In What is real?, Adam Becker details the century-long fight over the interpretation of quantum physics -- what this enormously successful theory, which has given us so much of the technology we use today, is actually saying about the world. Becker first encountered this controversy when, as an undergraduate student of physics at Cornell, a professor pooh-poohed his concerns over the implications of the standard model of quantum theory, developed by Bohr and others in the early 20th century, writing them off as philosophical questions, irrelevant to the study of science. But as Becker soon discovered, those questions were at the heart of a scientific debate that had been raging for nearly a century.
In our conversation, we talk about the social and political factors that have governed the understanding and application of quantum physics since its inception, as well as the people on both sides of the debate. Becker also talks about borrowing techniques from fiction writing to turn a true story about a complex and opaque area of scientific inquiry into an engaging narrative populated by distinctive characters.