January 17, 2012 24 Comments
Most people who write scientific documents start off by letting you know you are in good hands. They will tell you all about their experience, education, and expertise in order to explain why you can safely read whatever it is they have produced. I am going to start this off by letting you know that you are not in good hands. You are not safe, and it is highly likely I will carelessly drop you at any point during this process. Not only am I highly under-qualified, I am not even researching the subject matter properly. I am going to give you a bunch of half-facts I have running around in my brain from reading books written by quantum physicists and books written by hippies.
I have read the books with the math in them. Those are the practical ones, the ones with the strange looking numbers that don’t even look like numbers. I can put some of those numbers in here if it makes you feel better. In fact… here you go:
Even the practical books recognize something strange is going on here. The very practical books tend to gloss over it and move on to something else. On the other side of the scale, you have people who say “quantum physics” then tell you to get a vision board because you can control things with your mind. Respected quantum physicists hold this side of the spectrum in extreme disregard. Even I have to admit that some of these people have certainly taken concepts and ran with them… really far. What the Bleep do We Know? and The Secret come to mind. I am automatically suspicious when information has to first be relayed in the form of a movie. There are also books, but those have too many pictures and too nice of a font. Everyone knows that all the real information is buried in tiny font next to obscure math that no one can understand.
If you slide even further down the scale, there is some woman who channels spirits. This is going way too far. I want the world to be mystical, but not hippie-flake mystical. I will leave all of this up to you to decide. Here is the realm of quantum physics community as I see it. I have charted it for you and everything.
Now, onward to the whole quantum weirdness thing… I will present the concepts in the way I remember them. I don’t want to start looking up a lot of facts, because I will get distracted or bored and never finish this. That is what happened yesterday. You almost lost me today because I started looking at Richard Feynman quotes. Thus, the facts are secondary. If you get confused or disoriented, go over to Heinakroon.com. Maybe Andreas can help you out.
The world is made up of all these tiny little particles called protons, electrons, and some other names. These particles are supposed to be solid but they are not. They are clouds of probability. The world is tricking you into believing it is really there. The minute you put your hand on something, the cloud solidifies beneath your fingertips, conveniently deciding to be there. The fact that these particles are little clouds of being everywhere at once is very disconcerting, mainly because I just got a new office chair. If this chair dissolves into a probably cloud, I am going to be pissed.
Also, these particles are really waves. You can shoot them out one at a time through this gadget in a double slit experiment. When you aren’t looking at them, they are waves, like light waves. When you look at them, they suddenly solidify. I imagine if they have faces they have a slightly guilty look as if they almost got caught being waves. “Oh, I was a solid thing all along,” they are probably saying.
Schrödinger tried to tell everyone that all this stuff doesn’t matter because it really doesn’t play out in real life. He made this thought experiment with a cat in a death trap and then got really pissed off because people got all fascinated by it. That is what you get Schrödinger, for bringing cats into it. This other guy put an actual person into the thought experiment, and no one even remembers him.
Einstein was upset about the probability clouds too. His whole goal of science was to study the universe to see the mind of God. When he found out God was playing dice with it, he was very dissatisfied. Personally, I knew God was messing with us the whole time. However, these particles that don’t even have the decency to really exist are admittedly a little hard to take. You can’t just be everywhere at once and then pop suddenly into place. It is highly irresponsible.
Some scientists think that all the particles pop into every possibility and that we are the irresponsible ones. They suggest that for every one of those possibilities, there is a parallel reality. When we see the particle pop into it, that becomes the reality one we are in. Therefore, it isn’t the particles that decide where to be, it is us. We are the ones dashing recklessly off into parallel universes.
Expanding this concept into everyday ordinary-sized world, just flip a coin. Did you flip it? Congratulations. You are in a new universe. The coin always lands on both sides, you see, following every possibility. It wasn’t the coin that moved: it was you. We split apart into a multitude of parallel universes every time there is more than one possible outcome. Multiple versions of yourself are looking at each outcome of the cloud of possibility you created by dropping that coin. So, if you want to stop splitting into infinite possibilities, quit flipping coins.
So, there you have it: quantum weirdness in a nutshell. Andreas is right, there are enough people holding reality together that we don’t really have to worry too much about it.** Besides, it isn’t as if the moon would cease to exist if there was no one looking at it. However, you should probably take the time to glance at it once in a while, just to be sure. I can’t because I’m too busy worrying about my office chair.
**Go to: Save Schrödinger’s Cat for actual facts about this topic or to save a cat… whichever.