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Peter Byrne

The many worlds of Hugh Everett III

The idea of parallel worlds has been around for a long time, but in the late 1950's one person suggested that there was some real science behind the idea - a suggestion which is now being taken more and more seriously. In The many worlds of Hugh Everett III : multiple universes, mutual assured destruction, and the meltdown of a nuclear family, Peter Byrne tells the story.

Everett's idea was to cut through some of the mysticism surrounding quantum theory, and take seriously what the equations said. Byrne tells us of how this was mostly ignored at first, as it was in opposition to the Niels Bohr's dominant interpretation of quantum theory, but as the years passed more and more people began to support the Many Worlds idea. Everett soon left academia - his brilliant mind was much appreciated in the Cold War think tanks of the time. He was also an excellent programmer, and went on to set up several of his own businesses. His life wasn't the glowing success you might think though. A heavy drinker, smoker and womaniser, he just couldn't seem to keep his life on the rails. Eventually his health began to suffer and he was just 51 when he died.

The interleaving of different strands in the book helps to make it more accessible, helping the reader to understand not just the intricacies of interpretations of quantum theory, but also some of the reasons for the Cold War nuclear arms race. Highly recommended.

Product Description
Peter Byrne tells the story of Hugh Everett III (1930-1982), whose "many worlds" theory of multiple universes has had a profound impact on physics and philosophy. Using Everett's unpublished papers (recently discovered in his son's basement) and dozens of interviews with his friends, colleagues, and surviving family members, Byrne paints, for the general reader, a detailed portrait of the genius who invented an astonishing way of describing our complex universe from the inside. Everett's mathematical model (called the "universal wave function") treats all possible events as "equally real", and concludes that countless copies of every person and thing exist in all possible configurations spread over an infinity of universes: many worlds.

Afflicted by depression and addictions, Everett strove to bring rational order to the professional realms in which he played historically significant roles. In addition to his famous interpretation of quantum mechanics, Everett wrote a classic paper in game theory; created computer algorithms that revolutionized military operations research; and performed pioneering work in artificial intelligence for top secret government projects. He wrote the original software for targeting cities in a nuclear hot war; and he was one of the first scientists to recognize the danger of nuclear winter. As a Cold Warrior, he designed logical systems that modeled "rational" human and machine behaviors, and yet he was largely oblivious to the emotional damage his irrational personal behavior inflicted upon his family, lovers, and business partners.

He died young, but left behind a fascinating record of his life, including correspondence with such philosophically inclined physicists as Niels Bohr, Norbert Wiener, and John Wheeler. These remarkable letters illuminate the long and often bitter struggle to explain the paradox of measurement at the heart of quantum physics. In recent years, Everett's solution to this mysterious problem-the existence of a universe of universes-has gained considerable traction in scientific circles, not as science fiction, but as an explanation of physical reality.