book review: Quantum Computing Since Democritus

There is both room for and a need for many different types of physicists and scientists to kick progress up a notch. Some of the most mind-stretching and inspiring are those who are philosophical about their work, as well as those who are interdisciplinary in their understanding. Scott Aaronson fits in both camps and shares some of his insight with us in Quantum Computing since Democritus

Don’t let the demure cover fool you, Quantum Computing since Democritus is a marvel examining the cutting edge of physics and quantum computation from a philosophical perspective with a computer science (computational complexity theory) lens. It’s a bundle of a popular science book, a textbook, and a philosophical treatise (it has a chapter called “Free Will” after all) all in one. Despite the meaty subjects, it manages to be uproariously laugh out loud funny for those of a certain mathematically inclined humor (or “humor” depending on your perspective).

The book has notes of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, but is more highly technical, with touches of The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, but in a manner more approachable to a layperson. It was one of Jennifer Oellette‘s best of 2013 physics books and yet I only recently came across its existence in a plug within fellow Caltech Theoretical Physicist Sean Carroll‘s appearance on Rationally Speaking re:The Many Worlds Interpretation (h/t Patrick Collison). It took two years for me to discover its existence, and it’s the definition of up my alley, so I’m blogging to help with the publicity.

To close, I’ll list some interesting philosophical thoughts I came across for the first time or was reminded of in the course of the book’s discussion:

And that’s just the tip of the complexity iceberg…. Happy reading. Let me know what you think.

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