Albert, David Z.
ALBERT, David Z.
Male. Education: Columbia College, B.S., 1976; Rockefeller University, Ph.D, 1981.
Author and educator. Columbia University, professor of philosophy and director of M.A. program in philosophical foundations of physics.
Quantum Mechanics and Experience, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
Time and Chance, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
Contributor to journals and periodicals, including Physical Review.
Educator David Z. Albert specializes in areas combining his main academic interests, physics and philosophy. Albert's research includes subjects such as philosophical problems of modern physics, philosophy of science, philosophy of quantum mechanics, and the philosophy of space and time. In his first book, Quantum Mechanics and Experience, Albert examines the complex ideas behind the revolutionary field of quantum physics. His "remarkable book describes the contemporary puzzles of quantum measurement theory" to nonexpert audiences, remarked P. D. Skiff in Choice. Theories of quantum mechanics state that all objects and events exist in a state of superposition where all possible outcomes are equally likely. When an outcome is observed or a measurement of any kind made, all other possibilities disappear and only one remains: what actually happened. Some more advanced theories posit that each event, reaction, and interaction creates an ever-expanding array of alternate universes, endlessly proliferated, in which only one of billions of possible outcomes has prevailed.
Critics felt that although Quantum Mechanics and Experience is advanced in its treatment of theory, it is a clearly written and thorough introduction to the topic. David Papineau, reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, stated that of the books available on quantum physics, "Albert's is among the best of the bunch. In fewer than two hundred pages, he introduces all the necessary mathematics and all the main current interpretations of quantum mechanics." Papineau went on to note that though "much of the material is far from elementary … [Albert] reads like a writer who sees no reason not to be clear, and for the most part he succeeds admirably." Reviewer John Forge, writing in Isis, declared that he would recommend the book to readers "who would like an accessible introduction to quantum theory." American Scientist reviewer Robert Clifton remarked that "Albert's energetic style makes the book a lively and provocative read."
In his second book, Time and Chance, Albert "aims at no less than explanations of the nature of physical probability and the origin of time asymmetry, and an introductory text to these subjects," noted Nick Huggett on the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Web site. Time, Albert notes, flows in one direction only, at least in the way we perceive it. "We are born, grow old, and die; eggs break; liquids mix; and our offices tend to get more disordered—not the other way round," commented Jean Bricmont in Science. This progression of time is accounted for in the second law of thermodynamics, Bricmont noted; that is, "the entropy of isolated systems usually increases and never decreases." But some theories state that time is not one-directional; any motion producing effects also has a corresponding motion producing an opposite effect, reversing the effects of fundamental physical laws.
Still, coffee cools; it does not get hotter. Ice dropped in coffee melts; it does not retain its frozen state, or grow even bigger. Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann theorized that the reason entropy increases but does not decrease is because "under a natural way of counting the possibilities, there are simply many, many more ways for systems to be disordered (high entropy) than there are to be ordered (low entropy)," observed Huw Price in the Times Literary Supplement. To Boltzmann's theories, Albert adds what he calls the "past hypothesis," the notion that, early in its development, the universe was a place of low entropy—matter was distributed very smoothly—and as the universe has aged, entropy has increased. "Physics has thus found a plausible single candidate for the origin of all the time-asymmetry of the familiar world," Price stated. In explaining this situation, and especially in explaining the vastly important role that the past hypothesis plays within Boltzmann's statistical theories, "Albert's book is a very welcome addition to the literature," Price concluded. "Albert has an idiosyncratic style, but a very pleasant one," Bricmont remarked. "Although this sounds like a cliché, he really is able to write both for intelligent teenagers and for specialists in philosophy of science."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, September, 1994, Francisco Flores and Robert Clifton, review of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, pp. 477-478; September, 2001, Peter Pesic, review of Time and Chance, p. 466.
Choice, July-August, 1993, P. D. Skiff, review of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, p. 1804.
Isis, June, 1994, John Forge, review of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, pp. 364-365.
Science, July 13, 2001, Jean Bricmont, review of Time and Chance, p. 220.
Times Literary Supplement, June 18, 1993, David Papineau, review of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, p. 13; April 12, 2002, Huw Price, review of Time and Chance, p. 32.
Columbia University Web site,http://www.columbia.edu/ (October 6, 2004), "David Albert."
Examined Life Web site,http://examinedlifejournal.com/ (October 6, 2004), Tom Winning, review of Quantum Mechanics and Experience.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Online, http://www.ndpr.icaap.org/ (February 9, 2002), Nick Huggett, review of Time and Chance.*