New Caelifera

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Book: John Stewart Bell and Twentieth-Century Physics, Vision and Integrity

March 5, 2017 | Comment

John Stewart Bell and Twentieth-Century Physics: Vision and Integrity by Andrew Whitaker

The strangeness of quantum theory shows itself in Bell’s theorem. At its root it says that if quantum theory behaves as it’s formalism predicts, you have to give up locality if you want to think about there being some underlying mechanism behind quantum theory. When Bell came up with this theorem, he was motivated by the Bohm-de Broglie nonlocal hidden variable theory, which he thought had been badly maligned. But the cool thing is that he did not just add another philosophical argument about interpretations of the foundations of quantum theory, but turned this into a question about how different ways of thinking about quantum theory might lead to testable predictions. Local realism, it seems, can’t be a good description of our world. Today there are loophole free experiments confirming this. I once wrote a paper on modifying Bell’s theorem when you have just a little tiny bit of non-locality, so you can guess I’m a big fan.

This book is a rather academic look into Bell’s life. It covers in detail his childhood and covers almost every paper Bell published, including the vast majority that were outside of the area of foundations of quantum theory. I’m hesitant to recommend this book to anyone first encountering Bell, but if you are interested in his life and especially the physics beyond foundations that he worked on, it is worth going through this book. One nit would be that the book constantly points out when a physicist thought highly of Bell, perhaps as a sensitivity to the reputation that people who work on foundations of quantum theory have in physics.

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