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Quantum Concepts in Physics: An Alternative Approach to the Understanding of Quantum Mechanics


Author: Malcolm Longair

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


Publish Date: March 25, 2013

ISBN-10: 1107017092

Pages: 459

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

This book is the outcome of a long cherished ambition to write a follow-up to my book Theoretical Concepts in Physics (TCP2) (Longair, 2003). In that book, I took the story of the development of theoretical concepts in physics up to the discovery of quanta and the acceptance by the physics community that quanta and quantisation are essential features of the new physics of the early twentieth century. There was neither space nor scope to take that story further – it was just too complicated and would have required more advanced mathematics than I wished to include in that volume.

This book is my attempt to do for quantum mechanics what I did for classical physics and relativity in TCP2. The objective is to try to reconstruct as closely as possible the way in which quantum mechanics was created out of a mass of diverse experimental data and mathematical analyses through the period from about 1900 to 1930. In my view, quantisation and quanta are the greatest discoveries in the physics of the twentieth century. The phenomena of quantum mechanics have no direct impact upon our consciousness which to all intents and purposes is a world dominated by classical physics. But quantum mechanics underlies all the phenomena of matter and radiation and is the basis of essentially all aspects of civilisation in the twenty-first century.

There is no lack of excellent books on quantum mechanicswhich is one of the staples of all courses in undergraduate physics.Most of the successful texts adopt an axiomatic approach in which quantum mechanics is derived from a set of basic axioms, the consequences of which are elucidated in the subsequent mathematical elaboration. The first complete exposition of this approach was Dirac’s classic book Principles of Quantum Mechanics of 1930 which may be thought of as the ultimate goal of this book (Dirac, 1930a). But how did it all come about? Can we understand why the theory has to be as complex as it is and how did the interpretation of the formalism come about?

Just as the core of TCP2 was inspired by the essays of Martin J. Klein (1967), so this book was inspired long ago by the book Sources of Quantum Mechanics edited by B. L. van der Waerden (1967). I had an ambition to use van der Waerden’s book as the basis of the equivalent of TCP2 for the development of quantum mechanics. This was reinforced by the appearance of the massive six-volume series The Historical Development of Quantum Theory by Jagdish Mehra and Helmut Rechenberg which provides a very thorough, authoritative survey of the history of quantum mechanics and which were published between 1982 and 2001 (Mehra and Rechenberg, 1982a,b,c,d, 1987, 2000, 2001). Equally inspiring was The Conceptual Development of Quantum Mechanics by Max Jammer which covers similar ground in a single volume (Jammer, 1989). Another inspirationwas the book Inward Bound by Abraham Pais (1985) which sets the development of quantum mechanics and quantum phenomena in a much longer time-frame. In my view, these truly excellent books are quite hard work and can only be readily appreciated by those who already have a strong foundation in classical and quantum physics. They are quite a challenge for those seeking more readily accessible enlightenment.

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