Xuelin Yeong

Optical engineer with a Physics background. At the same time, I dabble in writing, drawing, making YouTube videos and a bunch of other things. Reading is just one of my many interests. Reading itself is just part of the story; writing reviews completes the journey. It is a journey, I hope, that we will all embark on together.

Adam Becker’s “What is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics”

What is Real
Adam Becker
Science
Basic Books
20/03/2018
384

The untold story of the heretical thinkers who dared to question the nature of our quantum universe Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. But ask what it means, and the result will be a brawl. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. A mishmash of solipsism and poor reasoning, Copenhagen endured, as Bohr's students vigorously protected his legacy, and the physics community favored practical experiments over philosophical arguments. As a result, questioning the status quo long meant professional ruin. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like 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.

Is quantum mechanics complete?

Perhaps not. Adam Becker’s “What is Real?” makes a case for alternative theories to counter the hegemony of the Copenhagen Interpretation.

The world described by quantum mechanics is a strange one. To fully appreciate its strangeness, picture this in your mind: Imagine a ball rolling down a track at a speed of 1 meter per second. Classical physics tells us this: if we can measure the position and velocity of the ball at this time, we can predict the position and velocity of the said ball at different points in the future.

Even if no one is looking at the ball, everyone would agree that the ball has definite properties. If our measurements do not disturb the system, we can measure the properties without changing anything about the ball at all. All that changes is our knowledge. We now know something additional about the world that we previously did not know. 

Now, imagine that the ball is shrunk to the size of an electron. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics tells us that the electron does not have any definite properties before the act of measurement. In fact, it exists in a superposition of all possible values until someone comes along to measure it. When that happens, the ‘wavefunction’ of the system collapses, giving rise to a singular definite value. It is not just our knowledge of the world that changes. By choosing to take a measurement, we are changing something deeply fundamental about the external world. 

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Louisa May Alcott’s Blood And Thunder Tales

Written by Xuelin Yeong

Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, is famous for her ‘sentimental’ stories, or what she calls ‘moral pap’ for the younger readers. Most of her stories are preachy; that is, they talk about various virtues, the goodness of simplicity, modesty, frugality—well, you get the idea. “Rose in Bloom” features a rich and beautiful heiress, who is kind and generous despite her wealth; “Kitty’s Class Day” is about a young girl who insists in imitating other girls and dressing up in ridiculous fashions that was unsuitable for her. She comes to grief when a young gentleman accidentally stepped on her long dress, ruining it and humiliating her in front of public.

Initially I enjoyed reading such stories very much, for it gave me a glimpse into Victorian life, including the way they dressed and the moral ideals they upheld; but at one point all the ‘moral talk’ became too much to bear, and I started to wonder if Alcott only wrote such stories, and nothing else.

Then, scrolling through my book list in my e-book reader, I came across an interesting title –Behind the Mask/A Woman’s Power. I thought that it is a book about feminism—but no, it wasn’t. It turned out that I have stumbled upon one of Alcott’s ‘blood and thunder tales’, which, in other words, are sensational stories (by the standards of those days, of course). These stories feature deceit, twisted love and obsession, manipulation, and even murder.

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When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
Judith Kerr
2009
192

Written by Xuelin Yeong

Following my previous book review ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Peace’, here’s a pre-war story, one more suitable for children—‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.’

The author of the book, Judith Kerr, wrote it based on her own childhood experiences. It’s considered a semi-autobiographical novel, although some parts are purely fictional.

Anna, a Jewish girl of nine, led a happy life with her parents and her elder brother Max. Her father was a famous writer who often wrote articles criticising the Nazis, while her mother is a well-to-do housewife, who never had to worry about housework as they could afford to hire people to help them. That gives an idea of how affluent their family were before the Nazis came into power.

Although Anna’s father was sometimes an impractical man, he had great foresight and knew that should the Nazis be elected, he and his family would be in great danger. Thus, he escaped to Switzerland, and arranged for his family to do so too, right before the elections. It was a wise move, as after they left their property were confiscated. In fact, the title of the book refers to Anna’s favourite toy that was taken away along with everything else.

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