A good book that explains quantum physics like I'm an idiot?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by stateofmind, Feb 17, 2015.

  1. stateofmind seeker of lies Valued Senior Member

    Because, more or less, I am one. I've tried to get informed on this stuff a couple times, like I saw that "What the Bleep Do We Know" video, and read some bits here and there on the net. From what I've gathered so far, the science community has established principles that allow them to make pretty accurate predictions about quantum phenomena. I'm not really interested in these principles though (I'm not trying to solve physics riddles tbh) but I'm intrigued by how they figured these principles out in the first place (for instance what apparatus did they use to test wave/particle duality in WTBDWK??). Are there landmark experiments that are famous in the quantum physics community? I'd like to know the people who did them, how they were done and basically just the whole history behind this science. Again I'm totally a layman/idiot so I'd prefer something less like a text book to get me to pass an exam and more like a history lesson - but not skimp on the details!! You catch my drift?

    Thanks in advance.
    danshawen likes this.
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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    You might look into Quantum by Manjit Kumar. But history-wise, it's purely an orthodox account minus input from the latest scholarship (which might as much be a plus as a negative).

    Media items like "What the Bleep Do We Know" are pop-culture products influenced by fringe and New Age (or whatever it's called nowadays) elements.
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  5. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    Quantum Gods, by Victor Stenger.
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  7. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Quantun Reality by Nick Herbert is probably the best book for a non-expert. I took a course in college circa 1951 & find the more serious books too much f0r me now.

    It is interesting that he mentions having had a naive/erroneous view of the Uncertainty Principle while taking undergraduate & graduate courses in the subject. He kept that POV while teaching & doing research in the discipline.

    In his book he admits to the POV which he finally gave up. If Nick once had a naive/erroneous POV, it is not surprising that many others have some incorrect concepts.

    It should be noted that the Principle is not a statement relating to some limitation on measurement technology.

    BTW: I & others consider the properties of a Bose/Einstein Condensate to be experimental evidence supporting the Principle. When a group of atoms are close to absolute zero temperature (almost zero monentum/velocity), the volume of each individual atom seems to be larger than expected. Individuals atoms cannot be identified: Their position cannot be precisely determined.

    When viewed as analogous to a set of cookbook recipes, Quantum Physics is incredibly successful. Attempts to interpret it (Id est: Understand it) seem obscure.

    I favor the Copenhagen view. Paraphase:
    BTW: Bohr once said
    It is interesting that Einstein once claimed that momentum is a more fundamental concept than mass. The Uncertainty Principle in serious texts is a statement about momentum & location, not velocity & location.
  8. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    We hold these truths to be self-evident (for free particles):
    \(E^2 = \left( mc^2\right)^2 + \left( c \vec{p} \right)^2 \\ E \vec{v} = c^2 \vec{p} \\ E = \hbar \omega \\ \vec{p} = \hbar \vec{k} \\ \lambda = \frac{2 \pi}{\left| \vec{k} \right| } \\ v_{\textrm{group}} = \frac{\partial \omega}{\partial \left| \vec{k} \right|} = \frac{\partial E}{\partial \left| \vec{p} \right|} = \frac{c^2 \left| \vec{p} \right|}{E} = \left| \vec{v} \right| \\ v_{\textrm{phase}} = \frac{\omega}{\left| \vec{k} \right|} = \frac{E}{\left| \vec{p} \right|} = \frac{c^2}{\left| \vec{v} \right| }\)
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2015
    danshawen and krash661 like this.
  9. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    Hyperspace by Michio Kaku is good. As is Parallel worlds.

    Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip S. Thorne.

    Theres also a lot of documentaries on the topic.
  10. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    A recent (copyright 2015) no-nonsense introduction to the topics discussed in introductory university quantum physics classes without all the mathematics is (appropriately enough) the Idiot's Guide to Quantum Physics by Marc Humphrey, Paul Pancella and Nora Berrah. (Part of the familiar orange colored 'Idiots' Guides' series.) Looking at the highlights of the table of contents, the book provides background on classical physics, Planck and quantization, the Bohr atom, wave-particle duality, the uncertainty principle, conjugate pairs, the Schoedinger equation, solving it, eigenfunctions and eigenvalues, Heisenberg's matrix mechanics, the wave function in action including free particles, particles in boxes, barriers and tunneling, and the hydrogen atom once again. Then it addresses spin, the Stern-Gerlach experiment, fermions and bosons, the exclusion principle,. The authors investigate the interpretation of QM, including the Copenhagen interpretation, the Bohr-Einstein debates, the EPR paradox, hidden variables, Bell's inequality and the Aspect experiment. The many-worlds interpretation is addressed, as is quantum logic. There are chapters on fundamental particles and grand unification schemes. Then the book takes up applications of quantum physics in light and solids, in quantum imaging and in the currently hot area of quantum information technology.

    Another very good book that covers similar territory, with a tiny bit more mathematics, and perhaps more emphasis on the interpretations, is The Meaning of Quantum Theory by Jim Baggott (O.U.P./Oxford Science publications), copyright 1992, subsequently reprinted.

    Both books avoid the quantum-mysticism that infests so many layperson's books with the word 'quantum' in the title.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2015
  11. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

    Yeah, I liked Baggott's books, too.
  12. stateofmind seeker of lies Valued Senior Member

    Thanks for all the suggestions guys! I read the description of each one and now have more trouble deciding than before lol
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Just to add: What the bleep do we know? is full of pseudoscience.
  14. stateofmind seeker of lies Valued Senior Member

    I guess that's why they called it that.
    Daecon likes this.
  15. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Verily it is written (in textbooks) that everything in physics happens in an Hilbert space.
    If "everything that happens" is ultimately at the quantum level, then this is true (evidently).

    So, it would behoove one to get a grip on what an Hilbert space is. Just sayin'.
  16. jabbaska Registered Member

  17. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Here's a couple of books that I just stumbled on today that deserve honorable mention in this thread:

    One is Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum - What you need to know to start doing physics, by Leonard Susskind, 2014, Basic Books.

    It's only $14.21 at Amazon, paperback. I believe that Penguin is in the process of putting out a smaller format version for about $10.

    It has ten chapters. Here's their titles:

    1. Systems and Expressions

    2. Quantum States

    3. Principles of Quantum Mechanics

    4. Time and Change

    5. Uncertainty and Time Dependence

    6. Combining Systems - Entanglement

    7. More on Entanglement

    8. Particles and Waves

    9. Particle Dynamics

    10. The Harmonic Oscillator

    It's part of 'The Theoretical Minimum' series. This originated in a minimally mathematical series of classes in physics for non-physicists, offered at Stanford University, where Susskind is a prominent professor. (One of the string theory guys.) The series motto is, 'As simple as possible, but no simpler than that'.

    There's a companion book in the same series (available on Amazon) that addresses classical physics, introducing things like Hamiltonians and Lagrangians, least action principles and phase spaces. Given that quantum mechanics presupposes a lot of that stuff, it might be best to read the classical physics book first. The classical physics book also covers trigonometry, vectors, integrals and partial derivatives at a conceptual level, so that while readers may not come away able to complete calculus problem sets, they will be able to recognize the mathematical formalism and have some intuitive sense of why it's there and what an author was doing with it.

    I like it. This is precisely the level that layman's science books should be aimed at.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2015
  18. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I'm glad you and Yazata liked Baggotty Jim's books. He and I were colleagues and occasional drinking partners for a while when we both worked for Shell in the 90s. He's a consultant these days, I think. I have a signed copy of The Meaning of Quantum Theory: he was touting them round the office when it was first published. I found it a good read as well.
    PhysBang likes this.
  19. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

    Watch a pop science documentary and get a textbook?

    This presupposes that there isn't one "best" solution, but the way you go about it.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2015
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Duplicate post deleted. (I'm a complete idiot and hit 'reply' instead of 'edit'.)
    Last edited: May 1, 2015
  21. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I just purchased the classical physics volume at Barnes and Noble. It's titled The Theoretical Minimum - What you need to know to start doing physics, by Leonard Susskind, 2013, Basic Books.

    It's a bit more weighty than I thought that it would be. It's definitely not easy. And it's definitely not 'minimally mathematical' as I suggested in my last post. It's differential equations on almost every page. I suspect that this book will be difficult for anyone who hasn't successfully passed several semesters of university level calculus. Susskind has little exercises in boxes scattered here and there in the text, some of which seem to be to figure out how he derived this or that bit of heiroglyphs from others. I feel out of my depth.

    The trouble with physics and the reason why so few people can really understand it is that so much of it depends on having an intuitive understanding and the ability to use advanced mathematics that 90+% of the population simply doesn't have.

    Susskind says that he always wanted to teach physics for laypeople who were interested in the fundamental principles of the world around them. His physics major students were often most interested in passing exams, while the lay students were simply motivated by curiosity about physics. He started out teaching his continuing education classes at what he calls a Scientific American level, meaning totally non-mathematical. And he says that many of his students came up to him and complained that they really wanted the harder stuff, real physics as physicists understand it, the reasons why physicists say the often counter-intuitive things they do, and how they go about conceptualizing problems. And he says that he discovered that many of his continuing education students were Silicon Valley tech-types, people with some university-level technical background, who often took calculus years ago and still sorta remembered it in broad outline. So he decided to aim his lectures a little higher. That led to these books. His goal is to teach the absolute minimum necessary for non-specialist students to be able to understand advanced physics topics and to be able to follow the literature.

    But these most definitely aren't appropriate books for 'complete idiots'. They do seem to presuppose mathematical background that most readers probably don't have. I haven't read the book yet, so I don't know how well a real 'complete idiot' like me can follow what he says. I expect that I probably will be able to in broad outline. Maybe that's enough. Perhaps I can take the derivations on faith and just believe him when he says that this heiroglyph implies that one.
    Last edited: May 1, 2015
  22. cosmictotem Registered Senior Member

  23. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I just encountered another good introduction to quantum mechanics that doesn't oversimplify (or even worse, mystify) and still seems accessible to laymen.

    It's Quantum Theory - A Complete Introduction by Alexandre Zagoskin.

    My impression is that it's pitched at about the same level as Susskind, while being perhaps a bit less mathematical. There are still mathematical hieroglyphs on many pages, but I get the impression that Zagoskin doesn't expect readers to be able to derive them as Susskind does (as optional exercises), but only to be able to recognize them and to have some understanding of what motivates their being there. Zagoskin makes it clear that he isn't teaching you quantum mechanics, you will need a university education in physics for that. He is teaching you about quantum mechanics.

    One thing I liked was that Zagoskin begins with the advanced classical physics that quantum mechanics emerges conceptually from. Things like Hamiltonians, vector and phase spaces. (Susskind does that too, but devotes his entire first book to it. Zagoskin gives it a long opening chapter.) Then, after addressing familiar physics from an unfamiliar perspective, he addresses less familiar quantum ideas from that new perspective.

    The book is published in inexpensive paperback format by some British publisher.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2016

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