Book Review: Six Impossible Things, By John Gribbbin – Forbes

Cover of John Gribbin's "Six Impossible Things" from MIT Press

John Gribbin is a fairly significant figure in general-audience physics writing, with his In Search of Schrdingers Cat widely regarded as a classic of the genre. So when a small new book by him showed up in my mailbox at work, I flagged it as something Id need to read. Unfortunately, it arrived at a time when I was busy with work, and then of course this was this whole global pandemic situation, and as a result, its taken me quite a while to get around to it...

Six Impossible Things: The Mystery of the Quantum World is a book about the interpretation of quantum mechanics (a subject that, I should note up front, I am more than a little tired of). Riffing off the obvious Alice in Wonderland quote, this presents two Fits describing problematic elements of quantum physics (particle-wave duality and entanglement), whose true meaning needs to be interpreted. These are followed by six Solaces, brief summaries of particular interpretations (Copenhagen, de Broglie-Bohm pilot waves, Many-Worlds, decoherence, the ensemble interpretation, and the retrocausal Transactional Interpretation) . Gribbins stated goal is to present an agnostic overview for each, offering both pros and cons.

This is a very short book none of the Solaces runs more than a dozen pages and as a consequence, the discussions are very abbreviated. Some of the discussions are very poorly served by this enforced brevity. Theres one particular bit in the many-worlds chapter where he discussed quantum computing thats so compressed as to be nearly incomprehensible. I know a fair bit about quantum computers, and it still took me an inordinately long time to figure out what one particular passage was getting at. Its not wrong, but its very unclear, and took me a while to convince myself that it was just a lossy compression of something mostly correct.

I think that gets at the central issue I had with this book, which is that Im really not sure who its for. The presentations of the individual interpretations arent detailed enough to really work for someone who doesnt already have some idea of the issues involved, but they dont go into enough depth to reveal anything novel to people who do know something of the underlying physics. Its likely to leave experts underwhelmed and newbies underinformed.

But then, as noted above, I find myself somewhat dyspeptic regarding the whole topic of quantum interpretations these days, so take that with the appropriate seasoning. One of the more appealing aspects of the book, oddly, was that his striving for agnosticism made most of the presentations feel skewed toward the negative, which sort of suited my mood...

And, to be sure, there is definitely an audience for books that strike me as short on information but long on literary virtues. In that sense, its somewhat akin to Carlo Rovellis Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (reviewed here), or exercises like Roberto Trottas The Edge of the Sky (reviewed a long time ago) that use highly restricted vocabulary.

And despite the self-imposed limitations on the depth of the content, Gribbin brings plenty of writerly skill to the table. In fact, given the limitations of the very short form, it would almost make more sense to praise its impressive concision than to lament its lack of depth. Gribbin writes engagingly and approachably about deep and subtle topics, and theres more right than wrong in his descriptions. It may also serve to point readers in the direction of other, more in-depth explorations (Id recommend Anil Ananthaswamys Through Two Doors At Once, which I reviewed here).

So, at the end of the day, this is one of those Reviews of Limited Utility that mostly boils down to This book wasnt really for me. I remain somewhat uncertain as to who it really is for, but if you enjoyed the Rovelli and Trotta books mentioned above, its probably worth a look. If nothing else, it wont take long to read...

Visit link:

Book Review: Six Impossible Things, By John Gribbbin - Forbes

Related Post

Comments are closed.