- Written by Garry
- Created: 07 October 2016
Many people make the mistake of thinking Quantum Physics is complicated.
Well, much like the principles it describes, it is and it isn’t. While it’s true that even the first chapter of my Quantum Physics for Dummies textbook involves mathematical formulae that go well beyond anything I even know how to pronounce, at a more pragmatic level the basic tenets of a quantum mechanical view of the universe are easily observable at the macro level when one attempts to order brunch with one’s wife.
Sceptical? Uncertain? Nonplussed? So you should be. Allow me to demonstrate:
One of the central issues at the heart of our understanding of the universe is whether light behaves as a wave of energy or as a stream of particles. Somewhat paradoxically, it is both at the same time, and even more confusingly, if you choose to observe it as a stream of particles, it will behave as one, and if you choose to observe it as a wave, it will do that too. But never both at the same time.
This seems ridiculous, until you realise that we do this all the time with lunch. For example, if I choose to observe my taco salad as a taco, then I get to enjoy its cheesy saucy goodness, whereas if I choose to observe it as a salad, I can tick it off the vegetables list for the week. The same thing applies to chocolate, which can be observed as either an indulgent dessert, or as a combination of milk, cocoa beans and sugar, all of which are naturally occurring vegetables, except the milk which is produced by inducing a cow to lactate, which might be the least natural thing humans do.
But obviously not both at the same time. That would be ridiculous.
It leads to some pretty weird understandings of our role in the universe. Like; the physical make-up of the universe is directly affected by how we choose to examine it. That’s a lot of responsibility. But when you get right down to it, it’s just lie ordering brunch with your wife. Let’s try a thought experiment:
Suppose Kim and I are sitting enjoying a casual brunch at a café in Southbank where we’ve ventured to on a Saturday morning instead of sleeping lot (Yes. I know. This is a thought experiment, so it’s hypothetical by definition. Back off, you judgemental jerk). I’m pondering the deeper and thoroughly particle-like (particular? Hmmm) mysteries of whether I want pancakes or a banana split. Kim, AT THE SAME TIME is having trouble choosing between the wavish porridge or pancakes. Here’s where it all goes quantum. My decision on whether to have pancakes or banana splits directly impacts on what Kim will order, despite the fact that our taste buds and digestive systems remain more-or-less independent. If I go pancakes, Kim will almost certainly go porridge, but if I go banana split, the probability of Kim going pancakes approaches one. And at some point, the whole brunch will be interrupted by a marching protest group of hippies demanding action on reproductive rights for endangered quokkas, or something.
Sorry, this was supposed to be hypothetical.
There are two possible explanations:
- The wave/particle dichotomy doesn’t just apply to photons of light or particles of matter and stupid stuff like that. It also applies to brunch menus.
- Kim just likes pancakes. But if I order them, she can just nick half of mine and have something else that she also likes. This theory also helps explains why I’m having banana splits for breakfast. Kim hates bananas, so it’s a pre-emptive strike against quantum brunch thieves. It’s not just that I have the diet of an unsupervised teenager at a thirteenth birthday party. It’s a coincidence.
I’m going with theory number one. Largely because I have a whole list of other equally ludicrous examples to get through yet.
The uncertainty principle: I always know where my chocolate and raspberry muffin is, but very rarely have any idea how fast it’s moving.
The quantum leap: Occasionally my order at the chocolateria takes a quantum leap from salted caramel milkshake to chocolate brownie sundae without any warning, so that it’s easier to share. Apparently sharing milkshakes is difficult, particularly if Kim doesn’t prefer the flavour in question. The formulae for both the milkshake and the sundae are clear, but energy states in between don’t really make any sense and would probably taste a bit weird.
General relativity: Whatever we are doing, whatever our position, vector and relative frame of reference, whichever item I order will always be observed to take longer to prepare than anyone else’s.
Schrodinger’s Parmigiana: If you order it, it may simultaneously be thought of as being amazing and disappointing. You won’t know until you eat it.
See? Nothing could be simpler. All I need to do now is figure out how gravy works.
Make of that what you will.
Garry with 2 Rs