Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect

Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect

by Paul Halpern


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One of Physics Worlds Best of Physics in 2020

From Aristotle's Physics to quantum teleportation, learn about the scientific pursuit of instantaneous connections in this insightful examination of our world.
For millennia, scientists have puzzled over a simple question: Does the universe have a speed limit? If not, some effects could happen at the same instant as the actions that caused them — and some effects, ludicrously, might even happen before their causes. By one hundred years ago, it seemed clear that the speed of light was the fastest possible speed. Causality was safe. And then quantum mechanics happened, introducing spooky connections that seemed to circumvent the law of cause and effect. Inspired by the new physics, psychologist Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli explored a concept called synchronicity, a weird phenomenon they thought could link events without causes. Synchronicity tells that sprawling tale of insight and creativity, and asks where these ideas — some plain crazy, and others crazy powerful — are taking the human story next.


Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Physicist Halpern (The Quantum Labyrinth) makes a valiant if not fully successful attempt to render quantum mechanics accessible. Halpern surveys the human search to understand the cosmos, beginning with the ancient Greeks’ interest in the speed of light, through Newton and his classical model of particles and James Clerk Maxwell’s theories of electromagnetics. Halpern then leaps to the early 20th century, when Einstein’s theories jump-started quantum physics. He gives the most famous names in modern physics their due—including, in addition to Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr—but focuses on the lesser-known Wolfgang Pauli, known to contemporaries as Zweistein, or “Einstein II” for intellectual innovations such as statistical causality: the idea that to account for randomness in the behavior of subatomic particles, scientists can only determine cause and effect by averaging the results of many experiments together. Particularly intriguing is a section on how the friendship between Pauli and Carl Jung influenced both men’s thinking. On the details of quantum mechanics, though, he gives little quarter, with dense sentences such as “Finally, physical observables, such as the measurable energy of electron’s transition between different atomic levels that produces a spectral line, might be represented by scalars.” It’s daunting subject matter, and even those with a general interest in science may have trouble making their wy through Halpern’s intelligent treatise. (Aug.)

From the Publisher

One of the Best of Physics in Books, TV, and Film in 2020—Physics World

"Synchronicity is an absolutely fascinating read, and Halpern is an excellent writer and researcher."—Tushna Commissariat, Physics World

"As always, Halpern's writing is engaging and accessible, and he readily identifies inconsistencies and problems still needing solutions. Readers will appreciate his thoughtful approach and his consideration of coincidence, synchronicity, and the mysteries of physics."—Kathleen McBroom, Booklist

"Halpern is a fun and engaging writer... Readers who aren't familiar with the stories will likely find this a fun and eye-opening read."—Forbes

"Paul Halpern engagingly explores the many kinds of connection in the universe, from cause and effect to coincidence, and on to the weirdness of entanglement. After reading Synchronicity, you'll think twice the next time someone says everything happens for a reason."—Steven Strogatz, author of Infinite Powers

"Writing beautifully, Halpern describes with lucidity and great verve the whole story of how physics has led us to rethink what synchronicity means and ultimately to examine what Einstein once called "spooky action at a distance."—Gino Segre, author of The Pope ofPhysics

"An elegant and smoothly written account of how fundamental physics has informed our view of the cosmos from ancient times to the present. An engaging and informative blend of the scientific advances and the lives of the people who made them. A great read!"
IanStewart, author of Do Dice Play God?

"A masterful account of the developments of fundamental physics over the past century."—Marcus Chown, author of Solar System

"Synchronicity is a very informative and thought-provoking account of humankind's efforts from antiquity to the present to understand the causal structure of the everyday world and, during the past century, to unite that understanding with the apparently acausal nature of the quantum world of atoms and particles. Paul Halpern writes with remarkable clarity and insight in a very accessible and engaging style."—David C. Cassidy, author of Beyond Uncertainty

"Paul Halpern, a gifted expositor of science, takes the reader on an exciting ride through history, showing how physicists and their antecedent philosophers have sought to understand nature through its connections-through synchronicity."—Kenneth W. Ford, author of Building the H Bomb

"Paul Halpern has zeroed in on one of the biggest mysteries in physics: objects with no mechanical linkage somehow act in harmony. He gives it a human face by digging into the Pauli-Jung collaboration-there is nothing else quite like it in the history of science."—George Musser, author of Spooky Action at a Distance

"In this beautifully written page-turner, physicist Paul Halpern reveals as much about the secrets of the universe as he does about his own masterful ability to uncover hidden patterns in the history of ideas. With elegance, clarity, and penetrating insight, Synchronicity takes its readers on a sweeping journey through a dazzling array of intellectual traditions in search of what connects everything around us and beyond. A superb intellectual achievement."—Julien Musolino, author of The Soul Fallacy

"A roller coaster of a ride that covers more than 2,000 years of philosophy and physics, culminating in a fascinating brain-bender of what we have to give up if we want to reconcile ideas like 'cause and effect' with the bizarreness of our fundamental reality. Every possible interpretation, including those of the 20th century's greatest physicists, dissatisfies us in some way. In Halpern's capable hands, our uncertainties about the quantum Universe transform from frustration to wonder as various ideas are at last put to the test, deepening our appreciation of our mysterious quantum Universe."—Ethan Siegel, author of Beyond the Galaxy

"Synchronicity is a sweeping account of humanity's understanding of the nature of causality. With great virtuosity, Paul Halpern weaves together all of the threads of this important story from the ancient Greeks to modern physics while entertaining the reader with insightful character studies and colorful anecdotes. A delightful book that anyone interested in the history of ideas will enjoy."
John Kounios, coauthor of The Eureka Factor

"The development of scientific knowledge is often portrayed as some kind of superhighway - as a fast route to complete understanding of the world. This is far from the truth. Real science meanders, it twists and turns, runs this way and then that, and sometimes gets hopelessly lost. Synchronicity takes us on a delightful journey along the pathways of real science, and Halpern is a most genial guide."—Jim Baggott, author of Quantum Reality

"From what primeval pattern was the fabric of the universe formed? What determined its warp and its woof? In this wonderfully readable book, which somehow never skimps on the science, Paul Halpern explores the mystery of causality through the ever-intriguing collaboration between Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung.
Masterfully written, it is at once an inspiring story of how quirks and creativity drive breakthroughs in science and a cautionary tale of how our all-too-human desire to seek meaningful patterns can lead even the brightest minds astray."—AmandaGefter, author of Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn

"Synchronicity is an extraordinarily accessible and deeply engaging introduction to one of the most provocative issues in physics today: the instantaneous, acausal connections between indefinitely remote entities, exhibited in phenomena such as quantum coherence and entanglement. The ideas Halpern discusses are quite complex, but his flair for crisp and elegant descriptions, delightfully original metaphors, and judicious sprinkling of amusing historical anecdotes, keep the reader both grounded and enthralled. Synchronicity is an insightful, thought-provoking book, and compelling reminder that science does not progress along a purely logical, deterministic path but one that is curved and warped by the passions, predilections, and prejudices of its practitioners.—Tasneem Zehra Husain, author of Only the Longest Threads

Kirkus Reviews

Another attempt to explain quantum mechanics that sometimes succeeds.

A bedrock of science is that things happen for a reason. The window breaks after the rock strikes it, not before. Also, it doesn’t break because the stars are misaligned. This is the concept of cause and effect, writes physics professor Halpern, who begins with a history of science beginning with the ancient Greeks, who didn’t trust observation because human senses were imperfect. True knowledge, they taught, required deep thought. Aristotle explained a few things correctly but got many wrong. Once thinkers took observation seriously—Galileo was probably the first scientist—centuries of straightforward scientific explanations followed until the 20th century, when Einstein’s relativity muddled matter, energy, time, and space and then quantum mechanics proved that reasonable things such as locating a particle precisely are impossible—but the impossible happens routinely. Light changes from a wave to a particle and back again. Devoting two-thirds of his text to history, Halpern delves so deeply into quantum mechanics that readers unfamiliar with college physics will struggle. At this point, he introduces Carl Jung, the brilliant Swiss psychiatrist who both learned from and influenced physicist Wolfgang Pauli during 25 years of their relationship, beginning in the 1930s. Jung believed that humans share a collective unconscious revealed through religion, mythology, and art, with dreams playing a central role. That dreams rarely make sense stimulated Jung, who emphasized synchronicity, the idea that coincidences are connected provided one looks deeply enough. Thus, it was no accident that Mark Twain was born and died in a year of Halley’s comet. The experience left Pauli fascinated by mysticism, numerology, and psychic phenomena without contributing much to his scientific acumen. Since synchronicity is unprovable, few scientists take it seriously. Halpern is no exception, but he presents it as a painful example of the difficulty of understanding phenomena that seem to lack cause and effect.

An intensely detailed investigation of modern scientific fields that defy common sense.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781541673632
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 08/18/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 138,422
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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