In 1939, Richard Feynman, a brilliant graduate of MIT, arrived in John Wheeler's Princeton office to report for duty as his teaching assistant. A lifelong friendship and enormously productive collaboration was born, despite sharp differences in personality. The soft-spoken Wheeler, though conservative in appearance, was a raging nonconformist full of wild ideas about the universe. The boisterous Feynman was a cautious physicist who believed only what could be tested. Yet they were complementary spirits who together laid vital groundwork for late-20th-century breakthroughs in particle physics.
Physicist Paul Halpern discusses the little-known story of their friendship, which is the subject of his new book The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality (Basic Books). Their friendship and collaboration enabled Feynman to show how quantum reality is a combination of alternative, contradictory possibilities, and inspired Wheeler to develop his landmark concept of wormholes, portals to the future and past. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Drawing on the recently opened archives of John Wheeler as well as interviews with Wheeler and Feynman’s family members, friends, and former students, Halpern reveals how these two figures ensured that physics would never be the same again.
Halpern teaches physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. The Quantum Labyrinth is available for sale and signing.
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