Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time--and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything

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Long-listed for the 2016 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

“An important book that provides insight into key new developments in our understanding of the nature of space, time and the universe. It will repay careful study.” —John Gribbin, The Wall Street Journal

“An endlessly surprising foray into the current mother of physics' many knotty mysteries, the solving of which may unveil the weirdness of quantum particles, black holes, and the essential unity of nature.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

What is space? It isn't a question that most of us normally ask. Space is the venue of physics; it's where things exist, where they move and take shape. Yet over the past few decades, physicists have discovered a phenomenon that operates outside the confines of space and time: nonlocality-the ability of two particles to act in harmony no matter how far apart they may be. It appears to be almost magical. Einstein grappled with this oddity and couldn't come to terms with it, describing it as "spooky action at a distance." More recently, the mystery has deepened as other forms of nonlocality have been uncovered. This strange occurrence, which has direct connections to black holes, particle collisions, and even the workings of gravity, holds the potential to undermine our most basic understandings of physical reality. If space isn't what we thought it was, then what is it?
In Spooky Action at a Distance, George Musser sets out to answer that question, offering a provocative exploration of nonlocality and a celebration of the scientists who are trying to explain it. Musser guides us on an epic journey into the lives of experimental physicists observing particles acting in tandem, astronomers finding galaxies that look statistically identical, and cosmologists hoping to unravel the paradoxes surrounding the big bang. He traces the often contentious debates over nonlocality through major discoveries and disruptions of the twentieth century and shows how scientists faced with the same undisputed experimental evidence develop wildly different explanations for that evidence. Their conclusions challenge our understanding of not only space and time but also the origins of the universe-and they suggest a new grand unified theory of physics. Delightfully readable, Spooky Action at a Distance is a mind-bending voyage to the frontiers of modern physics that will change the way we think about reality.

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About the author

George Musser is an award-winning journalist, a contributing editor for Scientific American, and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory. He is the recipient of a Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award from the American Astronomical Society and the 2011 American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award for Science Writing. He was a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT from 2014 to 2015. He has appeared on Today, CNN, NPR, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife and daughter.
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Publisher
Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Nov 3, 2015
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780374713553
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
Science / Physics / Quantum Theory
Science / Space Science
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?

Artists as well as scientists throughout human history have pondered this “beautiful question.” With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, from Plato and Pythagoras up to the present. Wilczek’s groundbreaking work in quantum physics was inspired by his intuition to look for a deeper order of beauty in nature. In fact, every major advance in his career came from this intuition: to assume that the universe embodies beautiful forms, forms whose hallmarks are symmetry—harmony, balance, proportion—and economy. There are other meanings of “beauty,” but this is the deep logic of the universe—and it is no accident that it is also at the heart of what we find aesthetically pleasing and inspiring.

Wilczek is hardly alone among great scientists in charting his course using beauty as his compass. As he reveals in A Beautiful Question, this has been the heart of scientific pursuit from Pythagoras, the ancient Greek who was the first to argue that “all things are number,” to Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and into the deep waters of twentiethcentury physics. Though the ancients weren’t right about everything, their ardent belief in the music of the spheres has proved true down to the quantum level. Indeed, Wilczek explores just how intertwined our ideas about beauty and art are with our scientific understanding of the cosmos.

Wilczek brings us right to the edge of knowledge today, where the core insights of even the craziest quantum ideas apply principles we all understand. The equations for atoms and light are almost literally the same equations that govern musical instruments and sound; the subatomic particles that are responsible for most of our mass are determined by simple geometric symmetries. The universe itself, suggests Wilczek, seems to want to embody beautiful and elegant forms. Perhaps this force is the pure elegance of numbers, perhaps the work of a higher being, or somewhere between. Either way, we don’t depart from the infinite and infinitesimal after all; we’re profoundly connected to them, and we connect them. When we find that our sense of beauty is realized in the physical world, we are discovering something about the world, but also something about ourselves.

Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is a mind-shifting book that braids the age-old quest for beauty and the age-old quest for truth into a thrilling synthesis. It is a dazzling and important work from one of our best thinkers, whose humor and infectious sense of wonder animate every page. Yes: The world is a work of art, and its deepest truths are ones we already feel, as if they were somehow written in our souls.
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Quantum physics, black holes, string theory, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, parallel universes: even if we are interested in these fundamental concepts of our world, their language is the language of math. Which means that despite our best intentions of finally grasping, say, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, most of us are quickly brought up short by a snarl of nasty equations or an incomprehensible graph.

Christophe Galfard's mission in life is to spread modern scientific ideas to the general public in entertaining ways. Using his considerable skills as a brilliant theoretical physicist and successful young adult author, The Universe in Your Hand employs the immediacy of simple, direct language to show us, not explain to us, the theories that underpin everything we know about our universe. To understand what happens to a dying star, we are asked to picture ourselves floating in space in front of it. To get acquainted with the quantum world, we are shrunk to the size of an atom and then taken on a journey. Employing everyday similes and metaphors, addressing the reader directly, and writing stories rather than equations renders these astoundingly complex ideas in an immediate and visceral way.

Utterly captivating and entirely unique, The Universe in Your Hand will find its place among other classics in the field.

'This is about gob-smacking science at the far end of reason ... Take it nice and easy and savour the experience of your mind being blown without recourse to hallucinogens' Nicholas Lezard, Guardian
For most people, quantum theory is a byword for mysterious, impenetrable science. And yet for many years it was equally baffling for scientists themselves.

In this magisterial book, Manjit Kumar gives a dramatic and superbly-written history of this fundamental scientific revolution, and the divisive debate at its core. Quantum theory looks at the very building blocks of our world, the particles and processes without which it could not exist.

Yet for 60 years most physicists believed that quantum theory denied the very existence of reality itself. In this tour de force of science history, Manjit Kumar shows how the golden age of physics ignited the greatest intellectual debate of the twentieth century.

Quantum theory is weird. In 1905, Albert Einstein suggested that light was a particle, not a wave, defying a century of experiments. Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and Erwin Schrodinger's famous dead-and-alive cat are similarly strange. As Niels Bohr said, if you weren't shocked by quantum theory, you didn't really understand it.

While "Quantum" sets the science in the context of the great upheavals of the modern age, Kumar's centrepiece is the conflict between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality and the soul of science. 'Bohr brainwashed a whole generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved', lamented the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. But in "Quantum", Kumar brings Einstein back to the centre of the quantum debate. "Quantum" is the essential read for anyone fascinated by this complex and thrilling story and by the band of brilliant men at its heart.
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