Phoenix 1996. ISBN 1-85799-402-7.

The Schrödinger of the title was a German physicist and the cat (mother of Gribbins' kittens) was his way of ridiculing another scientific paper published in the same year -1935.

Maybe ridicule is too strong a word since the paper itself, was one by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen that introduced the strange consequences of the quantum mechanical world. Everyone was puzzled, especially as the "impossible" was latter proven to happen reliably in a series of experiments that culminated in the one by Alain Aspect in Paris in the early 1980's.

Gribbin is a talented physicist and science writer who recounts the story of the "two slit experiment" that is at the heart of the debate. The experiment showed that a photon can be both a wave and a particle at the same time whereas a conventional view would maintain that it can be the one or the other but not both together.

The real problem as he explains it is that a photon going through one slit in the experiment is influenced in its trajectory simply by the existence of the second slit that it could have gone through but didn't. This is non-locality at work, and, if you would like to increase the distance between the two slits to a very large one, the result is still "spooky action at a distance" to use Einstein's phrase.

He also shows how the paradox of the two slit experiment has spawned a whole new industry of hypothesis fabrication in the physics community and he surveys them all, from the Copenhagen Interpretation that explains nothing, to the Many World's Interpretation suggesting that everything happens in every way possible with each variant needing a new world for it to happen in.
Not only does Gribbin survey the literature but he beautifully puts it in historical context and highlights the sources of the various ideas . He shows how science is prone to one track thinking and how dominant interpretations of events can mould ideas to such an extent that certain things that are "obviously true" are in fact the source of the hold-ups to real progress.

He gives as an example the reasonable Hidden Variables Interpretation of the French scientist de Broglie, that was knocked out by a mathematical proof of von Neumann's that purported to show that hidden variables could never properly describe behaviour in the quantum world. It was not until 1966 that the mathematician John Bell showed that von Neumann had made a simple mistake in his assumptions -thereby also revealing that a promising line of inquiry had been closed off for 30 years .

Gribbin subscribes to the view of Martin Krieger that analogy is everything in physics and as he puts it, "as long as the models we construct are self consistent and make predictions that can be tested and confirmed by experiments then we are free to use any analogies, and choose any degrees of freedom that we wish."

He than proceeds to employ Krieger's dictum saying that,"a good physicist should carry every quantum interpretation in his or her tool kit , and should apply the right one for the job in hand when confronted with a particular quantum puzzle".

You can't say that he hasn't looked at all of them and in the end he favours the remarkable but little known quantum explanation of physicist John Cramer (University of Washington) first published in 1986 that was also hit upon later and independently by Shu-Yuan Chu (University of California).

{Return to my Home Page and latest recommended book}{Return to other recommended books}