Ryan Schneider

Quantum Physics: an Introduction

Instructor: Alfred Lee
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Quantum mechanics is arguably the most successful theory in the history of science. Its machinery yields many of the most precise quantitative predictions to have been confirmed by experiment. Quantum effects underpin important and ubiquitous technologies including lasers, solar cells, MRIs, and semiconductors. Yet, as the eminent physicist John Wheeler quipped, “If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it.” The orthodox Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics insists, among other things, that an object can be in many places at the same time, so long as no one (no thing? no what?) is checking. Other interpretations shift the oddities elsewhere, e.g. by proposing infinitely many, inaccessible multiverses. How have we arrived at a theory with so many practical successes, but with no satisfactory interpretation to tell us what it means?

In this course, we will scrutinize the philosophical ramifications as we explore the key concepts of quantum mechanics, the various attempted interpretations, and the historical contexts that produced them. How did the Copenhagen interpretation become so dominant for so long despite its glaring contradictions? Where does the quantum world stop and the classical world begin? Shouldn’t Schrodinger’s cat know if it’s dead and alive? What were Einstein’s actual objections to the developing quantum theory? What can we say we know about the quantum world in the absence of an acceptable interpretation? What’s wrong with a theory that predicts but doesn’t explain, and how does this question pertain to other sciences? Readings may draw from Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, John von Neumann, Albert Einstein, Steven Weinberg, Lee Smolin, Grete Hermann, Karen Barad, Mara Beller, Tim Maudlin, and Heather Douglas. Proficiency with mathematics and physics is not required.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 10 — July 31, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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