By George Musser
Scientific American, To be released November 3, 2015
“Spooky Action at a Distance” explores the question Why aren’t you here? And if you aren’t here, what is it that prevents you from being here? Trying to answer this simple-sounding question leads you down a rabbit hole where you have to discuss the nature of space and time with many-world proponents and philosophers. In his book, George reports back what he’s found down in the rabbit hole.Locality and non-locality are topics as confusing as controversial, both in- and outside the community, and George’s book is a great introduction to an intriguing development in contemporary physics. It’s a courageous book. I can only imagine how much headache writing it must have been, after I once organized a workshop on nonlocality and realized that no two people could agree on what they even meant with the word.
George is a very gifted writer. He gets across the most relevant concepts the reader needs to know on a nontechnical level with a light and unobtrusive humor. The historical background is nicely woven together with the narrative, and the reader gets to meet many researchers in the field, Steve Giddings, Fotini Markopoulou, and Nima Arkani-Hamed, to only mention a few.
In his book, George lays out how the attitude of scientists towards nonlocality has gone from acceptance to rejection and makes a case that now the pendulum is swinging back to acceptance again. I think he is right that this is the current trend (thus the workshop).
I found the book somewhat challenging to read because I was constantly trying to translate George’s metaphors back into equations and I didn’t always succeed. But then that’s a general problem I have with popular science books and I can’t blame George for this. I have another complaint though, which his that George covers a lot of different research in rapid succession without adding qualifiers about these research programs’ shortcomings. There’s quantum graphity and string theory and black holes in AdS and causal sets and then there’s many worlds. The reader might be left with the mistaken impression that these topics are somehow all related with each other.
Spooky Action at a Distance starts out as an Ode to Steve Giddings and ends as a Symphony for Arkani-Hamed. For my taste it’s a little too heavy on person-stories, but then that seems to be the style of science writing today. In summary, I can only say it’s a great book, so go buy it, you won’t regret it.
[Disclaimers: Free review copy; I know the author.]
Fade-out ramble: You shouldn’t judge a book by its subtitle, really, but whoever is responsible for this title-inflation, please make it stop. What’s next? Print the whole damn book on the cover?