Episode 52: Sean Carroll | Many Quantum Worlds | Click to Listen

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After On Podcast #52: Many Quantum Worlds

Sean Carroll is a research theoretical physicist at CalTech, as well as a committed accessiblizer of a tough scientific concepts. He hosts the excellent Mindscape podcast, and has written four books that sufficiently ambitious non-scientists should be able to navigate. These include the New York Times bestseller The Big Picture, as well as Something Deeply Hidden, which will be published on September 10th.

Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll


Sean’s upcoming book concerns the subject of today's conversation – which is the bizarre world of quantum mechanics. Virtually nothing we equate with modern life (e.g. computing, mobile phones, or anything else involving transistors), would be possible without the wildly successful equations and predictions derived from quantum mechanics. And yet, one of science’s most famous quotations is of the revered physicist Richard Feynman saying, “I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

This refers to the awkward lack of consensus about what drives the bizarre rules governing the quantum mechanical domain of photons, subatomic particles, and other tiny things. Virtually everything that happens down there violates all of our intuitions about reality and how it works. Most of the people who engage with the quantum realm for a living don’t even have strong opinions about what’s behind all of that! And yet, we have these incredibly precise quantum equations and predictions – ones which the world essentially runs on.

Sean certainly ranks amongst the proud few who do have strong opinions about the reality behind quantum weirdness. In this episode, he lays out his preferred explanation – which is commonly called the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. He touches on the other leading schools of thought as well. Most importantly, he makes the broader domain of quantum mechanics more accessible than you’re likely to find it anywhere, outside of an in-depth college-level course.

Toward the end of the episode, I discuss three episodes of Sean’s excellent podcast, which Sean himself recommends to fans of this podcast. They are his interviews with poker champion Liv Boeree, British theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, and neurobiologist Malcolm MacIver

Rob Reid