a single official or even coherent statement."
―New York Times Book Review
"Becker's book is one of the first attempts we have at telling this story in a way that acknowledges how it actually turned out--acknowledges, that is, who won these debates about the Copenhagen interpretation, who lost them, who pretended otherwise, and how they got away with it.... He has clearly done extensive and meticulous historical research."
―David Z. Albert, NewYork Review of Books
"Splendid.... With deeply detailed research, accompanied by charming anecdotes about the scientists...[Becker] hopes to convince us that the Cophenhagen interpretation has had too great an influence on physics for historically contingent reasons."
"Becker...make[s] a case for the importance of philosophy. That's a key call, with influential scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson dismissing the discipline as a waste of time. What Is Real? is an argument for keeping an open mind."―Nature
"A riveting storyteller, Becker brings to life physicists who have too long remained in the shadow of Bohr and Einstein.... What Is Real? offers an engaging and accessible overview of the debates surrounding the interpretation of quantum mechanics."―Science
"Impressive...[Becker's] strength is the excavation of stories that show how deeply quantum physics was in thrall to the personalities of its developers. The cast is colourful and expansive, and provides engaging drama...The subtext running through this hugely enjoyable book is that, if we still have a long way to go before we understand reality, we may only have our own prejudices to blame."
"A joy to read...For anyone who has been intrigued by other popular accounts of the quantum world but came away feeling somewhat cheated by the Copenhagen sleight-of-hand."
"Remarkable...What Is Real? is a superb contribution both to popular understanding of quantum theory and to ongoing debates among experts...It deserves wide attention and careful study."―Physics Today
"Spellbinding....This very book could prove to be a watershed moment for the physics community if it faces up to its own past and its present....If you have any interest in the implications of quantum theory, or in the suppression of scientific curiosity, What is Real? is required reading. There is no more reliable, careful, and readable account of the whole history of quantum theory in all its scandalous detail."
―Boston Review About the AuthorAdam Becker is a science writer with a PhD in astrophysics. He has written for the New York Times, the BBC, NPR, Scientific American, New Scientist, and other publications. He is a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley's Office for History of Science and Technology. He lives in California.