I originally tried to read this stunning book back in 2011 when I received it as a present, but struggled from the outset. I have always been fascinated by Quantum Mechanics but found its abstract nature and sheer weirdness overwhelming when compared to classical mechanics. I have recently given the book another go but this time tried to obey the mantra that the world of the Quantum cannot be visualised or imagined in any meaningful way and that one has to really ‘give up’ and let oneself be carried along by abstract notions that are completely counter-intuitive and with the mathematics, which can be simplified into meaningful snippets for the lay-reader.

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw have done an admirable job of explaining the Quantum world – partly in the early chapters, by replacing waves with ‘clocks’ that can be wound to visualise the states of waves, and that the concepts involved can be layered onto the concept of a clock as a model that does not refer to ‘time’ in sense that we usually mean it. Many of us have heard of the two-slit experiment but become baffled with the notion of a particle that can produce an interference pattern like a wave so that it behaves as both – with the devastating conclusion that the wave/particle can really be anywhere in the universe until the probabilities of it being somewhere are finally multiplied out and its position calculated – but not its momentum as this would conflict with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The latter part of the book puts Quantum Mechanics into more meaningful scenarios such as describing how it works in relation to the structure of stars, so that they remain as stable entities in the universe.

To really understand Quantum Mechanics a book such as this demands multiple readings in conjunction with other works, if one really wishes to have a grasp of a subject about which the genius Richard Feynman said: “I think I can safely say nobody understands Quantum Mechanics.”

– Your Joyful Benefactor

Clocks instead of waves? Is it right to say a fully wound clock, for example, might be a wave, and an unwound clock, a particle? Is there different states in between?

I think they’re using the clock hands to show the peaks and troughs of a wave e.g. a wave peak is 12.00 and a trough is 6.00 and so you can to add or subtract waves that are interfering, and thus calculate the new amplitudes, even ones that are offset by a small degree. Trying to visualise how this works in the quantum world really makes ones head hurt!

Ah, the hands! Now that makes more sense… although I agree, our brains are not set up to visualise this.

I’m okay with cells and atoms but once I try thinking about electrons! Thanks for your comments