The Quantum Labyrinth

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A New Book by Paul Halpern

Let’s travel back in time to September 1939

World War II had just begun in Europe.

The Wizard of Oz captivated moviegoers’ imaginations with its revolutionary cinematography, portraying mysterious lands where strange rules applied.

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At Princeton, another kind of magic was about to begin:  a complete rethinking of time and reality, led by two extraordinary physicists:  John Wheeler and his student Richard Feynman.  Their mission: to rescue quantum physics from its mathematical contradictions and establish what are the fundamental ingredients of the universe.

Wheeler pondered the idea that all particles could be built from electrons, perhaps even from a single electron zigzagging backward and forward in time.  Feynman, in turn, developed a new way of framing quantum mechanics as a medley of contradictory timelines, which Wheeler dubbed “sum over histories.”  Time would no longer be a steady stream, representing a single progression of events, but rather a labyrinth of multiple paths, somehow all taken at once.  Feynman later modified this idea to become the core of his Nobel-Prize-winning contributions to quantum electrodynamics.

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After the physics community adopted Feynman’s radical notion, illustrated by special diagrams he designed, Wheeler tried to apply it to the universe itself.  Wheeler’s goal was to identify an elusive quantum theory of gravitation.  In the process, he proposed peculiar spatial shortcuts called wormholes, and other kinds of exotic entities called geons and spacetime foam.  However, there was a catch.  We, as observers, are part of the universe.  Therefore a complete quantum theory of the universe needs to include us as well.

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Enter another of Wheeler’s brilliant students, Hugh Everett, who proposed what became known as the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.  In Everett’s model, human observers “split” into multiple copies in parallel universes each time they take a quantum measurement.  Not only is time a labyrinth;  it is a mirror maze reflecting multiple versions of each one of us!

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Step into the quantum labyrinth and discover a realm of fascinating scientific history, with many unexpected twists and turns!

Pick up your copy now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller

About the Book

quantum-labyrinth-coverThe Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality, published by Basic Books, tells the story of how the two eminent physicists engaged in a lifelong exchange of ideas, resulting in many of the innovations of late 20th century physics. While outwardly they seemed very different, they shared a deep bond. The soft-spoken Wheeler, though conservative in appearance, was a raging nonconformist full of wild ideas about the universe. The boisterous Feynman was a cautious physicist who believed only what could be tested. Yet they were complementary spirits.

Feynman and Wheeler’s collaboration led to a complete rethinking of the nature of time and reality. It enabled Feynman to show how quantum reality is a combination of alternative, contradictory possibilities, and inspired Wheeler to develop his landmark concept of wormholes, shortcuts through space. Feynman received a Nobel Prize for his research, and became a renowned popularizer of science. Wheeler went on to pioneer the concept of black holes. Together, Feynman and Wheeler made sure that quantum physics would never be the same again.

Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and the author of fifteen popular science books, including Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an Athenaeum Literary Award. Halpern has appeared on numerous radio and television shows including “Future Quest,” “Radio Times,” several shows on the History Channel, and “The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special.” He has contributed opinion pieces for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs frequently on Medium, and was a regular contributor to NOVA’s “The Nature of Reality” physics blog. He lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

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