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A Guess at the Riddle

Essays on the Physical Underpinnings of Quantum Mechanics

David Z Albert

ISBN 9780674291263

Publication date: 09/19/2023

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From the celebrated author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience comes an original and exhilarating attempt at making sense of the strange laws of quantum mechanics.

A century ago, a brilliant circle of physicists around Niels Bohr argued that the search for an objective, realistic, and mechanical picture of the inner workings of the atom—the kind of picture that had previously been an ideal of classical physics—was doomed to fail. Today, there is widespread agreement among philosophers and physicists that those arguments were wrong. However, the question of what that picture might look like, and how it might fit into a comprehensive picture of physical reality, remains unsettled.

In A Guess at the Riddle, philosopher David Z Albert argues that the distinctively strange features of quantum mechanics begin to make sense once we conceive of the wave function, vibrating and evolving in high-dimensional space, as the concrete, fundamental physical “stuff” of the universe. Starting with simple mechanical models, Albert methodically constructs the defining features of quantum mechanics from scratch. He shows how the entire history of our familiar, three-dimensional universe can be discerned in the wave function’s intricate pattern of ripples and whorls. A major new work in the foundations of physics, A Guess at the Riddle is poised to transform our understanding of the basic architecture of the universe.


  • The physical interpretation of quantum mechanics has been a controversial riddle since the 1920s, when Niels Bohr argued that the atom’s inner workings could not be described in physical terms. Today, many philosophers and physicists disagree, but there’s no consensus on an alternative. Philosopher David Albert’s provocative book argues, in three essays, that Bohr’s quantum-measurement problem starts to make sense if the wave function is understood as the fundamental physical ‘stuff’ of the Universe.

    —Andrew Robinson, Nature


  • David Z Albert is Frederick E. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, Time and Chance, and After Physics. His writing has appeared in numerous scholarly journals of physics and philosophy, as well as in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and Scientific American.

Book Details

  • 144 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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