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Publisher's Summary

One of Smithsonian's favorite books of 2018.

One of Forbes' 2018 best books about astronomy, physics, and mathematics.

One of Kirkus' best books of 2018.

The intellectual adventure story of the "double-slit" experiment, showing how a sunbeam split into two paths first challenged our understanding of light and then the nature of reality itself - and continues to almost 200 years later.

Many of science's greatest minds have grappled with the simple yet elusive "double-slit" experiment. Thomas Young devised it in the early 1800s to show that light behaves like a wave, and in doing so opposed Isaac Newton. Nearly a century later, Albert Einstein showed that light comes in quanta, or particles, and the experiment became key to a fierce debate between Einstein and Niels Bohr over the nature of reality. Richard Feynman held that the double slit embodies the central mystery of the quantum world. Decade after decade, hypothesis after hypothesis, scientists have returned to this ingenious experiment to help them answer deeper and deeper questions about the fabric of the universe.

How can a single particle behave both like a particle and a wave? Does a particle exist before we look at it, or does the very act of looking create reality? Are there hidden aspects to reality missing from the orthodox view of quantum physics? Is there a place where the quantum world ends and the familiar classical world of our daily lives begins, and if so, can we find it? And if there's no such place, then does the universe split into two each time a particle goes through the double slit?

With his extraordinarily gifted eloquence, Anil Ananthaswamy travels around the world and through history, down to the smallest scales of physical reality we have yet fathomed. Through Two Doors at Once is the most fantastic voyage you can take.

©2018 Anil Ananthaswamy (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Through Two Doors at Once is a challenging and rewarding survey of how scientists…are grappling with nature’s deepest, strangest secrets.” (Wall Street Journal)

“A fascinating tour through the cutting-edge physics the experiment keeps on spawning.” (Scientific American)

"Through Two Doors at Once offers beginners the tools they need to seriously engage with the philosophical questions that likely drew them to quantum mechanics." (Science)

What members say

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Excellent exposition of the conundrum

It helps if you've had some (OK a lot) of quantum mechanics background. You might start with Jim Al-Khalili's guide. This book gives credence to the possibility that Copenhagen is mainstream more by force of personality than objective assessment. No final judgment is made but the idea that determinism can be retained is not outright dismissed in principle - which is welcoming. We're back to "If I don't look is something still there" is answered satisfactorily - "Yes it is" whilst still embracing quantum weirdness most specifically non-locality. It's worth the debate. Reviews of weak measurements were interesting.

I'm in admiration of Anil's writing. He does not have to be the originator of all the ideas discussed to be applauded - his communication of state of play is brilliantly clear. I'm not buying the smart idea that "the interpretation doesn't matter". Saying that measurement brings reality in to being has uncomfortably little to say about what is there when you're not looking.

This is an entertaining and informative book.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 10-26-18

Good critical review of QM Theories

This book does a few things really well.

It uses the double-slit-experiment (and a few related experiments) to critically review the most important interpretations of QM. This includes pointing out the problems with each theory. This is actually rather tricky to do in a book for non-scientists, and this is one of the only books that I have read that does this well. This is refreshingly straightforward without the bombastic exaggeration, mysticism, or fringe theories common in such books.

It covers the double slit experiment and a few others without making numerous mistakes (which is rare for this sub-genre) while keeping the descriptions remarkably clear. This must have been edited very carefully.

It would have helped to have a pdf to provide diagrams of the experiments and complex cases. Instead you can google the author to find good diagrams of each experiment (particularly the Elitzur–Vaidman bomb tester).

Usually Bohmian Mechanics gets faint praise and the worst criticisms, but here its importance was highlighted and is was criticized less than it should have been. Although Bohmian Mechanics is very *important*, its focus on Position is a critical issue...not that position is problematic, but Bohmian Mechanics could be reformulated to focus on Momentum (instead of position). Having complementary theories like this leads one to doubts about which (or either) can be real.

Another nit is that the author seems to go out of his way to avoid discussing Action (which leaves a layman reader thinking energy is quantized). He briefly discusses Feynman's multipath method without mentioning Action. I understand the desire to avoid the topic, but books that ignore it leave the reader with a critical misunderstanding.

The narration was completely excellent.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great explanations, far exceeded my expectations..

Though it touches on only a small subset of physical phenomena, this book has surprising depth and breadth, and can be used both as an experimental lab manual for each of the experiments explained, as well as a book on the philosophy of physics.

The author refers to the same basic experimental setup for each new story (interference of wave-particle paths), and makes it into somewhat of a joke for repeating the same thing for each new story; but really this book has much more breadth than its title suggests. He gives great explanations for just about all types of interference relevant to quantum mechanics, and weaves into each story a lot of great background info on the philosophy of the physics and the physicists involved.

I was literally in tears by the end of this audible (not literally), that's how good it was!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Compelling and beautiful

One of the most beautiful books ever written! I see this as an investigation into the fine work of Jesus’ creative power!

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A must for anyone interested in quantum mechanics

Along with the Michelson–Morley experiment, the double-slit experiment is one of the most ground breaking experiments in the history of modern physics. For many years I've seen references to the double-slit experiment in books on quantum mechanics, but there was never enough detail about the experiment; especially about the photon detection methods used. The more I read about the double-slit experiment, the more questions I had. Finally, I discovered Through Two Doors at Once, which gave a complete history of the experiment and answered most of my questions. I learned that the experiment has evolved over time in ways that I never expected. Don't be fooled by the title, this is a profound subject that touches on philosophy and on the nature of existence. This book is essential for anyone who is interested in quantum mechanics. Also, the narrator has a pleasant voice that is unusually clear and easy to understand for those of us with some degree of hearing loss.

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A mystery still unsolved - and here's why

I really, really enjoyed this book - it compensates for so many really bad "Great Courses" hours!

This is a well narrated (by the book's author, see below for voice artist performance) overview on current (yes, Great Courses, CURRENT, not decades old) perspectives on the Quantum World, the Copenhagen Interpretation and approaches to the "macroscopic world and why it seems so different".
The author does not downplay any perspective, he stays fair to the angles taken by different interpretations and points out obvious and not so obvious problems with the various approaches. This is a refreshing way of looking at things, not the standard "I know everything"-attitude others are taking.

When I first heard of the double slit experiment - early 1980s at school - some of us in the class came up with a question "what about there being a secondary wave or maybe the particle is guided by the wave instead of being one or the other?" Those (to us pupils simply obvious) questions immediately were turned down by (several, actually) physics teachers as "complete nonsense". Turns out, we weren't *that* nonsensical, after all, even if we were "only teenagers" and therefore not to be taken seriously. Which is to say, I enjoyed seeing the "pilot wave" idea been taken as an option a lot, even though I see its shortcomings.

Performance: The narrator does an overall good job, his pace is comfortable, his narration is quite clear and not as muffled, mumbled or irritating as many "Great Courses outstanding teachers". His intonation is somewhat monotonous, though, but that was bearable enough.
However, he does speak in a strong American accent: Where others would split atoms, he kept on splitting ADAMS, which I found quite inhumane and, frankly, brutal. Just as an example. Then, with many theories and discussions on the matter having originated in Switzerland, Germany, Austria (and, obviously, Denmark), German language quotes seem necessary. In a (written) book this isn't a problem, just have a footnote giving the original quote and use the Engli... sorry, American translation in the text. Here, the narrator tries to use the GERMAN quotes. Since I am German, this was really frustrating, as I could not understand a SINGLE one of those quotes. Why would someone, in a more or less scientific book, use a foreign language to "say something" if he isn't fluent in that language? Just quote the English translation, so that you do not interrupt the narration.

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Wonderful performance

Complicated subject matter gently unfolded. You might not remember everything, but you’ll have a terrific time listening.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful