Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat
How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics

By Paul Halpern

Cover of "Einstein's Dice"

One of the most powerful driving forces in science is the quest for an ultimate theory of nature.

Such a theory would explain how everything works on a fundamental level – from the tiniest particles to the universe itself. It would show how the world's diversity – a sharply varied array of interactions from gravity to electromagnetism – emerged from uniformity. The tantalizing idea that a single equation or set of equations could describe everything in existence has motivated many great thinkers to pursue elusive dreams of unity.

Perhaps the most famous example is Albert Einstein, who dedicated the final decades of his life to a fruitless search for unification. Even on his deathbed, he asked for pencil and paper in a vain attempt to complete his calculations.

Arguing that "God does not play dice," Einstein hoped his unified field theory would supersede probabilistic quantum mechanics, which he felt was incomplete.

Less familiar, but similarly intriguing, are the efforts of Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger to solve the same riddle. As shown by his famous thought experiment involving a cat in a box trapped in a mixed quantum state of being alive and dead, Schrödinger similarly felt quantum physics had major gaps that needed to be filled.

The relationship between the two extraordinary physicists offers a riveting tale about a deep friendship challenged by the temptations of scientific glory.

Praise for Einstein's Dice and Schrodinger's Cat

  • With verve, Halpern explores the fragile nature of scientific collaboration… Halpern ably explores the clashing personalities and worldviews that had physics in churning ferment during the early part of the 20th century.
    —Kirkus Reviews
  • This is history of science writing at its best—effortless prose, juicy details and a fascinating narrative that casts familiar territory in a whole new light. The friendship and betrayal between Einstein and Schrödinger is a little known story, and Halpern brings it to life with a historian’s care, a physicist’s knowledge, and a writer’s charm. The book provides a poignant look at how philosophy drives scientific progress and is an important critique of how the media shapes and distorts it.
    —Amanda Gefter, author of Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn
  • Paul Halpern has written a fascinating account of two of the giants of 20th century physics. Both Nobel Prize winners, Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger, friends and at times fractious competitors, struggled to come to terms with the uncertainty and randomness expressed by quantum mechanics. In Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat, the author gives great insight into the philosophies and personal ambition that brought the two brilliant men together and then sadly drove them apart. As a fan of popular science books and someone who has used phrases such as 'God does not play dice' and 'Schrödinger's Cat' in my songs, I found Paul Halpern's book illuminating and entertaining.
    —Roland Orzabal, co-founding member of Tears for Fears
  • With his trademark grace and clarity, Paul Halpern shines new light on the personalities, lives, and achievements of two of the twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists, at the same time illuminating the fascinating interactions between the two. Halpern has a rare talent for bringing both the physics and the human stories to life.
    —Kenneth Ford, former Director of the American Institute of Physics and author of The Quantum World
  • We have seen books that celebrate Einstein and Schrödinger as two of the greatest scientists of all time. With clarity and diligence, Halpern does something different: he explores how intellectual curiosity and vanity get enmeshed with power struggles and the media to bring out the worst in good-willing people, especially when the stakes are as high as the creation of a God-like 'theory of everything.
    —Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge
  • Writing with verve and insight, Paul Halpern tells a striking cautionary tale about friendship, vanity, and the quest to make a great discovery. He gives an exceptionally lucid and engaging account of modern physics, embedded in a rich human tapestry centered on Einstein, Schrödinger, and their friends.
    —Peter Pesic, author of Music and the Making of Modern Science and Director of the Science Institute at St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM
  • Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat is a fascinating, well-written account of how these two men struggled with one of the most puzzling features of quantum mechanics: the appearance of randomness in nature. Both general and specialist readers will find it of interest.
    —David C. Cassidy, Professor of Chemistry at Hofstra University and author of Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb

About the Author

Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He is the author of more than a dozen highly acclaimed popular science books, is the distinguished recipient of multiple awards related to his work, and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs, including Future Quest and The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special. Learn more about him on his personal website.