How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog (Anglais) Broché – 1 octobre 2010
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'Charming. A lighthearted and amusing way for laypeople to learn about one of the strangest and most important aspects of modern science.' --William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureat in Physics
'A fast-moving and fun introduction to some of the deepest mysteries of modern physics. And Emmy is a star.' --Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
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So all in all, a nice encounter with some big misters of this universe. It's not always a super easy read but it's one worth it!
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The book is a very clear and well delineated explanation of the basics of quantum mechanics. Orzel provides the relevant background needed to understand each section along with a historical outline of how the physics developed. His teaching is lucid and straightforward (think Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov). The examples and questions are provided outlined in a tongue in cheek manner as discussions with his dog. I am somewhat torn about the verbiage relating to his dog, it is sometimes funny, but can also be distracting. I think in the classroom the humor would come across more consistently. It does add a level of absurdity to the book, and if quantum mechanics is anything, it is sometimes quite absurd to those of us living our daily lives in a classical world.
I also laughed out loud many times while reading the chapter on debunking the snake oil salesmen who try to use various garbled versions of quantum mechanics to explain how their gizmos can provide "free energy" or "improve your health". I have had a lot of conversations with people about these contraptions (and those Amish space heaters advertized in the paper all the time, but that is another issue).
The historical perspective in each section is excellent, specifically the development of wave/particle duality and the Copenhagen interpretation. Orzel's presentation of the manner in which theories are developed and tested is superb. For students this is may be eye opening, many of them seem to believe that science develops in a linear and straightforward manner and the examples presented by Orzel show the more convoluted path often taken.
I took a class from Murray Gell-Mann a few years ago (well more than a few years) and we read "The Quark and the Jaguar" as part of our class assignment. After reading the Gell-Manns book and taking his class I felt like I knew a lot more about quantum mechanics, but I had to break up each section and really chew on it to reach that understanding. Mind you, I took quantum mechanics in college, I could do the math, but I had little true understanding of the underlying principles. "How to Teach Physics to your Dog" is a lot less mental work (and substantially less math) and yields an overall understanding of the concepts of quantum mechanics. In a way this book reminds me of Hewitt's Conceptual Physics textbook, the ideas are the most important and the minimal math plays a secondary and supporting role.
This book is appropriate for
* Physics students (after taking classical mechanics) from about high school AP level.
* To read BEFORE you take quantum mechanics at the college level. This book is not going to help you with the differential equations, Fourier transformations and other math, but at least you might know why you are doing them.
* Those with at least some background (or a great deal of interest) in science who wish to grasp the concepts of quantum mechanics. If you have absolutely no science at all you may struggle with some of the vocabulary.
Overall a very enjoyable read, laugh out loud funny at times and a clear and well organized introduction to quantum mechanics for those with interest in science. Highly recommend.
The book itself is geared towards somebody with a decent knowledge of physics and math, but not necessarily quantum mechanics. I would say high-school level should be fine, but then again, with what passes for high school education, it's possible that it could be beyond some people (some may have issue with words like exponential). The reader should note that the book is really "How to Teach Quantum Mechanics To Your Dog" as Physics in general is not covered (and it even avoids relativity). This is not a negative, but just an FYI.
Overall, excellent book---I probably picked up something new in every chapter. Some of the science was familiar, though I was not aware of all the players and fun stories involved. For the science I knew, I appreciated having a good way to explain it to friends and family. As the book progressed, I discovered new things about quantum mechanics which I did not know.
You'll learn about how the most often referenced piece of quantum mechanics (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) is also the most misunderstood. You'll also learn not only about Schrodinger's Cat, but also his many women (who knew physicists were like that?). The book builds on basic quantum mechanics to discuss some of the more interesting theories---for instance, the many-worlds theory to explain how things like superposition actually work (while Orzel doesn't mention it, the many-worlds theory also helps solve some mathematical difficulties in both cosmology and evolution). However, no matter what the philosophy you choose to apply to why certain things happen, it does not change the equations, which is the point of the book. He also discusses quantum zeno (how to stop a quantum state jump by observing it), quantum tunneling, quantum entanglement, quantum teleportation, quantum electrodynamics, and some misuses of quantum physics (like quantum healing). In short, anything quantum you want to know about is likely summarized in this little tome.
Throughout the book, the dialogue is presented as a talk between the scientist and his dog. At times it got a little tedious, but more often than not, it broke up the scientific jargon with conversation, and occasionally the analogies to a dog finding a bunny in the backyard actually seemed to work (or treats in a bag). I also dug the occasional obligatory Star Trek reference... of course quantum states existing in many worlds would include the evil worlds where the quantum particles all have goatees.....
I will knock off 1 star for this----I don't feel the book did enough to explain how quantum mechanics is used in our everyday lives. Quantum tunneling microscopes are cool, but who knows what they are? A few pages on lasers or tunnel diodes might have been nice. There were brief discussions of quantum cryptography and computing, but I thought these could have been expanded. In addition, quantum electrodynamics started to get a little too technical and deep for an average reader (but it was the last technical chapter, so I think it was well placed).
To learn more, I would recommend some of the excellent books by Simon Singh who has an equally approachable way with explaining complex science. Chad Orzel brushes the edge of relativity, but specifically says he is avoiding it for the purposes of his book. To read some excellent explanations of relativity and cosmology in a similar voice, you might augment this book with "The Big Bang" by Singh.
Overall, I give the book 4 stars---it is an excellent effort, and I definitely learned quite a bit from reading it. While I did get it through the Vine program, this is the kind of book I would definitely recommend purchasing yourself. I removed 1 star because I really did want some more practical applications (and I did feel that the voice sometimes drifted too technical for the average reader), but it is a quality piece of work and will have a place on my shelf by Stephen Hawking and others.
I am very pleased with this book and am so glad I selected it for my son. It seems to be a great choice for an intelligent person without much real physics background who wants to learn about the material.
My beef with the book is that it wasn't clear this was about quantum physics. Mr. Orzel is not really writing for the lay person as much as he's writing for someone who already has a decent understanding about classical physics. My high school physics class was a long time ago and I didn't understand it very well even then. But it's still a subject I wish I could understand better now, but it doesn't seem to come as easily as it does for some others. Nonetheless, I can say that I now understand *some* things about quantum physics a little better.
But Chad Orzel explains things like wave-particle duality and the many-worlds hypothesis in terms that dogs can understand. And you and I, dear reader? We're the dogs.
I never took a physics class, and I don't really understand about "allowed states" and about how polarized-light wavelengths can vary horizontally and vertically.
But I can think like a dog -- so I know just what Orzel means when he talks about bunnies hopping up and down the grass while squirrels zigzag across it.
And because Orzel prefaces every chapter with a canine conversation -- his Emmy is a German Shepherd -- there are a lot of bunnies, cats and squirrels in this discussion of quantum basics.
One chapter explains that particles (and even large chunks of matter) can be in multiple positions at once, but that we can perceive only a sliver of multifaceted reality -- which leads both to the multiple-worlds hypothesis and to that Star Trek episode with the evil Spock wearing a goatee.
Despite the joking around, Orzel isn't always simple or clear; quantum mechanics is pretty dense stuff. He lost me, for example, somewhere around the Bell theorem for resolving the famous Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen paradox. (Well, famous among physicists, I guess.)
But the implications for proving that Einstein's idea was "brilliantly wrong" are profound: "Our universe," Orzel says, "cannot be described by any theorem in which particles have definite properties at all times, and in which measurements made in one place are not affected by measurements in other places."
Yet if that sounds scary -- everything's utterly random -- it also raises the prospect of phenomena like quantum computing, cryptography and teleportation (which Orzel describes, using one of his down-to-earth analogies, in terms of a fax machine).
With the Large Hadron Collider over in Geneva about to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson and supersymmetry, exciting discoveries are on the way.
So you'd better brush up on your quantum mechanics. You can talk to Emmy all about it