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Good Reads  Reference  Physical Sciences  Physics

Something Deeply Hidden Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

Popular Science
By: Sean Carroll(Author)
347 pages, ~50 b/w illustrations
Something Deeply Hidden is a pleasant piece of mental gymnastics that promotes the Many-Worlds formulation while arguing the importance of studying the foundations of quantum mechanics.
Something Deeply Hidden
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  • Something Deeply Hidden ISBN: 9781786078360 Paperback Apr 2021 Usually dispatched within 4 days
  • Something Deeply Hidden ISBN: 9781786076335 Hardback Sep 2019 Usually dispatched within 4 days
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About this book

Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and one of this world's most celebrated writers on science, rewrites the history of 20th century physics. Already hailed as a masterpiece, Something Deeply Hidden shows for the first time that facing up to the essential puzzle of quantum mechanics utterly transforms how we think about space and time. His reconciling of quantum mechanics with Einstein's theory of relativity changes, well, everything.

Most physicists haven't even recognized the uncomfortable truth: physics has been in crisis since 1927. Quantum mechanics has always had obvious gaps – which have come to be simply ignored. Science popularizers keep telling us how weird it is, how impossible it is to understand. Academics discourage students from working on the "dead end" of quantum foundations. Putting his professional reputation on the line with this audacious yet entirely reasonable book, Carroll says that the crisis can now come to an end. We just have to accept that there is more than one of us in the universe. There are many, many Sean Carrolls. Many of every one of us.

Copies of you are generated thousands of times per second. The Many Worlds Theory of quantum behavior says that every time there is a quantum event, a world splits off with everything in it the same, except in that other world the quantum event didn't happen. Step-by-step in Carroll's uniquely lucid way, he tackles the major objections to this otherworldly revelation until his case is inescapably established.

Rarely does a book so fully reorganize how we think about our place in the universe. We are on the threshold of a new understanding – of where we are in the cosmos, and what we are made of.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A pleasant piece of mental gymnastics
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 13 Jan 2020 Written for Hardback

    I guess it was inevitable that in my wider reading on subjects such as astronomy and physics I would eventually bump into quantum mechanics. Where I have encountered it so far, I have admitted it went straight over my head. It might thus seem foolhardy for a biologist to try and tackle a book like this. Then again, the hallmark of good communicators is that they make complex topics understandable. And theoretical physicist Sean Carroll’s previous books have been lauded, some even winning prizes. Are you ready to get down and dirty with quantum mechanics?

    Carroll’s opening salvo, and one of the main reasons to write this book, is that physicists do not understand quantum mechanics. That’s right. They know how to use it to design new technology or predict the outcomes of experiments, but they do not truly understand it. And for a theory that was pretty much formulated by 1927 that is more than a bit embarrassing. What is worse, Carroll writes, is that many physicists scoff at the idea of spending time and effort on understanding its foundations.

    Carroll thinks we have made good progress with this, though, and throughout this book, he champions the Everett or Many-Worlds formulation of quantum mechanics that was developed in 1957 by Hugh Everett (see The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III and What is Real? for more on the man and his ideas).

    This is where we reach a fork in the road. I could go ahead and try and summarize the ideas put forward in this book, leaving you with the impression that I understood everything he is talking about.

    I could write about the contrast between classical mechanics where particles have a location and a velocity, and quantum mechanics where these are replaced by a cloud of probability. Here, particles exist in a superposition of all possible locations and velocities that only take on a single value when we observe them, i.e. quantum wave functions appear particle-like when observed. (Actually, that bit I did understand.) I could write of Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Niels Bohr’s concept of complementarity: particles have a wave function and you can describe either a particle’s position or its momentum (its velocity), but not both simultaneously. This was empirically shown by the famous double-slit experiment (see Through Two Doors at Once).

    I could write about quantum entanglement and whether or not, depending on which theorem you follow, particles interacting at a distance means that information is travelling faster than light. Or about Everett’s assertion that the universe can be described by a single wave function, evolving according to the Schrödinger equation. Or the fact that parts of the universe interacting (two particles for example) lead to them becoming entangled. That this is called decoherence and, according to Everett, means the wave function branches into multiple worlds, representing all the different ways in which such interactions could have played out. And that the space of all possible wave functions is called the Hilbert Space which may or may not have an infinite number of dimensions (I apologise in advance to any physicists reading this if I have butchered above brief summaries).

    I could do all of this. But I won’t. It will probably bring a smile to Carroll’s face if I say that I would like to think that there is a branch of the wave function where I did write that review.

    The truth is that most of the concepts explained here still seem esoteric, abstract, and counterintuitive to me. Partially that is the nature of the beast. As Carroll writes, nature is quantum by definition – classical physics is what we observe because our brain cannot observe wave functions, the same way four-dimensional space flummoxes our brain. But we can still calculate and theorise with it. And partially it reflects that even physicists are still trying to wrap their heads around all of the above.

    But here are three reasons why this did not matter to me and why, despite the mental gymnastics involved, I still enjoyed this challenging book.

    First, even though this book is not a history book, Carroll gives a short overview of how these ideas developed and, importantly, corrects common stories told about, for instance, Albert Einstein. Such as that by the time of the 1927 Solvay conference, where leading physicists met to discuss quantum theory, Einstein had grown old and conservative in his ideas, lost the debates with Bohr, and could not get to grips with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. That is not how Carroll reads this history.

    Second, in spite of the mind-bending concepts, Carroll employs excellent metaphors and examples, uses handy diagrams, and even includes a staged dialogue between a theoretical physicist daughter and her sceptical particle physicist father. And he is balanced enough to consider some alternatives to Everett’s Many-Worlds formulation. All of this makes matters if not understandable at least graspable. I found myself reading along and thinking “I sort of see where you are going with this”. Carroll’s casual writing style and occasional humour help much in this regard. And though he throws in the occasional equation as an illustration, he does not bog the reader down with impenetrable calculations.

    Third and final, Carroll devotes space to providing a reality check on what quantum mechanics actually means. Over the decades, a lot of ideas have leaked into mainstream thinking where they have started leading a life of their own and are being taken out of context. Does the Many-Worlds formulation mean that there are a near-infinite number of copies of you and me out there, each corresponding to all the possible choices we could have made at every turn in our lives? Not quite. The universe does not copy itself at every interaction like a foam bath bubbling over. “Branches” and “worlds” are just convenient shorthands for us humans to talk about the evolving wave function of the universe.

    Something Deeply Hidden is a book that pleasantly stretches the mind. It even makes previous books I have read, such as The Case Against Reality, a bit more understandable. Although, as an aside, my impression is that Hoffmann’s assertion of conscious agents being at the base of everything (Carroll calls it idealism on pages 223-224) is totally at loggerheads with Carroll’s understanding of quantum mechanics. Even though the finer points might still elude me (perhaps I should take it down a notch and pick up Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed), Carroll convinces that the study of quantum foundations is a worthwhile and interesting academic pursuit. And given his pleasant writing style, I am certainly tempted by his other book, The Big Picture.
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Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He won the Royal Society Winton Prize for his book on the search for the elusive Higgs boson, The Particle at the End of the Universe, and his most recent book, The Big Picture, was an international bestseller. He lives in Los Angeles.

Popular Science
By: Sean Carroll(Author)
347 pages, ~50 b/w illustrations
Something Deeply Hidden is a pleasant piece of mental gymnastics that promotes the Many-Worlds formulation while arguing the importance of studying the foundations of quantum mechanics.
Media reviews

"Deftly unmasks quantum weirdness to reveal a strange but utterly wondrous reality."
– Brian Greene

"Something Deeply Hidden is Carroll's ambitious and engaging foray into what quantum mechanics really means and what it tells us about physical reality."
Science Magazine

"Solid arguments and engaging historical backdrop will captivate science-minded readers everywhere."
Scientific Inquirer

"Readers in this universe (and others?) will relish the opportunity to explore the frontiers of science in the company of titans."

"Fans of popular science authors such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and John Gribbin will find great joy while exploring these groundbreaking concepts."
Library Journal

"[A] challenging, provocative book [...] moving smoothly through different topics and from objects as small as particles to those as enormous as black holes, Carroll's exploration of quantum theory introduces readers to some of the most groundbreaking ideas in physics today."
Publishers Weekly

"A thrilling tour through what is perhaps humankind's greatest intellectual achievement – quantum mechanics. With bold clarity, Carroll deftly unmasks quantum weirdness to reveal a strange but utterly wondrous reality."
– Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics, director of the Columbia Center for Theoretical Physics, author of The Elegant Universe

"Sean Carroll's immensely enjoyable Something Deeply Hidden brings readers face to face with the fundamental quantum weirdness of the universe – or should I say universes? And by the end, you may catch yourself finding quantum weirdness not all that weird."
– Jordan Ellenberg, professor of mathematics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of How Not To Be Wrong

"Sean Carroll is always lucid and funny, gratifyingly readable, while still excavating depths. He advocates an acceptance of quantum mechanics at its most minimal, its most austere – appealing to the allure of the pristine. The consequence is an annihilation of our conventional notions of reality in favor of an utterly surreal world of Many Worlds. Sean includes us in the battle between a simple reality versus a multitude of realities that feels barely on the periphery of human comprehension. He includes us in the ideas, the philosophy, and the foment of revolution. A fascinating and important book."
– Janna Levin, professor of physics & astronomy, Barnard College of Columbia University, author of Black Hole Blues

"Sean Carroll beautifully clarifies the debate about the foundations of quantum mechanics, and champions the most elegant, courageous approach: the astonishing "many worlds" interpretation. His explanations of its pros and cons are clear, evenhanded, and philosophically gob smacking."
– Steven Strogatz, professor of mathematics, Cornell University, and author of Infinite Powers

"Carroll gives us a front-row seat to the development of a new vision of physics: one that connects our everyday experiences to a dizzying hall-of-mirrors universe in which our very sense of self is challenged. It's a fascinating idea, and one that just might hold clues to a deeper reality."
– Katie Mack, theoretical astrophysicist, North Carolina State University, author of The End of Everything

"I was overwhelmed by tears of joy at seeing so many fundamental issues explained as well as they ever have been. Something Deeply Hidden is a masterpiece, which stands along with Feynman's QED as one of the two best popularizations of quantum mechanics I've ever seen. And if we classify QED as having had different goals, then it's just the best popularization of quantum mechanics I've ever seen, full stop."
– Scott Aaronson, professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, and Director of UT's Quantum Information Center

"Irresistible and an absolute treat to read. While this is a book about some of the deepest current mysteries in physics, it is also a book about metaphysics as Carroll lucidly guides us on how to not only think about the true and hidden nature of reality but also how to make sense of it. I loved this book."
– Priyamvada Natarajan, theoretical astrophysicist, Yale University, author of Mapping the Heavens

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