- Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by by A. Douglas Stone
by A. Douglas Stone. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2013. 344 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 9780691154633.
This book sheds new light quanta on Einstein’s multifaceted life. The take-home message is that Einstein’s thinking was essential to the development of quantum theory even though his contributions are usually underemphasized or even neglected in the scientific discourse. The book is subdivided into 29 chapters, and the text is peppered with numerous footnotes of historical facts and bibliographical details about many of the significant physicists of this era, such as Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, de Broglie, Dirac, Born, etc. The reference section includes a comprehensive collection of Einstein’s correspondences, his landmark papers and his lesser-known works.
Stone highlights the role of the “valiant Swabian” ’s creative genius as pivotal to the evolution of modern quantum theory. On the one hand, the scientific community primarily associates Einstein’s contributions with the “relativity revolution,” which fundamentally changed our conceptualization of the cosmology of the universe (e.g. E = mc2). On the other hand, he is perceived as being antagonistic toward the subsequent [End Page 208] “quantum revolution,” which revolutionized our thinking about the nature of matter and the development of which is mainly (but according to Stone wrongly) attributed to Max Planck. Stone illustrates Einstein’s aversion to the indeterminism inherent in quantum theory by citing his famous “God doesn’t play dice” quote. Moreover, Stone demonstrates that Einstein was clearly discontent with the epistemological implications of quantum theory, as exemplified by one of his critical remarks concerning this matter: “Do you really think the moon only exists if I look at it?”
These statements can be regarded as evidence that Einstein vehemently disagreed with the fundamental stochastic indeterminism and nonobjectivism advocated by the adherents of the quantum school of thought. Nevertheless, Stone makes very clear that it is Einstein’s (not Planck’s) unorthodox and nonconformist creative thinking that is central to the genesis of quantum theory. In particular, Einstein’s first (sole-authored) paper in his “annus mīrābilis” (1905), in which he developed the quantum theory of light, heralded the century of quantum theory. His ingenious idea was that light is quantized into indivisible discrete particles, which were at that time labeled quanta and which we now call photons. When he later received the Nobel Prize in 1921, the existence of quanta was still highly controversial. He was credited for the explanation of the photoelectric effect, which is just one of the many implications derived from his deep insights into the quantum world.
In the majority of physics textbooks, Einstein’s key contributions to quantum physics are either under-emphasized or completely ignored, but Stone is not the first author to try to rectify historical facts. For instance, Thomas Kuhn, in his book Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, describes Einstein’s indispensable contributions to the development of quantum theory. However, Kuhn’s book is mostly inaccessible to nonphysicists due to its highly technical nature. Stone clearly and persuasively articulates that it was Einstein’s creative mind in which the basic concepts that initiated the shift toward the modern quantum theoretical paradigm evolved. Stone enlists four seminal contributions by Einstein to quantum theory: quantization of energy, wave-particle duality, the probabilistic randomness of quantum mechanics and what Stone calls “quantum unity” (a.k.a. entanglement). From a cognitive science perspective, this book is currently highly relevant because it is related to the newly emerging field called quantum cognition. This novel paradigm utilizes the mathematical axioms of quantum theory to model cognitive processes (e.g. Pothos and Busemeyer, 2013). In particular, the chapter titled “Quantum Dice” provides a neat introduction to the counterintuitive logic that underlies Bose-Einstein statistics. In conclusion, the book at hand is pertinent to anyone interested in physics and the history of science and is for the most part accessible by a lay audience. However, even though mathematical equations are rare, it should be noted that some background knowledge in...