Philosophers have often claimed that the 19th century view of the world as a deterministic mechanism is
naïve.  Recent discoveries in physics have shown this view not only to be naïve but also to be false in the
sense that it leads to predictions that are directly contradicted by an impressive sequence of accepted
experimental results.  Any hypothesis that claims to describe the world as it really is, as opposed to the
world as it is observed, either leads to no testable predictions or predictions that are seen to be false.

The key problem addressed by almost all of the books listed is that of reality.  While metaphysics talks
of reality as “things as they really are”, science seems to be restricted to “things as we observe them”.

The challenge to the 19th century views has come from two sources: Einstein’s theory of relativity and
 (primarily) quantum mechanics.  As quantum mechanics and its extensions present the most direct
challenge to the classical views of reality, most of the books in this list are popularizations of the main
ideas of quantum theory, without the complicated mathematics.

1.  Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth,
by Jim Baggott, Pegasus Books, ©2013, ISBN 9 – 781605 – 985749.
Despite this book’s fascination with what it calls “fairy–tale physics”, it presents a good discussion
of the current state of theoretical physics.  It presents the problem of reality and tries to relate that to
direct observations.  What can we say about what we cannot observe?  It then moves to the study of
light and other microscopic phenomena, focusing on the experiments that lead to the quantum
mechanics.  There is a chapter on the basic structure of matter, followed by a discussion of the
special and general theories of relativity, and the impact of these theories on observations.

The main focus of the book is found in the second part, which presents the idea of “fairy tale” physics
as a collection of theories that might be aesthetically pleasing but lead to no predictions that can be
directly observed. Is a quark real, if you can never see one?

2.  Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, an Excursion into Metaphysics,
by Nick Herbert, Anchor Books, ©1987, ISBN 9 – 78035 – 235693.
This book presents physics (and all of science) as an attempt to characterize, rationalize, and predict
“things as we observe them”, while metaphysics (especially ontology) as the study of “things as they
really are” without regard to observables.  It describes the search for reality and then immediately
jumps to the challenges presented by quantum mechanics to knowing “things as they really are”.  It
then discusses 2 problems: the quantum measurement problem (why don’t we see quantum effects in
the macroscopic world), and “spooky action at a distance (quantum entanglement).

One interesting feature of this book is that it, more than the previous book, simply explains a number
of experiments that totally demolish all “common sense” theories of how the world operates on the
sub–microscopic level.  The small amount of math in the book can be skipped without loss.

3.  Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality
by Manjit Kumar, W. H. Norton and Company, ©2008, ISBN 9 – 780393 – 078299.
An exploration of the scientific and philosophical development of quantum theory, written almost
in the fashion of a collection of biographies.  There are a lot of personal stories told, such as the
time that Bohr and Einstein tried to take the trolley to the Copenhagen Institute of Physics, but
continually missed their stop because of their animated conversations.

The “plot” of the book leads up to a long debate between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality
and a thought experiment posed by Einstein that vexed Bohr to his death in 1962.  This was quantum
entanglement, which Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”.  A test to establish the existence
of quantum entanglement was proposed by John Bell in 1964 and rigorously carried out in 1982.

Of particular interest to me is the story of Werner Heisenberg’s difficult and almost agonizing time leading
to the development of his uncertainty principle.  That hypothesis seems to have been an act of desperation.


4.  The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn, by Louisa Gilder
Alfred A. Knopf, ©2009, ISBN 978 – 1 – 4000 – 4417 – 7.
This book presents a collection of essays describing the events leading up to the debate between Bohr
and Einstein over quantum entanglement.  It covers the famous EPR (Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen)
experiment, which was thought to be untestable until John Bell set out the theoretical approach in 1964.

As in the previous book, the (not overly) technical articles are accompanied by numerous personal
stories.  One example was Albert Einstein’s response to the proposition that quantum entities do not
exist independently of being observed: “Do you really believe the moon is not there if nobody looks?”

5.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas S. Kuhn
Third Edition, The University of Chicago Press, ©1996, ISBN 978 – 0 – 226 – 45808 – 3.
This book is the classic investigation on how scientific theories evolve (Kuhn would not use the word
“progresses”).  While it does mention quantum mechanics, that is only one of the theories considered. 
Kuhn focuses on paradigms (Have you heard of “paradigm shift”?  Kuhn popularized the term) as a
collection of assumptions, practices, and attitudes surrounding any theory. Kuhn’s thesis is that a theory
and its associated paradigm come into existence when enough evidence has been accumulated to create
a formal statement and continues its life as “normal science” in which scientists attempt to expand the theory
and explore its predictions experimentally.  Eventually a theory might suffer anomalies, which are problems
that the theory cannot allow or explain.  The anomalies either are handled by expansion of the theory (as
when the discovery of Neptune resolved the anomalies in the orbit of Uranus) or a crisis occurs and a
new paradigm emerges (as when quantum theory provided explanations of the photoelectric effect).

Kuhn’s work is a ground–breaking effort, and, as such, contains both many good ideas and many attempts
to push the approach a bit too far.  Most scientists agree that Kuhn’s basic principles are sound.

The following references are to audio and video courses published by
The Teaching Company
4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100
Chantilly, VA 20151 – 1232
1 – 800 – 832 – 2412

6.  Philosophy of Science, by Jeffrey L. Kasser,
Course No. 4100, ©2006, marketed by The Teaching Company. (
This is a strictly philosophical series, with science as its subject.  It begins with an attempt to define the
term “science” as opposed to a pseudo–science, such as astrology.  It spends a long time on observation
and how such give rise to theories.  It covers the roles of discovery and explanation in science, and
attempts to describe what a natural law might be, as opposed to an accidental generalization.

This course covers a lot of philosophy, but presents it clearly and simply.

7.  Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It, by Steven L. Goldman,
Course No. 1235, ©2006, marketed by The Teaching Company. (
This course begins by discussing the work of Plato (428 – 348 BCE) on the problems of knowledge
and truth.  How do scientists come about knowledge and how do they use this to produce theories?
Is it valid to call any theory true?  Again, a lot of philosophy, but well presented.

8.  Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World by Benjamin Schumacher
Course No. 1240, ©2009, marketed by The Teaching Company. (
The best thing about this course is the explanation of the many solid experiments leading to the
establishment of quantum mechanics and the discrediting of its competitors.  Each experiment is
well explained with particular attention to how the well–established results violate common sense.
This is a video course with great visuals.  It contains almost no mathematics.