The best books about the philosophy of physics

Marc Lange Author Of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass
By Marc Lange

The Books I Picked & Why

Quantum Mechanics and Experience

By David Z. Albert

Book cover of Quantum Mechanics and Experience

Why this book?

This is the most fun book that has ever been written about the famous philosophical challenges posed by the proper interpretation of quantum mechanics. It is extremely difficult to say what the real world could possibly be like considering that quantum mechanics is so accurate at predicting our observations of it. Albert is a wonderful guide to this problem. His book is genuinely funny and down-to-earth (yes, I mean it!) and it introduces only as much technical and scientific machinery as is absolutely necessary. There is no other quantum mechanics book quite like this one.

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Einstein for Everyone

By John D. Norton

Book cover of Einstein for Everyone

Why this book?

This book has it all. It describes Einstein’s own fascinating path to both the special and the general theories of relativity. It explains why relativity theory involved such revolutionary steps and yet remains continuous with 19th-century physics. It examines (and, in some cases, debunks!) the philosophical morals (about spacetime and about the logic of scientific reasoning) that have sometimes been drawn from relativity theory. And it looks closely at the reasons for Einstein’s critical attitude toward quantum mechanics. Norton is not only one of the world’s leading Einstein experts, but also a superb writer and teacher.

This book is available to read here.

Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

By Tim Maudlin

Book cover of Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

Why this book?

When a world-class philosopher of physics is also a spectacularly gifted writer, you have the makings of an extraordinary book. This book offers a comprehensive introduction to various interpretations of quantum mechanics, while Maudlin's companion volume on the philosophy of space and time is equally highly recommended. Maudlin is a (very) opinionated guide, which makes these books even more valuable (and enjoyable to read). I especially enjoy Maudlin’s refusal to tolerate any of the nonsense that one often finds in quantum mechanics textbooks that depict the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics as indeed a genuine interpretation of quantum mechanics. Rather, as Maudlin forthrightly says, the “Copenhagen interpretation” amounts to a failure to offer any interpretation at all of quantum mechanics. Instead, it treats quantum mechanics merely as a device for predicting the chances of our making various observations.

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Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation Between Philosophy and Scientific Theories

By James T. Cushing

Book cover of Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation Between Philosophy and Scientific Theories

Why this book?

This book is a beautiful discussion of a theme that runs through my book as well: the intimate relations between conceptual innovations in physics and developments in philosophy. Cushing (a longtime professor of physics and philosophy at Notre Dame) organizes his survey historically and aims to show how time and time again, metaphysical and epistemological considerations have played important roles in scientific advances. I don’t believe that there is a sharp distinction between physics and the philosophy of physics. Cushing’s elegant and accessible book bears this out.

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