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the Complete Review
the complete review - science / philosophy

Beyond Measure

Jim Baggott

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Beyond Measure

Title: Beyond Measure
Author: Jim Baggott
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 356 pages
Availability: Beyond Measure - US
Beyond Measure - UK
Beyond Measure - Canada
  • Modern Physics, Philosophy and the Meaning of Quantum Theory
  • "Beyond measure represents a complete re-writing and updating" of Baggott's The meaning of quantum theory (1992)

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Our Assessment:

-- : excellent introduction to and overview of quantum theory

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chemistry World A 3/2004 Peter B. Karadakov

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t provides a fascinating account of the history of quantum theory, easy-to-follow guidance in a wide range of quantum principles, and an intriguing discussion of the impact of quantum ideas on modern philosophy. (...) For anyone with more than a passing interest in the quantum world, Baggot’s book should prove difficult to put down after reading the first couple of pages" - Peter B. Karadakov, Chemistry World

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In the Preface Jim Baggott explains that "Beyond measure represents a complete re-writing and updating" of his book on The meaning of quantum theory (1992). Aside from including the results of experiments conducted since publication of the earlier book and offering "more history, more philosophy", the major difference is that almost all of the mathematics has been excised from the text proper and can now be found in the Appendices. There are twenty-seven of these, each describing (at least in a basic manner) the relevant underlying maths of a different aspect of quantum theory. So, at first sight, the book appears less daunting than many serious studies of quantum theory, the Greek-symbol-filled equations safely tucked away in back.
       In fact, Beyond Measure is a thorough and certainly serious overview of quantum theory, and the maths is actually quite hard to ignore (much of it is fundamental to understanding much of what is being discussed, and even in the appendices Baggott keeps it brief and (relatively) simple). But the separation is a practical one, and it effectively allows the reader to focus on what Baggott emphasises: the philosophical implications and explanations of quantum theory. As he explains: "it is a central argument of this book that, no matter where we look, we are always led back to philosophy." The science does not get short shrift here -- Baggott's book is, first and foremost, a rigorous introduction to and discussion of all aspects of quantum theory -- but he usefully goes beyond the mere bare-bones tools and explanations (the formulae, descriptions, and explanations that would, on some level, suffice to claim some understanding of quantum theory) and tries to suggest a bigger picture.
       The book begins by describing the historical advance of quantum theory, and the great upheavals in physics that came at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of this might be familiar to anyone picking up this book, but Baggott's succinct, clear presentation moves seamlessly from a quick introduction and overview of the state of the (scientific) world in the late 19th century to the discovery -- and triumph -- of quantum theory.
       For much of the book Baggott focusses on the dominant orthodox Copenhagen interpretation, the leading way of looking at things -- and one that, despite a few troubling consequences, has proven enormously successful. His presentation of the theory is very good, as is his discussion of the consequences. Of particular interest is the discussion of experimental challenges to the theory (many based on Bell's theorem), the experiments themselves well summarized.
       "Non-locality and entanglement are now established as unassailable experimental facts", Baggott acknowledges, but he also considers the alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation, each with their own set of problems (but also with some advantages over the Copenhagen interpretation). The de Broglie-Bohm theory is the best-known, but he also introduces others -- and also brings in other issues not addressed by the Copenhagen interpretation (the collapse of the wave function, for example).
       This is a surprisingly broad look at quantum theory, and proves especially useful as a reference work for the non-specialist, as it addresses most aspects of interest of quantum theory (and the experiments to back them up). He succeeds admirably in supplying the conceptual and philosophical background to quantum theory, thus making the book also of considerable use to students who have focussed (as one tends to do at university) largely or solely on the technical and mathematical aspects.
       The presentation is clear, though it is certainly demanding for even the interested layman. (Those with a solid undergraduate science or maths background should be comfortable with most of the book, though possibly challenged by some of the conceptual discussions.) Baggott presents many examples (of theory and experiments), generally building these up to lead the reader through particular issues; as these are not always straightforward this isn't always easy, but he generally manages well. There's also some humour in the book ("experimentalists of weak disposition should look away now" he suggests at one point, before describing one way to test for the many-worlds-interpretation), little of which is too forced or unnatural.
       Readers with only a casual interest in science (or none at all) likely would be overwhelmed, but for those with an interest in physics it is highly recommended, both simply as a readable and up-to-date overview of quantum theory as well as as a useful reference work.

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Beyond Measure: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jim Baggott has written extensively on science.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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