'A thorough, illuminating exploration of the most consequential controversy raging in modern science' – James Gleick, The New York Times
What is Real?
The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics
The untold story of the heretical thinkers who dared to question the nature of our quantum universe.
Cats that are both dead and alive, atoms that ‘know’ when you are looking at them and particles that seem to travel down two different paths at once. Despite these strange features, quantum theory is the most successful framework for understanding the Universe that we have, explaining why the Sun shines and how to build a computer out of silicon. But there’s a problem: no one actually knows how to interpret the bizarre picture of nature that it reveals.
According to Niels Bohr, the father of quantum physics, there was no need to worry about how the quantum world can be so strange because the quantum world doesn’t actually exist – it is only an abstract description. For a century, most physicists have followed this ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ and dismissed questions about the underlying reality as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr's students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favoured practical experiments over philosophical arguments.
As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists such as John Bell, David Bohm and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics.
What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth.