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You don't have to be a physicist to enjoy this book, which delves into quantum mechanics.

Book Review of:
Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness

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Review of Quantum Enigma, by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner. (Hardcover, June, 2006)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 5,000 articles.

For a long time, I've been felt a bit guilty because I don't understand quantum mechanics and soon feel dizzy after a short foray into the Theory of Relativity. To my delight, I discovered early in this book that even Albert Einstein didn't readily understand this stuff. Hmm. Score one for these authors.

The basic premise of Quantum Enigma is that Quantum Mechanics--which is hugely important to modern civilization and the technology we enjoy---presents some intriguing questions that appear to have their answers beyond science. Those questions center around the idea of consciousness.

Rosenblum and Kuttner present and explore these questions, taking the reader on a ride that is sometimes exciting, sometimes tedious, and frequently mind-boggling. The tedious parts last only a moment and you shoot right past them.

What about the mind-boggling parts? Those are probably where Quantum Enigma most earns its cover price. Rosenblum and Kuttner don't pretend to have pat answers. What they do is present a particular aspect of the enigma (there are several to look at) and seemingly rotate it around so you can see all sides of it. You're often left with more questions than you started with, but that is apparently the point. And it puts you in good company--count among your co-questioners such celebrity physicists as Niels Bohr, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Erwin Schrodinger.

One technique they use to present a particular aspect of the enigma is they tell a story. For example, we first go to a fictional place called Neg Ahne Poc. That's Copenhagen spelled backwards. The reason for that name becomes very clear in the book. We go there through the eyes of a fictional physicist, who is the one actually going there in the story. We observe the physicist engage in an experiment conducted by the Rhob of the village. Rhob is Bohr, as in Niels Bohr, spelled backwards. There's a lot of this cute stuff in the book, which shows the authors do try to keep from taking themselves and other physicists too seriously.

It's interesting to know how an author came to write a particular book. In this case, the authors had been teaching a course by the same name as this book. So, Quantum Enigma makes use of that experience, including the reactions of students. It provides quite a bit of interesting information, going back to Copernican physics and highlighting the differences between (and commonalities of) classic physics and modern physics.

The book itself is controversial, because many people feel polite scientists aren't supposed to discuss these kinds of things. They especially aren't supposed to discuss them with non-scientists. Why the concern? The world is full of pseudo-science, false claims, and downright whacky notions. When physics looks at the non-physical, purveyors of whacky notions may gain credence and deceive even more people. So, "crossing the line" from physical particles to non-physical consciousness makes physicists uncomfortable.

Rosenblum and Kuttner are not only comfortable discussing the link between physics and consciousness, they are adept at it. If you want something that will stimulate your intellect without frying your brain, Quantum Enigma--at barely over 200 pages--is just the thing.

A note on the writing: form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.


About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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