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Review - Schrödinger's Kittens - John Gribbin 

 

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It's tempting, if it didn't sound so bitchy, to say the best thing about this book is the title. It's really very clever. Gribbin had already written a book on quantum theory called In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, named the infamous thought experiment designed to show how ridiculous quantum theory was, and this is its sequel. The "kittens" bit not only fits the sequel concept, but reflects rather nicely the way the rather odd Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum theory, Niels Bohr's masterpiece that was accepted by the vast majority (with a few minor exceptions like Einstein), has become splintered into many different approaches to understanding the science of the smallest components of the universe.

However, it doesn't matter which interpretation you favour, and Gribbin has his own rather dinky variant based on the rarely pointed out observation that from the viewpoint of a photon (or anything else travelling at the speed of light) time for the rest of the universe is stopped, there certainly are plenty of well documented examples of quantum weirdness and Gribbin revels in them.

Oddly, that's one of the book's faults. The midsection is an episodic string of examples of strange phenomena and experiments, more like a set of extended and simplified abstracts from papers than a popular science book. It just gets a bit... dull, which is quite an achievement when dealing with such a riveting subject.

It's also the case that it just doesn't live up to the blurb's promise when we are told Gribbin "introduces us to the astounding possibilities opened up by this new science", in part because the book was written in 1994 and a lot has happened since then, and also because the potential applications are rather glossed over when they could do with much more in-depth.

However it's not all bad. The earlier and later parts of the book are better. And anyone who has read In Search of Schrödinger's Cat would find a lot to interest them in the sequel. So no masterpiece, but worth a look.

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Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007