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The Quantum Moment

How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty

Robert P. Crease (Author, Stony Brook University), Alfred Scharff Goldhaber (Author, Stony Brook University)

Overview | Formats

The fascinating story of how quantum mechanics went mainstream.

The discovery of the quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.

Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverses, quantum leaps, alternate universes, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy, reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.

Is a "quantum leap" big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky, or a fundamental shift in the way we think?

All the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this pathbreaking book. The authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum’s rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps and mistranslations, jokes and gibberish, of public discussion about the quantum. Their book explores the quantum’s manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum’s implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.

The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • October 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06792-7
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 352 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverThe Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty


Endorsements & Reviews

“Rich and entertaining… [The Quantum Moment] is an introduction to the brave new world we inhabit.” — Amir Alexander, New York Times

“A fascinating tour of the lives and afterlives of some of the most captivating concepts of quantum theory.” — David Kaiser, author of How the Hippies Saved Physics

“A delight! A tour de force that is both illuminating and extraordinarily readable.” — Gino Segrè, author of Ordinary Geniuses: How Two Mavericks Shaped Modern Science

“This is an amazing book for scientists and humanists alike! Every page yields surprises—not only about the complex history of quantum physics but about how it impacts our understanding of ourselves in daily life. Required reading for anyone concerned with casting the fate of humankind in a radically new light.” — Edward S. Casey, author of The World at a Glance

“Reading The Quantum Moment is a very fun way to learn about where quantum physics comes from and the strange, even astonishing places it has gone with or without the physicists for whom it is the language of their craft.” — Peter Galison, author of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps, professor of science and physics, Harvard University

“Fascinating… Crease and Goldhaber have written an accessible and entertaining history that embraces both the science and the silliness of quantum mechanics.” — Publishers Weekly

“An entertaining read.” — Jim Baggott, Nature

“Approachable… the authors are at their most entertaining when they expose the hollow understanding of physics that many who use its terms possess.” — Max Ross, Los Angeles Review of Books

Also by Robert P. Crease All

  1. Book CoverThe Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg


  2. Book CoverThe Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority


  3. Book CoverWorld in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement