I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
Being a layman interested in quantum theory I found this book important, and even touching. There is trouble with physics and it is wonderful that a very few scientists are pointing it out. I agree with Smolin that the trouble with physics is deeper and more insidious than run of the mill historical scientific dogma. New physicists are being encouraged to research an un-testable theory and actively discouraged from investigating any other underlying foundations of quantum physics. Smolin does not offer any answers, but demonstrates the problem, and encourages more open inquiry. Unfortunately the trouble with physics is very deep. Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century spent entire careers on open inquiry to understand the fundamentals of physics, yet failed utterly. It is understandable that most advisers, after seeing decades of wasted genius, discourage their gifted students from such pursuits. Yet such pursuits may be the only path to true progress in physics.
This book does not stand on its own really well, it is dependent on having some grounding in the history of quantum theory, so I would suggest reading Lindley’s Uncertainty (and maybe some others), before this reading this book.
Hopefully this book will encourage some unknown non-professional, like Einstein, to ignore the conventional wisdom and see the simple and obvious truth that every professional physicist has missed for a century.
Great ideas and great narration makes this a great audio book. The last quarter of this book has some of the most interesting ideas in physics I have heard. I think these ideas are, by far, the most likely to lead to progress in physics. The first three-quarters is good, but is just a nice rehash similar to a bunch of other speculative physics books covering a brief history of cosmology leading to the theory of inflation and various levels of multiple universes, Boltzmann brains and such, finally culminating in the Measure Problem (one cannot assign consistent probabilities to infinite sets). Then the book gets really interesting! The author proposes that math does not model the universe, but that math IS the universe. The relations defined by a mathematical structure is all that is needed for us to believe all we see and feel is real. Nothing physical is needed. I really thought I was alone in being a strong proponent of this Mathematical Universe idea, so I have quite pleasantly surprised to find this excellent presentation. I was led to my conclusions by a much different path (Bell’s Theorem & Bell Test Experiments) and take these ideas to even greater extremes than Tegmark, but this is the best (the only?) popular presentations of these ideas I have seen.
It may just be awkward editing or just these ideas are heady stuff, but by the end of the book Tegmark seems a bit schizophrenic. He seems to reject continuums and infinities and randomness as unreal (which is what I think), but then he continues to refer to, and use, these as if they were real. Also a good new model in fundamental physics should address multiple issues in physics, but Tegmark does not use his ideas of the Mathematical Universe to clarify the understanding of quantum mechanics (particularly Bell’s Theorem) and the problem linking General Relativity and Quantum mechanics. I think Tegmark underestimated the depth of the Measure Problem. The underlying problem is in any reality, it is simply not possible to take a random sample from an infinite set. Thus any assignment of probability to such constructs is nonsense. Tegmark seems to still be hoping for a resolution of the Measure Problem.
The author has a really pleasant way of covering the history of cosmology, making the story like a mystery novel, using detective work to explain one mystery after another. Yet what makes this book really worth reading is the last quarter where the ideas about the Mathematical Universe are explored. I suspect that in a few hundred years the conception of the Mathematical Universe will be considered the great turning point leading to a final, simple and beautiful, Theory of Everything.
The part of the Dance of the Photons I liked best is the correct presentation of ???quantum teleportation??? experiments. The book points out that not all the features of the particle are teleported and the teleportation always requires a classical communications channel, and this is not at all a ???beam me up Scotty??? experience. The reality of these experiments is not at all what people assume when they hear scientists have ???teleported??? something. The book tries to explain an exceptionally weird reality in a way a layman might understand. This works for a while, but as things get stranger, the explanations get weaker, and when ???the really exciting point of the whole story??? is reached the explanation is the least clear. Thus the book fails in the essential goal of being really understandable to laymen (which may be an unattainable goal). Even an author as capable as Zellinger can still make mistakes, as in the opening discussion of entanglement the book implies that when a speed measurement is made on the local entangled particle A, at that very moment, but not before, the distant particle B takes on a corresponding speed. Yet in general there is actually no way to tell if the measurement of A, or the measurement of B, happened first. This is an all too common misunderstanding, and surely Zellinger knows better, but such statements lead to deep misunderstandings in laymen (and physicists) about what is really going on. In QM one cannot make a statement about the speed of B until the speed of B is measured. When the speed of B is measured, it will always correspond with the speed measured of A, but that does not mean B had that speed before B was measured. Without understanding this, nothing can be understood about QM and entanglement. I was hoping to find a book I could recommend to laymen to understand the key issues of Bell???s theorem. The author is brilliant and tries really hard to reach this goal, but unfortunately this book falls far short of what I had hoped. Nevertheless, for those who want to understand entanglement this book is no worse than any, and better than most. BTW, if you read this book and believe you now finally understand entanglement, you are very likely deluding yourself! Keep reading and you will be confused again!
mostly nonfiction listener
The author, a physicist at Cal Tech, is among those rare academics who both write beautifully, and can manage to make complex explanations understandable. This book definitely changed how I understand some fundamental aspects of my life and the lives of those around me, as getting a handle on randomness and probability (which again, our brains don't seem to be built easily to accomplish), helps illuminate some of the fundamental errors in judgment that I seem to make all too often.