The Indivisible

(Det Udelelige)

Tor Nørretranders

‘Among popular science-worthy presentations of modern physics, Nørretranders’ surpasses most in this difficult genre, where one must possess both deep insight into the science itself and an ability to present this insight in a way so that non-specialists can understand what is involved. Nørretranders has these qualities in abundance. His book is as exciting as a crime novel’ Joachim Israel, Politiken

Tor Nørretranders is Denmark’s number one popular science author. In the past 40 years, he has published a multitude of books, mostly on technical and scientific subjects from a societal perspective. Books such as THE USER ILLUSION, EINSTEIN, EINTSTEIN and the recent KARMA CORONA all have in common that the author has thoroughly familiarized himself with subjects by reading also the difficult books and professional articles, after which he seeks to pass on the subject in accessible language.

THE INDIVISIBLE, originally published in 1985, was Nørretranders’ second popular science opus. The book has now been republished with a new afterword and updated comments in the text itself. The occasion is the new interest in one of Niels Bohr’s major research fields, quantum mechanics, which is on its way to leading to a revolution in computer technology.

Physics, Mysticism and Politics

The book consists of three main parts, which Nørretranders calls Physics, Mysticism and Politics. The second part could perhaps have been called Philosophy, because that is the main subject.

In the first part of the book of approximately 200 pages, the author describes Niels Bohr’s research and activities in the world of physics, from before he developed his atomic model in 1913 to the debate with Albert Einstein on the fundamental problems of physics and to his opinions on quantum mechanics. It is the Bohr-Einstein debate in particular that is the engine of this part.

Can the world of physics be unambiguously explained mechanically through natural scientific laws? Or must we be satisfied that physical phenomena at the atomic level basically have an element of pure probability and arbitrariness about them? Does God play dice, as Einstein criticizes Bohr’s quantum mechanics for implying? Or should the physicists stop putting themselves in the place of God, as Bohr more indirectly criticizes Einstein for doing?

In the second part of the book, it is not least Bohr’s idea of ​​complementarity that is treated. Bohr wanted to investigate whether it was possible to generalize the idea from atomic physics that electrons can be treated as both particles and waves. It became one of Bohr’s main pursuits in the last decades of his life, along with the international work dealt with in part three of the book.

As a Knight of the Order of the Elephant, Bohr had his coat of arms placed at Frederiksborg Castle. In this he had the yin and yang circle from Chinese Taoist philosophy inserted as a symbol of the totality of science – its complementarity. Nørretranders gives a nuanced account of those efforts.

Nuclear weapons

The last part of the book deals with Bohr’s attempts during and after the Second World War to gain responsiveness to a much more open world in both research and politics. Nuclear weapons, according to Bohr, had completely reshaped international politics because their use was tantamount to suicide. This part of the book is very much influenced by contemporary times and especially ideas fostered by the peace movements of the 1980s, of which the author was also a part.

In a new afterword, Nørretranders puts Bohr’s importance into perspective by including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to the Niels Bohr Institute, which is currently developing a new generation of computers based on quantum mechanics.

Meticulously researched, THE INDIVISIBLE is a model book outside and inside the popular science genre. 


  • Gyldendal Denmark

Material: PDF, finished copies Danish edition (480pp), English sample translation and synopsis