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Non-local Universe


The latest of many attempts to link subatomic physics to broader human concerns, this brisk, uneven volume splits neatly in two: the first half explains key ideas in quantum physics, and the second makes grand claims about their worth for other fields. Classical physics rules out "action at a distance." (You can't move a billiard ball unless something--a pool cue, an air jet, lightning--contacts it.) But quantum physics permits "non-local" action, and recent experiments prove it: do certain things to one photon, and you'll affect another faster than light can travel between the two. Hence, "all of physical reality is a single quantum system that responds together to further interactions," say the authors. Nadeau (a historian of science) and Kafatos (a physicist), both professors at George Mason University, move from these cogent, compact exegeses of quantum non-locality to its purported meanings for biology, philosophy and even economics. Non-locality, Nadeau and Kafatos contend--with its attendant "complementarity" between parts and wholes--helps explain the origins of life, speaks to the evolution of consciousness, solves the dilemmas of recent social and literary thought and bridges for good the divides between mind and matter, arts and sciences. The authors bring up, but don't always keep in mind, the difference between explanation and analogy. Some arguments "prove" truths most potential readers already know (e.g., we ought to work to save the rain forests); others (about evolution and about French theory) seem facile. Nonetheless, Nadeau and Kafatos supply plenty of food for thought: the apparently recondite concept of non-locality, they suggest, has consequences everywhere. (Jan.)

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Tags: physics, action, local, quantum, permits, Universe