The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family

The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family

by Peter Byrne

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Peter Byrne tells the story of Hugh Everett III (1930-1982), whose "many worlds" theory of multiple universes has had a profound impact on physics and philosophy. Using Everett's unpublished papers (recently discovered in his son's basement) and dozens of interviews with his friends, colleagues, and surviving family members, Byrne paints, for the general reader, a detailed portrait of the genius who invented an astonishing way of describing our complex universe from the inside. Everett's mathematical model (called the "universal wave function") treats all possible events as "equally real", and concludes that countless copies of every person and thing exist in all possible configurations spread over an infinity of universes: many worlds. Afflicted by depression and addictions, Everett strove to bring rational order to the professional realms in which he played historically significant roles. In addition to his famous interpretation of quantum mechanics, Everett wrote a classic paper in game theory; created computer algorithms that revolutionized military operations research; and performed pioneering work in artificial intelligence for top secret government projects. He wrote the original software for targeting cities in a nuclear hot war; and he was one of the first scientists to recognize the danger of nuclear winter. As a Cold Warrior, he designed logical systems that modeled "rational" human and machine behaviors, and yet he was largely oblivious to the emotional damage his irrational personal behavior inflicted upon his family, lovers, and business partners. He died young, but left behind a fascinating record of his life, including correspondence with such philosophically inclined physicists as Niels Bohr, Norbert Wiener, and John Wheeler. These remarkable letters illuminate the long and often bitter struggle to explain the paradox of measurement at the heart of quantum physics. In recent years, Everett's solution to this mysterious problem - the existence of a universe of universes - has gained considerable traction in scientific circles, not as science fiction, but as an explanation of physical reality.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Vivid and thoroughly researched. Byrne does an admirable job of weaving together quantum mechanics, nuclear war games and the disintegration of a dysfunctional family in this tale of a talented scientist, but morally compromised man." — Manjit Kumar

"[The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III] as a whole offers a valuable source of primary information about Everett's life and work, with much material not available elsewhere. This book fleshes out an important part of the quantum physics story."—Science News

"Byrne does an excellent job of explaining the theory, why it is necessary and the difficulties it solves (and doesn't). [...] Byrne does not patronise his readers with superficial pen portraits of his characters. We get to know the characters by what they say and what they do. And they say and do some truly remarkable things. [...] This is a strangely beautiful story, expertly told with the dignity, candour and attention to detail it deserves." - New Scientist

"The 'many worlds' theory of quantum mechanics is one fo the most logical, bizarre and ridculed ideas in the history of human thought. In The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III, investigative journalist Peter Byrne details the short, fragmented life of the physicist who created the theory. It is fascinating to read the its creator, himself too obsessed with models to intersect effectively with the real world."—Nature

"Peter Byrne's meticulously researched biography provides a detailed and intimate look at one of the most seminal figures in 20th century physics and mathematics ... it is a remarkable and long-overdue biography." — Ian T. Durham, The Quantum Times

"The new biography of Hugh Everett never veers off into hagiography, a temptation that might have been easy to resist since Everett had more than his fair share of shortcomings. But investigative reporter Peter Byrne has produced a thoughtful account of an original figure and his diverse contributions to a momentous period in the history of science and national security."—Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News

"In this biography, Peter Byrne bravely explores both the life and the science of Hugh Everett, the brilliant creator of the 'many worlds' concept who burned himself out at an early age. As Byrne makes clear, Everett's startling achievements in physics stood against his startling deficiencies as a husband and father."—Kenneth W. Ford, retired director, American Institute of Physics

"This book has the potential to become the definitive biography of one of the finest minds of the twentieth century." —David Deutsch FRS, Oxford University

"In this extraordinarily personal biography, Peter Byrne masterfully conveys the life, struggles, achievements, and failures of this fascinating man, whose insights in physics created a new understanding of quantum mechanics, whose secret work helped usher us through the Cold War, and whose inner battles led to his own destruction." —A. Garrett Lisi, physicist, author of An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything"

"We are grateful to Peter Byrne for this remarkable and remarkably sad story of the life and science of Hugh Everett III. Gifted, but late-to-be-recognized, Everett, while still in his twenties, proposed a new, now somewhat fashionable, interpretation of the quantum theory—the often rediscovered and often misinterpreted, so called, many worlds theory. Byrne gives a lucid and accessible account of many aspects of what has been an extraordinarily puzzling question that has bedeviled the quantum theory since its origin. And he does this with a warts and all reconstruction of Everett's life. An impressive achievement."—Leon N. Cooper, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1972

"Peter Byrne has the skills of a seasoned journalist: an eye for a story, a knack for turning up improbable interviews and previously undiscovered manuscripts, and a thoroughly engaging style. His target here is inherently interesting, and the resulting story is a remarkable achievement." —Jeff Barrett, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine

"This is an exciting book about a man who was ahead of his time by decades, although he did no more than logically apply a well-established theory against all prejudice. Peter Byrne has done an excellent job in unearthing documents, most of them unknown, about the history of Everett's ideas, their reception by the leading physicists from 1957 until today, and the consequences this had for Everett's life." —H. Dieter Zeh, University of Heidelberg

"The effort Byrne has put in to understanding the man is impressive ..." - Robert Matthews, BBC Focus Magazine

"A fine work of investigative biography...a well researched and worthwhile read."—The Fortnightly Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780191655227
Publisher: OUP Oxford
Publication date: 12/13/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 906,232
File size: 5 MB

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