Bubs: Totally Random

February 16, 2020

Totally Random
A Serious Comic on Entanglement
Tanya Bub and Jeffrey Bub
(Princeton, 2018)
260 p.

Entanglement is one of the physical phenomenon in which the strangeness of the quantum world comes most clearly into focus. It has been historically important in debates about the meaning and completeness of quantum mechanics, and it continues to attract attention from well-scratched heads.

In a nutshell, “entangled” quantum states involve two or more entities behaving in such a way that each cannot be fully described physically without reference to the others, even under conditions in which it seems that there can be no physical interaction between them. For instance, we observe experimentally that measurements on members of an entangled pair (of, say, photons) exhibit correlations that are seemingly impossible under a classical account of causality.

This graphic novel creatively explores the conundrums that arise from entanglement. The first section presents the experimental evidence and various (failed) attempts to make it fit into a standard causal framework, emphasizing the challenge entanglement poses for our usual understanding of the natural world. The second section introduces us to various schools of interpretation of quantum mechanics, focusing on what they have to say about entanglement, and the final section surveys some technological innovations, chiefly related to encryption, that have been made possible by use of entangled quantum states.

It is, as the sub-title indicates, a serious engagement with the ideas it presents, albeit without any mathematics. Jeffrey Bub is a philosopher at the University of Maryland whose specialties include quantum theory. (Tanya Bub, I believe, is responsible for the illustrations, without which a graphic novel would be poor fare indeed.) [Addendum: as clarified in the comments below, the book is a full collaboration between the two authors, and did not divide neatly along content/illustration lines.] The main ideas of entanglement are presented using an imaginary but instructive case of entangled quantum coins (i.e. quoins) that exhibit what they call “curious correlations” when tossed. The sections on interpretation of the experimental findings rather winsomely bring in the historical figures (Bohr, Bohm, Einstein, Everett, etc.) who proposed or defended them. Some of the book’s narrative dialogue drifts toward the quotidian, especially in interludes between the main technical content; I didn’t like this, but I’m a curmudgeon. Overall, it’s an interesting and creative book that makes this sometimes abstruse, but important, topic accessible to all comers.

2 Responses to “Bubs: Totally Random”

  1. Jeffrey Bub Says:

    Jeffrey Bub here. I liked your review. I just want to clarify one thing. Tanya wasn’t just responsible for the illustrations. The book was a collaboration between the two of us, based on ideas in my earlier book, Bananaworld, but Tanya came up with the basic format of the book and the flow of the plot: the idea of using the reader and an invisible voice as the central characters, the coins to bring out the significance of entanglement and the short proof that you can’t get the coin correlations by ‘rigging’ each coin separately, the crazy scenarios with characters like Schrodinger and his cats, and the snarky dialogue. That’s all her, and that’s why she’s the first author.

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