Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy and the Meaning of Quantum Theory

Jim Baggott looks at the history and philosophy of quantum mechanics and the continuing experimental search for meaning. Suitable for undergradate students of chemistry and physics.

Quantum theory is one the most important and successful theories of modern physical science. It has been estimated that its principles form the basis for about 30 per cent of the world’s manufacturing economy. This is all the more remarkable because quantum theory is a theory that nobody understands. Beyond Measure introduces science students to the theory’s fundamental conceptual and philosophical problems, and the basis of its non-understandability. It does this with the barest minimum of jargon and very little mathematics in the main text. Readers wishing to delve more deeply into the theory’s mathematical subtleties can do so in an extended series of appendices. The book brings the reader up to date with the results of new experimental tests of quantum weirdness and reviews the latest thinking on alternative interpretations, the frontiers of quantum cosmology, quantum gravity and potential application of this weirdness in computing, cryptography and teleportation.

After more than 30 years of sophisticated experiment tests, the standard quantum formalism emerges largely unscathed, only serving to reinforce the point that the theory remains the most powerful framework for explaining observations of the quantum world, but that its orthodox interpretation continues to offer little in the way of understanding in terms of underlying physical processes. Quantum theory remains a mysterious theoretical black top hat from which white rabbits continue to be pulled. Students are usually advised not to ask how this particular conjuring trick is done.

  • Oxford University Press (2004)
  • Translations: Simplified Chinese

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This lucid account offers an excellent starting point for readers who wish to gain some understanding of the strangeness of quantum mechanics


I think the book is so ambitious that it is about as successful as such a book can be. It would be hard to imagine a better one

Daniel M. Greenberger

[Beyond Measure] represents an important updating of Max Jammer’s classic Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics and is the kind of work which for a long time I have wanted to
have in my hands. A debt of gratitude is owed to the author for having digested so much important recent material so as to make it accessible to the ‘average’ physical scientist

Contemporary Physics

… what is most special about this book is the well-presented connection to modern experiments. I would like to believe that the author’s background in chemical physics is what enables him to make this exceptional presentation

Raphael D. Levine

Jim Baggott’s Beyond Measure is a lively tour through the major positions in the foundations and interpretation of the quantum theory. It is not a prancing roshis tour but a carefully written and beautifully organized primer on virtually all the interesting issues

Arthur Fine

More than a revision of a classic account of quantum mechanics, Jim Baggott’s book is the definitive non-technical account of the wonder and understandable strangeness of the theory that underlies all of physics – quantum mechanics

Roald Hoffmann

… for those with an interest in physics it is highly recommended, both simply as a readable and up-to-date overview of quantum theory as well as a useful reference work

The Complete Review

Baggott confines all the equations to optional appendices so that the book succeeds in having a broader appeal than might be imagined … A nice feature of the book is the section on recent experiments including Aspect’s famous series of tests of the Bell inequalities

Times Higher Education Supplement

… you don’t need much maths to understand [Baggott’s] arguments, but you do need your brain switched on … read this and you’ll probably know more than the lecturers!

John Gribbin

… does for quantum theory what Hawking’s A Brief History of Time did for astronomy and cosmology

Chemistry World