Through two doors at once…

I recently finished an excellent book providing a pop-science level understanding of the experiments surrounding the bizarre fact that very small objects are neither particles nor waves, or they’re both, or, you know, something. I had almost no exposure to quantum mechanics previously so this was all fresh to me and can I just say how weird this stuff is?  I mean seriously mind-blowingly weird.  As in potentially it’s a wave until something possibly anywhere in the universe happens to observe (whatever that means) something that reveals its state and then, nope, no longer a wave.   It is also not clear that the act of observation has to technically happen first, so the whole linear time thing gets a little messy.  And apparently it is not just the electrons and photons that behave this way but even neutrons, large chunky molecules, or possibly cats?    No one seems quite sure.  Or at least I’m not sure.

What is fascinating to me, and maybe I can’t explain this right, but I’ll try; is that the twist in one’s world view from this discovery seems at least of the same order of magnitude as believing in angels appearing to fourteen year olds.  Like, if you can stomach the fact that there is an unseen world that behaves nothing like how it “should”, well okay then, but at that point it seems like you should be open to the fact that many things may not be as they “should”, in a natural man sense.

Which is obviously not to say one should believe things without evidence of some kind.  Just that, well, the world is seriously weird and not in ways that you could infer from your lived experience.

5 comments for “Through two doors at once…

  1. _I._ Most of existence’s “stuff” is made up of this type of material (or what have we) that’s either wave/particle/both.

    (A.) With hat tipped to random & uncredentialled contributors of wikipedia’s article “cosmic rays” (Note – all square-bracketed [emendations] are mine.):

    “COSMIC RAYS are HIGH-ENERGY PROTONS AND ATOMIC NUCLEI that move through space at NEARLY THE SPEED OF LIGHT. They originate from the Sun, from outside of the Solar System in our own galaxy,[1] and from distant galaxies.” […] “Primary cosmic rays are composed mainly of protons and [proton-neutron combination] alpha particles (99%), with a small amount of [unstable] heavier nuclei (?1%) and an extremely minute proportion of [backward-electron] positrons and [backward-proton] antiprotons.” […] “When cosmic rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they collide with atoms and molecules, mainly oxygen and nitrogen. The interaction produces a cascade of lighter particles, a so-called air shower secondary radiation that rains down, including x-rays, protons, alpha particles, pions, muons, electrons, neutrinos, and neutrons.”

    (B.) Yet, backtracking a step or so, so to speak, here’s this 2nd line from wikipedia’s WPdia’s “outer space”:

    “OUTER SPACE is not completely empty—it is a hard VACUUM containing a low density of PARTICLES, predominantly a PLASMA of hydrogen and helium, as well as [photon] electromagnetic radiation, [photon] magnetic fields, [DARK MATTER such as] neutrinos, [other-kinds-of-material] dust, and COSMIC RAYS.”

    (C.) Ah but, wait! . . . The above article’s contributors neglect mention of outer space’s extremely miniscule yet absolutely intrinsic component, however.

    Rearranged quotes from the intro section to wikipedia’s “dark energy” (the first observational evidence for [whose] existence came from measurements of [expoding-star] supernovae [initiated at UC Berkeley slightly more than ten years ago], which showed that the universe does not expand at a constant rate; rather, the universe’s expansion is accelerating”):

    “[DARK ENERGY] dominates the universe’s mass-energy content because it IS UNIFORM ACROSS SPACE” [although its] “density is VER[RRRRR]Y low.” / “[B]est current measurements indicate that dark energy contributes 68% of the total energy in the present-day observable universe. The mass–energy of dark matter […] 26%”; “ordinary (baryonic) matter […] 5% and other components such as neutrinos and photons contribute a very small amount.”

    * * *

    _II._ And, as per the OP, the dominance within existence of “stuff” of this nature of course brings up all sorts of non-deterministic features. Which, when people talk about them, often find their alluding to a very FAMOUS QUOTE BY ALBERT EINSTEIN (for fun, see this version related by the initiator of Cal’s cosmological rate-of-expansion measuring project, physicist Richard Muller (2016)):

    “In a 1926 letter to Max Born, Einstein wrote, ‘Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. the theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the “old one.” I, at any rate, am convinced that _HE_ DOES NOT THROW DICE.’

    “Werner Heisenberg recalled that at a conference, after Einstein made a similar remark, Niels Bohr responded, ‘But still, IT CANNOT BE FOR US TO TELL GOD, HOW he is TO RUN THE WORLD.'”

  2. An important difference is that one is an experimentally reproducible phenomenon, the other not.

  3. Frank; While this isn’t necessarily comforting, much of the weirdness of quantum mechanics is explained by the Simulation Hypothesis, but you have to get the overall picture and not just the 8-minute You-Tube videos to grasp it’s implications. As I’ve researched the hypothesis, I’ve put together a fairly extensive question-and-answer chart; but, as YFA above would point out, it’s not experimentally reproducible – and really is a very unsatisfactory answer to the question “why are we here?” – so I just keep the information to myself.

  4. @ food allergy: Very valid point, but a priori the weirdness of quantum mechanics should expand our sense of possibilities, even if they are not empirically testable using the scientific method.

    @ Seeker: For me the simulation hypothesis fits in the category of quasi-religious belief; interesting idea but not really testable.

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