The Age of Entanglement

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-11-10
  • Publisher: Vintage

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InThe Age of Entanglement, Louisa Gilder brings to life one of the pivotal debates in twentieth century physics. In 1935, Albert Einstein famously showed that, according to the quantum theory, separated particles could act as if intimately connecteda phenomenon which he derisively described as "spooky action at a distance." In that same year, Erwin Schrodinger christened this correlation "entanglement." Yet its existence was mostly ignored until 1964, when the Irish physicist John Bell demonstrated just how strange this entanglement really was. Drawing on the papers, letters, and memoirs of the twentieth century's greatest physicists, Gilder both humanizes and dramatizes the story by employing the scientists' own words in imagined face-to-face dialogues. The result is a richly illuminating exploration of one of the most exciting concepts of quantum physics.

Author Biography

Louisa Gilder was born in Tyringham, Massachusetts, and graduated from Dartmouth College in 2000. This is her first book.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
A Note to the Readerp. xiii
Introduction: Entanglementp. 3
The Socks 1978 and 1981p. 8
The Arguments 1909-1935
Quantized Light September 1909-June 1913p. 25
The Quantized Atom November 1913p. 32
The Unpicturable Quantum World Summer 1921p. 40
On the Streetcar Summer 1923p. 49
Light Waves and Matter Waves November 1923-December 1924p. 60
Pauli and Heisenberg at the Movies January 8, 1925p. 68
Heisenberg in Helgoland June 1925p. 74
Schrödinger in Arosa Christmas and New Year's Day 1925-1926p. 82
What You Can Observe April 28 and Summer 1926p. 86
This Damned Quantum Jumping October 1926p. 94
Uncertainty Winter 1926-1927p. 101
Solvay 1927p. 110
The Spinning World 1927-1929p. 115
Solvay 1930p. 123
Interlude: Things Fall Apart 1931-1933p. 128
The Quantum-Mechanical Description of Reality 1934-1935p. 150
The Search and the Indictment 1940-1952
Princeton April-June 10, 1949p. 181
Berkeley 1941-1945p. 185
Quantum Theory at Princeton 1946-1948p. 192
Princeton June 15-December 1949p. 197
Quantum Theory 1951p. 199
Hidden Variables and Hiding Out 1951-1952p. 202
Brazil 1952p. 208
Letters from the World 1952p. 215
Standing Up to Oppenheimer 1952-1957p. 221
Letters from Einstein 1952-1954p. 223
Epilogue to the Story of Bohm 1954p. 227
The Discovery 1952-1979
Things Change 1952p. 233
What Is Proved by Impossibility Proofs 1963-1964p. 237
A Little Imagination 1969p. 250
Nothing Simple About Experimental Physics 1971-1975p. 269
In Which the Settings Are Changed 1975-1982p. 282
Entanglement Comes of Age 1981-2005
Schrödinger's Centennial 1987p. 293
Counting to Three 1985-1988p. 297
"Against 'Measurement'" 1989-1990p. 303
Are You Telling Me This Could Be Practical? 1989-1991p. 312
The Turn of the Millennium 1997-2002p. 316
A Mystery, Perhaps 1981-2006p. 325
Epilogue: Back in Vienna 2005p. 331
Glossaryp. 337
Longer Summariesp. 347
Notesp. 351
Bibliographyp. 409
Acknowledgmentsp. 417
Indexp. 419
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 1

The Socks

1978 and 1981

In 1978, when John Bell first met Reinhold Bertlmann, at the weekly tea party at the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire, near Geneva, he could not know that the thin young Austrian, smiling at him through a short black beard, was wearing mismatched socks. And Bertlmann did not notice the characteristically logical extension of Bell’s vegetarianism—plastic shoes.

Deep under the ground beneath these two pairs of maverick feet, ever-increasing magnetic fields were accelerating protons (pieces of the tiny center of the atom) around and around a doughnut-shaped track a quarter of a kilometer in diameter. Studying these particles was part of the daily work of CERN, as the organization was called (a tangled history left the acronym no longer correlated with the name). In the early 1950s, at the age of twenty-five, Bell had acted as consultant to the team that designed this subterranean accelerator, christened in scientific pseudo-Greek “the Proton Synchrotron.” In 1960, the Irish physicist returned to Switzerland to live, with his Scottish wife, Mary, also a physicist and a designer of accelorators. CERN’s charmless, colorless campus of box-shaped buildings with protons flying through their foundations became Bell’s intellectual home for the rest of his life, in the green pastureland between Geneva and the mountains. At such a huge and impersonal place, Bell believed, newcomers should be welcomed. He had never seen Bertlmann before, and so he walked up to him and said, his brogue still clear despite almost two decades in Geneva: “I’m John Bell.”

This was a familiar name to Bertlmann—familiar, in fact, to almost anyone who studied the high-speed crashes and collisions taking place under Bell’s and Bertlmann’s feet (in other words, the disciplines known as particle physics and quantum field theory). Bell had spent the last quarter of a century conducting piercing investigations into these flying, decaying, and shattering particles. Like Sherlock Holmes, he focused on details others ignored and was wont to make startlingly clear and unexpected assessments. “He did not like to take commonly held views for granted but tended to ask, ‘How do you know?,’ ” said his professor, Sir Rudolf Peierls, a great physicist of the previous generation. “John always stood out through his ability to penetrate to the bottom of any argument,” an early co-?worker remembered, “and to find the flaws in it by very simple reasoning.” His papers—numbering over one hundred by 1978—were an inventory of such questions answered, and flaws or treasures discovered as a result.

Bertlmann already knew this, and that Bell was a theorist with an almost quaint sense of responsibility who shied away from grand speculations and rooted himself in what was directly related to experiments at CERN. Yet it was this same responsibility that would not let him ignore what he called a “rottenness” or a “dirtiness” in the foundations of quantum mechanics, the theory with which they all worked. Probing the weak points of these foundations—the places in the plumbing where the theory was, as he put it, “unprofessional”—occupied Bell’s free time. Had those in the lab known of this hobby, almost none of them would have approved. But on a sabbatical in California in 1964, six thousand miles from his responsibilities at CERN, Bell had made a fascinating discovery down there in the plumbing of the theory.

Revealed in that extraordinary paper of 1964, Bell’s theorem showed that the world of quantum mechanics—the base upon which the world we see is built—is composed of entities which are either, in the jargon of physics, notlocally causal,notfully separable, or even no

Excerpted from The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn by Louisa Gilder
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