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Prospective readers of CalTech Theoretical Physicist Sean Carroll’s latest book, Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, will be introduced to the realm of quantum mechanics with a warning: “You don’t need a PhD in theoretical physics to be afraid of quantum mechanics. But it doesn’t hurt.”
Carroll is no stranger to interpreting the more perplexing aspects of physics for the typical layperson. Having already appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers list for works such as The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, Carroll has become something of a Virgil for the, often-times, lost science enthusiast bombarded by the conflicting headlines of “bad science media” (Cummins, 2016). With Something Deeply Hidden, Carroll confronts one of the most disputed and mystifying branches of contemporary physics: the Many World Theory of Quantum Mechanics.
Something Deeply Hidden attempts to bridge the obvious validity of quantum physics (as seen in quantum computing, microchips, MRI’s, etc.) with classical physics and the all-encompassing presence that is Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Einstein (and his hesitations) is only one of many prominent pioneers that feature prominently in Carroll’s engaging lecture on the evolution of quantum physics.
While Carroll makes true on his promise to graze over the alternatives to Many World Theory, his primary focus, however, is the initial proposal famously outlined by Hugh Everett. A thinly veiled admiration for Everett’s findings can be found within most of Carroll’s own assertions, whether it takes the form of the direct arguments concerning the role of measurements in quantum physics, or his take on a Socratic dialogue between a father and daughter struggling to meet on common ground over the nature of theoretical physics.
What begins as a smooth introduction to the differences between 19th and 20th Century views on the nature of our universe soon plunges into the mathematical world of entangled electron orbits and the wave functions of qubits. Even a seemingly simple assertion that “the virtue of Many-Worlds is in the simplicity of its basic formulation: there is a wave-function that evolves according to the Schrödinger’s equation” becomes a loaded statement in which multiple components must be examined in detail. Physics students and budding mathematicians are bound to relish Carroll’s in-depth thought experiments and math models essential to the subject; the rest of us, however, may find ourselves having to pour over old Physics 101 notes just to keep up.
In his introduction, Carroll writes that “quantum mechanics should be understandable… and achieving such understanding should be the high priority goal of modern science.” Carroll’s goals are noble, especially when learning that he was advised to focus one of his recent grant proposals on his more “legitimate” findings in cosmology and gravitation.
While the details of Carroll’s assertions seem geared toward proper Physics students, his ability to ground quantum mechanics into our “day-to-day” world brings the reader back to his original goal of making quantum physics accessible. When tied with, say, his fascinating explanation of Einstein’s hesitations toward quantum theory, Carroll’s inclusion of Many-Worlds’ real-world applications and history balance out the academic treatises that threaten to overwhelm the casual reader.
When asked on the David Pakman Show whether it mattered if the typical layperson understood quantum mechanics, Carroll replied that “quantum mechanics is at the center of all modern physics. It is the most important theory we have… all of modern technology is based on quantum mechanics in one way or another” (2019). As a bestselling author and creator of the popular podcast, Mindscape, Sean Carroll understands the importance of making science —and its applications— accessible to the masses.
Something Deeply Hidden is an ambitious read that wavers between the academic and the casual in order to demonstrate the intricacies and effects of Many-Worlds Theory on our universe. While Carroll’s latest book may not cater to the casual commuter looking for a light read, its solid arguments and engaging historical backdrop will captivate science-minded readers everywhere.
For more information about Sean Carroll, follow him on Twitter @seanmcarroll. Purchase a copy of Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime.
WORDS: Aaron Tremper (@aaronstremper)
IMAGE SOURCE: Penguin Random House