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Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness    by Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner order for
Quantum Enigma
by Bruce Rosenblum
Order:  USA  Can
Oxford University, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I'll admit up front that there was a great deal of Quantum Enigma I had difficulty understanding. But the book's authors - Bruce Rosenblum, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Fred Kuttner who teaches physics at the same university - tell me that I'm in good company, since even top physicists have trouble with some of these highly counter-intuitive concepts. They begin the book with an excellent presentation of the history of physics for the neophyte - from Aristotle through Galileo, Newton, Faraday, and Einstein to Planck, Bohr and Schrödinger. For anyone interested in the evolution of science, this part of the book is fascinating.

We're told that quantum theory has proved successful in that its predictions consistently hold true, leading to all kinds of applications (including the laser, the transistor and MRI), and with more down the pipe. The authors state that 'one-third of our economy involves products based on quantum mechanics.' But for phsyicists, it's also 'the skeleton in our closet', in that it's based on an unresolved quantum enigma, that Einstein called spooky - 'I cannnot seriously believe in {quantum theory} because ... physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance.' Though the authors use various analogies and a parable to help us get our minds around the enigma, the perspective I related to most was physicist John Bell's view that 'quantum mechanics reveals the incompleteness of our worldview' and requires 'an imaginative leap that will astonish us.'

So what is the quantum enigma? The authors describe it as 'quantum theory's ostensible denial of a real world independent of its observation.' The arguments make me think of the old story of blind men faced with an elephant - their different perspectives and explorations result in a variety of assumptions, not the full picture. I don't see how the statement that 'observation creates reality' is proven; create seems too strong a verb for what is shown by experimentation. But I may well be missing the point. I chuckled at the authors' comment regarding the evolving 'concern with consciousness itself', that 'One explanation offered is that the "mind-expanded" students of the 1960s now run the academic departments.' And I appreciated their clear explanation of Schrödinger's Controversial Cat, and of Einstein's and Bohr's conflicting positions on quantum theory.

Towards the end of the book, the authors launch into possibility and speculation. They tell us that 'Classical physics, with its mechanical picture of the world, has been taken to deny almost all metaphysics. Quantum physics denies that denial: it hints at the existence of something beyond what we usually consider physics'. They consider a wide varieties of interpretations from those that would support the parallel worlds long portrayed in SF, to paraphenomena like telepathy ('conscious experience goes beyond ordinary knowing'), and on to implications for consciousness and cosmology. They aptly conclude with Hamlet's 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Quantum Enigma is an interesting book, but be warned, its assertions may give you a headache and will certainly make you sympathize with Stephen Hawking's claim to 'reach for my gun' (as stated here) whenever Schrödinger's cat story is told.

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