Einstein and the Quantum:

The Quest of the Valiant Swabian

by A. Douglas Stone

Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest

of the Valiant Swabian. Princeton

University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2013.

344 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN:

9780691154633.

Reviewed by Christopher B. Germann

Marie Curie Fellow 'CogNovo'

Plymouth University, Cognition Institute

mail@christopher-germann.de

Published by MIT Press (2014):

URL: https://www.mitpressjour-

nals.org/doi/10.1162/LEON_r_00994

This book sheds new light quanta on Einstein’s multifaceted life. The take-home mes-

sage is that Einstein’s thinking was essential to the development of quantum theory

even though his contributions are usually underemphasized or even neglected in the

scientific discourse.

The book is subdivided into 29 chapters and the text is peppered with numerous foot-

notes of historical facts and bibliographical details about many of the significant phys-

icist of this era such as Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, de Broglie, Dirac, Born,

etc. pp. The reference section includes a comprehensive collection of Einstein’s corre-

spondences, his landmark papers, and his lesser-known works.

Stone highlights the role of the valiant Swabian’s creative genius as being pivotal to the

evolution of modern quantum theory. On the one hand, the scientific community pri-

marily associates Einstein’s contributions with the “relativity revolution” which fun-

damentally changed our conceptualisation of the cosmology of the universe (e.g.,

E=MC

2

). On the other hand, he is perceived as being antagonistic towards the

subsequent “quantum revolution”, which revolutionized our thinking about the nature

of matter and whose development is mainly (but wrongly according to Stone) attributed

to Max Planck. Stone illustrates Einstein’s aversion to the indeterminism inherent in

quantum theory by citing his famous “God doesn’t play dice” quote. Moreover, Stone

demonstrates that Einstein was clearly discontent with the epistemological implica-

tions of quantum theory as exemplified by one of his critical remarks concerning this

matter: “Do you really think the moon only exists if I look at it?”

These statements can be regarded as evidence that Einstein vehemently disagreed with

the fundamental stochastic indeterminism and non-objectivism advocated by the ad-

herents of the quantum school of thought. Nevertheless, Stone makes very clear that it

is Einstein’s (not Planck’s) unorthodox and nonconformist creative thinking which is

central to the genesis of quantum theory. In particular, Einstein’s first (sole authored)

paper in his annus mīrābilis (1905) in which he developed the quantum theory of light

heralded the century of quantum theory. His ingenious idea was that light is quantized

into indivisible discrete particles, which were at that time labelled quanta and which

we now call photons. When he later received the Nobel Prize in 1921 the existence of

quanta was still highly controversial. He was credited for the explanation of the photo-

electric effect, which is just one of the many implications derived from his deep insights

into the quantum world.

In the majority of physics textbooks, Einstein’s key contributions to quantum physics

are either underemphasized or completely ignored, but Stone is not the first author

who tries to rectify historical facts. For instance, Thomas Kuhn in his book on “Black-

Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity” describes Einstein’s indispensable con-

tributions to the development of quantum theory. However, Kuhn’s book is mostly in-

accessible to non- physicist due to its highly technical nature. Stone clearly and persua-

sively articulates that it is in Einstein’s creative mind in that the basic concepts which

initiated the shift towards the modern quantum theoretical paradigm evolved. Stone

enlists four major seminal contributions of Einstein to quantum theory: quantization

of energy, wave-particle duality, the probabilistic randomness of quantum mechanics,

and what Stone calls “quantum unity” (a.k.a. entanglement).

From a cognitive science perspective, this book is currently highly relevant because it

is related to the newly emerging field called “quantum cognition”. This novel paradigm

utilizes the mathematical axioms of quantum theory to model cognitive processes (e.g.,

Pothos & Busemeyer, 2013). Especially the chapter titled “Quantum dice” provides a

neat introduction to the counterintuitive logic that underlies Bose-Einstein statistics.

In conclusion, the book at hand is pertinent to anyone interested in physics and the his-

tory of science and it is, for the most part, accessible by a lay audience. However, even

though mathematical equations are rare, it should be noted that some background

knowledge in physics is required in order to understand the discipline specific termi-

nology and to fully appreciate the depth of Stones elaborations. Having said that, even

specialised physicists will not be disappointed by the author’s scholarly efforts.

References

Einstein, A., (1905). Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffen-

den heuristischen Gesichtspunkt (On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production

and Transformation of Light), Annalen der Physik, 17(6). 132-148.

Kuhn, T. S. (1978). Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912. Ox-

ford: Clarendon Press.

Pothos, E. M., & Busemeyer, J. R. (2013). Can quantum probability provide a new direc-

tion for cognitive modelling. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36, 255-274.