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Title: The stories of quantum physics : quantum physics in literature and popular science, 1900-present
Author: Dihal, Kanta
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 3051
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis investigates quantum physics narratives for non-physicists, covering four interlocking modes of writing for adults and children, fictional and nonfictional, from 1900 to the present. It brings together three separate scholarly fields: literature and science, science fiction, and science communication. The thesis has revealed parallels between the approaches to quantum physics in these disparate narratives that have not been addressed before, shedding new light on the mutual influences between science and narrative form. The thesis argues that similar narrative tropes have been employed in popular science writing and in fiction across all age groups, changing non-physicists' ideas of quantum physics. This understanding differs significantly from the professional understanding of quantum physics, as I establish by means of a series of case studies, including popular science books for adults by Alastair I.M. Rae, George Gamow and Robert Gilmore; popularizations for children by Lucy and Stephen Hawking, Russell Stannard, and Otto Fong; children's fiction by Philip Pullman and Madeleine L'Engle; and fiction for adults by Greg Egan, David Walton, Blake Crouch, and Iain Pears. An analysis of authors who wrote for various audiences or in multiple genres, such as Fred Hoyle, Stephen Hawking, and Ian Stewart, shows how the same concerns and conflicts surface in a wide range of stories. Quantum physics is not yet fully understood; the Copenhagen, conscious collapse, many-worlds and other interpretations compete for both scientific and public acceptance. Influential physics communicators such as John Gribbin and Brian Cox have written popularizations in which they express a personal preference for one interpretation, arguing against others. Scientific conflict, which tends to be omitted from university teaching, is thus explicitly present in popularizations, making it clear to the reader that quantum physics is in a constant state of flux. I investigate the conflicts between Fred Hoyle and George Gamow, and Stephen Hawking and Leonard Susskind, to see how they undermine the alleged objectivity of science. The interplay between the different stories of quantum physics shows how the science not only shapes the stories: the stories shape the science, too.
Supervisor: Shuttleworth, Sally ; Whitworth, Michael H. Sponsor: St Anne's College Iris Murdoch Research Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature and science ; Science fiction ; Communication in science ; science for children ; quantum physics ; fantasy ; history of science ; conflict in science ; Stephen Hawking ; popular science ; Philip Pullman ; English literature