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quantum physics &
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Further Reading in Quantum Physics and Computer Science
for Liberal Arts Majors

QM is tough enough to get your mind around without having to learn a whole new language of science. These books are written in English.     :- )

The following ratings are relative. I haven't included any hard science or math texts, but they aren't "Science for Dummies," either. Well worth your time, any of them.

Easy = Easier    |    Harder = A bit harder    |    Harder = More Difficult

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Computer Theory
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Top Pick:


Karl Svozil
Quantum Logic


Stephen Wolfram
A New Kind of Science

David J. Eck
The Most Complex Machine

Richard Armstrong
God Doesn't Shoot Craps
(coming Spring 2006)
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Primers in Quantum Physics


Albert, David Z.
HarderQuantum Mechanics and Experience. Harvard Univ. Press. (Cambridge 1992)
Primarily recommended for chapter 1, which goes through the measurement effect (superpositions) in rigorous detail. Then the book becomes much less accessible as Mr. Albert tries to clue us in to scientific terminology and discourse.  Very valuable if you can fight your way through it.
Feynman, Richard P.HarderQ.E.D.: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Princeton Univ. Press. (Princeton 1985)
Feynman is a terrific explainer. The only drawback to this book is that Feynman invented his own QM. Other physicists appreciate Feynman's approach, but they don't speak the same language.
Gribbin, John.EasySchrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality. Little Brown & Co. (New York 1996).
Gribbin, John.EasyIn Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. Bantam Doubleday Dell. (New York 1985).
Gribbin is a good popularizer of science. The text is clear and he does a good job of laying out the field with its conceptual problems and ongoing issues.
Herbert, Nick.EasyQuantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics. Anchor Books. (New York 1985).
Herbert is a character, but this book is a terrific primer in QM. Herbert has a knack for clarity and choosing the right examples to illustrate.
Pagels, Heinz R.EasyThe Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature . (out of print, but try to get a copy at the library or here through
Image by
E. Schrödinger
Pagels (yes, husband of Elaine) did a great job of laying out the philosophical issues of QM and he has the best grasp of QM as information, i.e, the "language of nature." Shame it's out of print. Tragically died in a mountaineering accident in the late '80s.
Polkinghorne, J.C.HarderThe Quantum World. Princeton Science Library. (Princeton 1989)
Polkinghorne, the physicist-turned-priest, sticks pretty much to the science in this volume. The print is small, but it is worth the read. Primarily characterized by extreme caution in making any statement.
Wheeler, J. and W. Zurek, eds.HarderQuantum Theory and Measurement. Princeton Univ. Press. (Princeton 1983) (out of print, but try to get a copy at the library or here through
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E. Schrödinger
A good source book for the measurement problem. And as Feynman puts it, the measurement problem is the central mystery of quantum mechanics. Wheeler's point of view, well stated by himself and Wigner, is that consciousness is intimately connected to measurement. Other viewpoints included.
Zukav, Gary.EasyThe Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. Bantam Doubleday Dell (New York 1979).
Zukav's book is a must mention because it was one of the early popular expositions of the difficulties of quantum reality. The writing is clear and he has done a good job of setting out the problem. On the other hand, he wants to find an answer in Eastern mysticism but never comes to a conclusion in this regard.

Books Making Some Connection Between Computer Science and Physics

Siegfried, Tom.EasyThe Bit and the Pendulum: How the New Physics of Information Is Revolutionizing Science, John Wiley & Sons (2000).
New from a journalist and science editor. "Information has become something much more fundamental to the workings of the world. 'Information is real,' Siegfried explains. 'Information is physical.' ... In general it comes down to the radically simple notion that the universe, at its deepest levels, is made not of matter and energy but of bits. ... [R]eality, in some increasingly meaningful sense, is information."
Wolfram, Stephen.Harder  A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media. (May 2002).
Wolfram has written a terrific primer on CA (see below), and he should be able to explain the connection to physics. This one is due out September 2000 some time in 2001 2002, IT'S HERE!! RELEASED AS OF MAY 14, 2002!!  
Collected reviews at ANKOS_reviews.html.  The buzz has it that 1) Wolfram has explained very clearly how complexity as great as what we observe can arise from the utterly simple rules of cellular automata computer architecture; 2) Wolfram proposes a Fredkin-like refocusing for all of science, grokking the idea that the study of physics is the study of a computer program; 3) other physicists are resisting the idea because they are unconvinced that a computer can accomplish the phenomena we observe; and 4) Wolfram's egomania is so apparent that it distracts from the work.
Svozil, KarlHarder Quantum Logic: Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science.  Springer Verlag. (1999).

Svozil is the primo exponent of physics-as-computer-simulation.  His analysis of quantum behaviors is right on target, allowing for consideration of all possibilities in computer architecture including the one with which we are most familiar: a program designed for user interaction.

Primers in Computer Science and Cellular Automata

Eck, David J.HarderThe Most Complex Machine: A Survey of Computers and Computing. A.K. Peters (May 2000 paperback).
A wonderful exploration of computers from the wires upward. When you finish this, you will understand how things work in the bowels of the machine, and why you never have to think about what goes on inside a computer unless you want to.
Feynman, Richard P.HarderThe Feynman Lectures on Computation. Perseus Books Group (July 2000 paperback).
I said it before, Feynman is a great explainer. This book, from lectures delivered in the '80s, explains the foundation and sets out the agenda for what has come since. Remember, Fredkin studied with Feynman (physics), and Feynman studied with Fredkin (computers).
Toffoli, Tommaso and Norman Margolus.HarderCellular Automata Machines: A New Environment for Modeling. MIT Press (1987).
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E. Schrödinger
Toffoli and Margolus worked with Fredkin, so they know the same stuff. They haven't fallen in with his Finite Nature hypothesis (at least, if they have they're not out of the closet), but they write a lot more than Fredkin ever will. Good stuff, you can follow it if you give it some effort.
Wolfram, Stephen.HarderCellular Automata and Complexity. Perseus Publishing (1994).
Wolfram knows a heck of a lot about computers (he wrote Mathematica, the industry-standard mathematical modeling software), and he writes well. This is a good primer and source book on cellular automata.

Popular Entertainments

Wachowski, Larry and Andy Wachowski, screenplay & dirs.
EasyThe Matrix, Warner Bros. (1999).
Rated R for Hollywood-style extravagant violence. If you like action flicks, this is one of the best. But that's not why I recommend it.

The first half of the movie is a good introduction to the concept of living in a world that seems entirely real, yet turns out to be a computer simulation. The implicit metaphysical position is that we are users, i.e., independently conscious beings interacting with the programming. 

The environmentalist-inflected moral of the story is so phony it doesn't even distract. The second half ... well, the second half is what sells -- a-and it's really well done! The biggest drawback is that the messianic imagery is so confused it actually could distract.

Galouye, Daniel (book, Simulacron 3); Rusnak, Josef (screenplay & dir.)
EasyThe Thirteenth Floor, Columbia Tri-Star (1999).
Rated R for some suggestive scenes, as well as some violence. Hollywood has to have something to sell other than philosophy, but for the most part this is a thriller on the theme of computer-generated worlds. The implicit metaphysical position is that we are subroutines, with our consciousness emerging from the programming. Unlike The Matrix, this movie doesn't try all that hard to answer the questions it raises; to the extent it does, there is much to be debated.

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