iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for The Measurement Problem in Physics

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

The Measurement Problem in Physics

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 05 March 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the deepest problems in contemporary physics. It’s called the measurement problem and it emerged from the flurry of activity in the early 20th century that gave rise to Quantum Mechanics. If the most famous fruit in physics is an apple, the most famous animal in physics is a cat. Schrödinger’s cat is named after Edwin Schrödinger, a theoretical physicist who in the early 20th century helped to develop the radical theories of Quantum Mechanics. The cat does not actually exist – it is the subject of a thought experiment – in which the rules of quantum mechanics make it appear both dead and alive at the same time.

The problem of a cat that is both dead and alive illustrates the challenges of quantum physics and at the heart of this apparent absurdity is a thing called the measurement problem.

The measurement problem arises because we don’t really understand how the atoms that constitute our world behave. They are fundamentally mysterious to us, even shocking, and they defy our attempts to measure and make sense of them. Possible solutions range from the existence of multiple realities to the rather more mundane possibility of an error in our mathematics - but a solution, if found, could transform our understanding of reality.

With Basil Hiley, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Birkbeck, University of London, Simon Saunders, Reader in Philosophy of Physics and University Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Oxford; Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford

  • Further Reading

    Science, Order and Creativity by David Bohm and F. David Peat (Routledge, 2000)

    The Undivided Universe by David Bohm and Basil J. Hiley (Routledge, 1995)

    Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction by John Polkinghorne (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 2002)

    Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity edited by John Barrow, Paul Davies and Charles Harper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose (London: Vintage, 2004)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • Science archive

    Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

  • 20th Century

    Browse the 20th Century era within the In Our Time archive.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.