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review 2018-10-21 13:32
Fuck-Spaces: “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger
A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory - Hans Christian Öttinger

“According to Henry Margenau [7], “[the epistemologist] is constantly tempted to reject all because of the difficulty of establishing any part of reality” (p. 287). But, again in the words of Margenau, “It is quite proper for us to assume that we know what a dog is even if we may not be able to define him” (p. 58). More classically, a similar idea has been expressed by David Hume: “Next to the ridicule of denying an evident truth, is that of taking much pains to defend it” (see p. 226 of [8]). In this spirit, I try to resist the temptation of raising more questions than one can possibly answer, no matter how fascinating these questions might be. Philosophy shall here serve as a practical tool for doing better physics. I try to use philosophy in a relevant and convincing way, but I am certainly not in a position to do frontier technical research in philosophy.”

In “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

The way Öttinger derived his Quantum Master Equation is nothing short of masterful..."Melikes" it...



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2017-05-20 19:48
For readers with a good attention span who enjoy Hitchcockian suspense set within the world of science and books about writers
The Planck Factor - Debbi Mack

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

This thriller (technothriller according to Amazon) tells a complex story, or rather, tells several not so complex stories in a format that can make readers’ minds spin. A thriller about a student who decides, on a dare, to write a genre book (a thriller) and whose life becomes itself another thriller, one that seems to mix spies, conspiracies, terrorism, the possibility of the end of the world, and it all relates to quantum physics. (Or, as she describes it in the book: “…a suspense story with a hint of science fiction and a touch of espionage at its heart.”) The parallelisms between the story of Jessica Evans (the protagonist) and that of her fictional character, Alexis, become more convoluted and puzzling as the book progresses and the astounding coincidences will ring some alarm bells until we get to the end and… It is a bit difficult to talk about the book in depth without giving away any spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest.

This book will be particularly interesting for writers, not only because of its storytelling technique (talk about metafiction) but also because of the way the main protagonist (a concept difficult to define but Jessica is the one who occupies the most pages in the book and her story is told in the first person) keeps talking (and typing) about books and writing. No matter how difficult and tough things get, she has to keep writing, as it helps her think and it also seems to have a therapeutic effect on her. It is full of insider jokes and comments familiar to all of us who write and read about writing, as it mentions and pokes fun at rules (“Show, don’t tell. Weave in backstory. Truisms, guides, rules, pointers—call them what you will… And adverbs. Never use an adverb.”) and also follows and at the same time subverts genre rules (we have a reluctant heroine, well, two, varied MacGuffins and red herrings, mysteries, secrets, traitors and unexpected villains… and, oh yes, that final twist).

Each one of the chapters starts with the name of the person whose point of view that chapter is told about —apart from Alexis’s story, told in the third person, written in different typography, and usually clearly introduced, there are chapters from the point of view of two men who follow Jessica, so we know more than her, another rule to maintain suspense, and also from the point of view of somebody called Kevin, who sounds pretty suspicious— and apart from Jessica’s, all the rest are in the third person, so although the structure is somewhat complex and the stories have similarities and a certain degree of crossover, there is signposting, although one needs to pay attention. Overall, the book’s structure brought to my mind Heart of Darkness (where several frames envelop the main story) or the Cabinet of Dr Caligary (although it is less dark than either of those).

As you read the story, you’ll probably wonder about things that might not fit in, plot holes, or events that will make you wonder (the usual trope of the amateur who finds information much easier than several highly specialised government agencies is taken to its extremes, and some of the characteristics of the writing can be amusing or annoying at times, although, whose story are we reading?) but the ending will make you reconsider the whole thing. (I noticed how the characters never walked, they: “slid out”, “shimmied out”, “pounded”, “bounded down the steps”, “clamored down”…) As for the final twist, I suspected it, but I had read several reviews by other members of the team and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. I don’t think it will be evident to anybody reading the story totally afresh.

The novel is too short for us to get more than a passing understanding and connection with the main character, especially as a big part of it is devoted to her fictional novel, (although the first person helps) and there are so many twists, secrets and agents and double-agents that we do not truly know any of the secondary characters well enough to care. Action takes precedence over psychological depth and although we might wonder about alliances, betrayals and truths and lies, there are no complex motivations or traumas at play.

Due to the nature of the mystery, the novel will also be of interest to those who enjoy stories with a scientific background, particularly Physics (although I don’t know enough about quantum physics to comment on its accuracy). A detailed knowledge of the subject is not necessary to follow the book but I suspect it will be particularly amusing to those who have a better understanding of the theory behind it. (The author does not claim expertise and thanks those who helped her with the research in her acknowledgements). The book also touches on serious subjects, including moral and ethical issues behind scientific research and the responsibility of individuals versus that of the state regarding public safety. But do not let that put you off. The book is a short, fast and action-driven story that requires a good attention span and will be particularly enjoyed by writers and readers who enjoy complex, puzzle-like mysteries, or more accurately, those who like stories that are like Russian dolls or Chinese boxes.

I enjoyed this book that is clever and knowing, and I’d recommend in particular to readers who are also writers or enjoy books about writers, to those who like conspiracies, spies and mysteries, especially those with a backstory of science and physics, and to people who prefer plot-driven books and who love Hitchcock, Highsmith and Murder She Wrote.


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text 2015-11-28 02:02
Coronado Dreaming - Worth Reading to the End
Coronado Dreaming - Greg Brulte

Guy falls in love. Guy falls in coma. Guy communes with his subconscious for 4 years, and wow what a trip!


It's an intriguing journey into the power of one's subconscious and the mysteries of the universe, with a captivating love story driving the MC forward. It's practically a sci-fi, since there is just so much science in it, but there are some deep philosophical ideas in there too. The book brought up some interesting theories and explored them quite fully - and I understood most of it, too. :) Honestly, the middle drug out a little long - I kept waiting for the story to continue, but hey, the guy was in a coma. I have to say, though, I loved the ending. Made me laugh out loud. Overall, I think it's worth a read.


I got this book because it reminded me of Call Her Forth a little, though the stories ended up being very different.

Source: www.amazon.com/dp/B006LS2NP0
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review 2013-07-06 00:00
The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory According to the Everett Interpretation - David Wallace If you've been paying any attention, you must already have at least a vague idea of what the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is about. For example, Source Code is a romantic movie treatment; Transition is an SF thriller treatment; and The Grand Design is a For Dummies treatment. There is not just a single universe, there are a huge number of them, and new ones are constantly splitting off.

But can something that's been this enthusiatically embraced by the SF community really be respectable? In his impressive book, David Wallace argues persuasively that it is. It's not merely a good alternative to conventional interpretations of quantum mechanics; he claims it's the only one that gives us a view of what's going on which makes intuitive sense, and doesn't involve the addition of unprovable or downright mystical ideas like "the collapse of the wavefunction" or "the essential role of consciousness". One's first reaction may well be to label this as paradoxical or willfully contrarian, but Wallace, who has PhDs in both physics and philosophy, lays out his reasoning with skill. Since it's easy to get lost in the many details, I will focus here on two clever analogies which he uses throughout. The first is the heliocentric revolution (Copernicus and Galileo); the second is dinosaurs.

Let's look first at the heliocentric hypothesis. The book opens with a thought-provoking quote from Wittgenstein: what would it have looked like if it had looked like the Earth went round the Sun? Stop and consider that for a moment. The answer, of course, is that it would have looked exactly the same. Every piece of factual evidence people had, which convinced them that the Sun went round the Earth, could equally well have been interpreted in the opposite direction. At the end of the day, the main reason why people were so slow to agree with Copernicus was a simple one. His idea was so goddamn weird that it couldn't possibly be correct.

Similarly with the Many-Worlds Interpretation. Wallace's argument is that this is just the most straightforward way to make sense of the underlying mathematics of quantum theory, which everyone agrees on. You look at what the equations tell you is going to happen when a superposed state (Schrödinger's cat, for example) is allowed to interact with other parts of the world. The result is that the cat's state becomes quantum-entangled with everything else, including any observer who may be present. The math represents this as the sum of two algebraic terms: one stands for the live cat, plus everything else in the world; the other stands for the dead cat, plus everything else in the world. The two terms rapidly "decohere", in other words cease to influence each other. The basic claim of the Many-Worlds Interpretation is that this is best conceptualized as saying that the universe splits into two copies. That's what the math seems to be telling us: why not believe it? Yet, somehow, most people seem reluctant to take this final step. It's too goddamn weird. What do they do instead? The most common alternative is "shut up and calculate": use the equations, since they certainly appear to work, but don't worry about what they mean. Indeed, throw out the question as irrelevant and positively distracting.

So over to the dinosaurs. As Wallace says, suppose people applied the same kind of reasoning to paleontology. There are fossils; everyone agrees on that. Fossils are bits of rock which you can touch. There are consistent patterns in many of these bits of rock, and the only sensible way of explaining these patterns is to say that their appearance is as it would have been if there once had been dinosaurs. Just about everyone agrees on that too. But suppose now that you're talking to a creationist petroleum geologist (I presume such people may exist), who stops at this point and says that there were in fact no dinosaurs; they are just a theoretical device that helps us categorise fossils. You would have a hard time refuting this argument. Our hypothetical geologist would agree with everything you said about the links between fossils and dinosaurs, and in fact she would probably know rather more about it than you did, since it was part of her job. She just wouldn't agree that the dinosaurs actually existed. Needless to say, you would find this person intensely irritating; you would be sure they were wrong, even if you couldn't prove it. Well: the argument here is that we've been doing exactly the same thing in rejecting the Many-Worlds Interpretation.

Quite apart from the content, the style of the book is also interesting, and is constructed as an ingenious piece of homage to Wallace's great predecessors. Stylistically, Copernicus and Galileo were polar opposites: Copernicus was a dry, technical writer, and Galileo was an entertaining polemicist. Copernicus was extremely conservative, and worked entirely within the Ptolemaic system. (As Rovelli remarks in his recent book on Anaximander, no one could have loved Ptolemy more than Copernicus did). His intention was simply to show that Ptolemy's deferents and epicycles worked even better if you moved the Sun to the center of the universe. Galileo, in contrast, wanted to shake things up and introduce genuinely new ideas.

Wallace has daringly attempted to mix these two very different styles. Rather more than two-thirds of the book is Copernican, and consists of lengthy technical proofs; the most important ones have to do with the concept of rational behavior in the quantum multiverse, where it is easy to become confused and think that, since everything is going to happen in some branch, it makes no difference what you do. Wallace shows that this is absolutely not true. In fact, the concept of "branch weight" plays a role exactly analogous to that of probability in a classical theory, and rational agents end up doing what they would have done in a classical universe. Establishing this apparently trivial conclusion unfortunately requires over fifty pages of difficult mathematics. If all the book were like this, it would have been unreadable; despite its honored place in the history of science, it is notorious that hardly anyone has ever read De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Wallace has addressed this problem by adding a parallel thread written in an engagingly Galilean style, where he explains the intuitive consequences of the ideas in everyday language. The layman will no doubt want more Galileo; on the other hand, the Copernicus is necessary to convince the many sceptical experts, none of whom appear yet to have detected obvious holes. It's a difficult balancing act, but he pulls it off well.

Should you buy The Emergent Multiverse? On the minus side, it's long, it's heavy, it's expensive, and there are large chunks you will most likely not understand. (There were, at any rate, large chunks I didn't understand). On the plus side, it's well-written, it's often funny, it will expand your mental horizons, and it's not impossible that it will turn out to be one of the pivotal books of the twenty-first century. I don't know how to weigh up these competing factors. You will just have to decide for yourself.

Simon Evnine pointed me to the excellent review here. If you're interested in learning more about the technical details, this is where to go.

It's hard to stop thinking about this book. The author makes a strong case for the reality of the quantum multiverse; if his reasoning becomes generally accepted, it is impossible to imagine how fundamentally it will change the way we view the world. At the moment, the evidence is of an indirect nature, as it was when the pioneers of the heliocentric revolution first proposed their idea. The math works out more sensibly when you posit that the Earth goes round the Sun; also, as Aristarchus had pointed out seventeen hundred years earlier, the Sun is evidently much bigger than the Earth, and it seems odd to have the big thing circle the small thing. Direct, smoking-gun proof didn't turn up until Bessel first measured stellar parallax in 1838, but by then the scientific world was already sure that Copernicus had been right. The accumulation of indirect evidence was overwhelming.

In the case of the multiverse, Wallace suggests that the next tranche of indirect evidence will probably come from quantum computing. If things progress a little further along the directions that are currently being explored, it will soon be possible in practice to solve problems with quantum algorithms that cannot be solved at all on conventional computers. People will routinely be writing quantum software and thinking about debugging and improving it. As Wallace says, the natural way to conceptualize some of these algorithms is that the computation is parallelized by sending subtasks into enormous numbers of parallel worlds, then retrieving the answer from the branch which succeeded. When tens of thousands of geeks are spending their working day manipulating the geometry of the multiverse, it will be difficult to maintain the polite pretense that it doesn't actually exist.

Wallace appears reluctant to delve too deeply into the moral and ethical aspects. He demonstrates that rational short-term betting behavior is the same in the multiverse and the classical world; given a choice between a 75% chance and a 25% chance, you should pick the 75% chance, irrespective of whether you believe that all the outcomes will happen in different branches, or that there is only a single world governed by the laws of probability. But in cases like the notorious quantum suicide thought experiment, it is not as clear that things are still the same. Wallace notes that death is "philosophically difficult", and explicitly advises philosophers not to discuss these matters in popular works. There is a striking resonance with the last chapter of Time Reborn, where Smolin expresses concern that belief in multiple universes may lead people to value less the one universe which we can directly perceive around us.

So maybe I shouldn't even be talking about this. But, as Eve said to Adam, those apples just looked so tasty...
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review 2012-06-26 00:00
The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe
The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe - Frank Close There's almost not a wasted word in this book. If you blink while listening, you might lose track of the physics. The author is very good at writing a history of quantum science from QED to looking for the Higgs boson.

He uses the narrative of the scientific players to describe the physics. There is nothing of the physics or the math for which he does not explain before he talks about it. The problem is the author explains the physics at the moment of introduction than assumes that you will understand it and won't explain it to you again.

A large audience of people won't like this book. If you don't follow the physics as he introduces it, the narrative of the history will not be enough to entertain you. He only introduces the physics once and assumes you get it. He covers so much of modern physics he really doesn't have time to repeat his clear explanations more than once.

What I liked about this book he really filled in the details for what has happened since quantum mechanics was fully developed and the Large Hadron Collider has gone online. I had read many books on each and had mostly just walked away with that particles were very small. Now I have a very good feel for what's going on and why the Higgs boson is so important.

His last chapter was a marvelous summary of the book. I only wish he had summarized more of the physics after he explained difficult concepts more frequently.

I don't want to mislead. This book is a very difficult read. Some one with no real background in physics can follow it, but it requires ones full concentration. He covers the topics so well, I'll probably never have to read another history of that period of physics again for a long time.
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