Friday, October 07, 2005

Quantum Theory Isn't Just Weird It's Like Religion

When G-d told Einstein that he needed to calculate the perihelion of the orbit of Mercury to prove his theory of relativity correct, I almost believe it. When G-d tells George W. Bush to attack a nation in the Middle East, I’m a little more doubtful. I mean what’s a guy who hardly worked a day in his life, probably never read the bible, doesn’t believe in scientific theory and readily admits that he doesn’t read a newspaper doing with the voice of g-d in his head. Well, ok there are some medical diagnosis’s that can clear up that question but let’s pretend that the guy talks to G-d. Well that’s not unusual is it? I mean even the staunchest atheist has to admit that when faced with death there may be a little speck of faith? A little dark corner of the brain that says, “Oh G-d, please don’t.” And it wouldn’t be so bad now would it?

Quantum theory is a little like G-d. It’s mysterious, we don’t understand it, it behaves in ways we can’t describe and it can appear out of nowhere and disappear again. Quantum theory tells us an electron can be in two places at once. That light can act as a particle and a wave at the same time. It tells us that a fuzzy probability exists as the building block of all things. We can’t predict where or when something is going to be. To boot, what we consider a vacuum in space, is actually a foam of quantum particles buzzing with energy, spontaneously creating and destroying particles.

In the relative calm of outer space where on the macro level nothing seems to happen, on the quantum (or sub atomic) level there is a sea of stuff. Quantum theory predicts that particles can spontaneously appear from nowhere. They pop into existence. That’s odd because that goes against the law of conservation of energy, which states that nothing can be absolutely created or destroyed. No matter ever disappears from the universe. It always goes somewhere of becomes something else. It can change properties or become pure energy but it must always exist in some form. There is no net change in the amount of energy or matter in the universe combined. Hence E=mc2. That means that energy is also a form of matter and vice-versa. We can change matter and release energy (vast amounts of it) or we can do the opposite.

When a particle erupts from the quantum foam then it must “pay a price” for it’s existence. A lot of energy is expended to create that virtual particle so that it cannot exist for a very long time. It must pay back the universe for existing and thus be destroyed. No net change. Two particles are created for a brief time and then combine to destroy each other. This happens quickly and constantly so that there is a sort of static all around us in space. There is no peace in the quantum world. It’s a very energetic place and it’s what we are built from.

Einstein didn’t like the theory of Quantum Physics. He actually helped create it with his own theories but he proclaimed at one point “G-d doesn’t play dice.” Again, how he knew what G-d did is beyond me but he was a pretty smart guy. Maybe he’s right. Maybe we’re missing something that explains why electrons seems to create a pattern that looks like it’s a wave when we can do a different experiment to make it act like a particle. For now all we have is a pretty solid theory that we can’t really explain but it works. A lot of really smart guys came up with this theory too. Although Einstein to his death tried to come up with some alternate explanation that would link the quantum to the relativistic science he created. But once thing eluded him and everyone since, gravity.

Gravity itself is not elusive. It’s weak when compared to, say, electromagnetism. Don’t think so? No? Well it is… See gravity keeps everything on the ground because, as Einstein explained the space around the earth is bent so that everything falls to it. We have no other choice but to be grounded because there is nowhere else to go. There is nowhere else. Reality, space, the “fabric of the universe “bends” toward heavy objects. The heavier it is the more it bends to it.

There are four basic forces and only two of them seem to relate to us on our everyday life as we know it. Electromagnetism, which includes heat and visible light, gravity, The String Force and the Weak Force. The Strong and the Weak force act at atomic levels. We won’t discuss them here. Just know that there would be no us without them. The stability of the universe depends on them.

Electromagnetism is much stronger than gravity. Try to jump into space, how high can you go. A foot or so? Take a piece of metal and drop it. It falls to the earth. Everything you know is attracted to the earth is some fashion. That’s why airplanes are scary to some people. They fall to the ground. But now take a strong magnet and put it over a metal object or another magnet. The metal or other magnet goes up toward the magnet. It just shoots off the ground like gravity has no effect. It sticks together tightly. A really strong magnet can prevent you from pulling it apart. Why doesn’t this great gravitational force pull the magnet to earth instead of to the metal? Because electromagnetism is much stronger than gravity. The effect of gravity on electromagnetism is almost negligible.

Yet, gravity keeps up grounded. It allows us to live. While it acts nicely on a macro level on the micro and quantum level gravity’s effect is nil. That’s the whole problem? How do we account for gravity on the quantum level? Why is it so weak and why doesn’t it affect quantum reactions. It’s a non-factor. But just try to say that when you jump from a tall building. You’d much rather be an electron then.

Then again, gravity can affect light. Yes, Einstein’s theory predicted that light would bend around a heavy object because of gravity. It was proven once by Eddington and then a thousand times over by gravitational lenses in space and other observations. Light bends around gravity.

If that’s true then is there gravity so strong that light bends into it and like us can’t escape? Light is made of another particle-wave light object called a photon. Photons contain a lot of energy and almost no mass, which is why they travel at the speed of light. Wait they are light. Yes, photons are so light they travel at the top speed in the universe. Se we can’t travel the speed of light because as we go faster we become more massive and more mass means more energy needed to push us so we can go faster and finally we become so infinitely massive that no amount of energy can push us. We can’t even approach the speed of light. Small almost massless particles do. Like Neutrinos and photons. They zip. They can’t help but go the speed of light. Photons, like any objects get caught in the pull of gravity. When the gravity is that massive it’s only one thing: A Black Hole. Can you believe that when the term, black hole was coined the French refused to use it because it sounded vaguely sexual? It’s true. They relented and I’m glad they did.

A black hole is a real enigma. It represents a breakdown of physics, as we know it. See the speed of light is the absolute speed limit. You aint going any faster in this universe bub so don’t even try it. (You can travel vast distances that would seem like you are traveling faster than the speed of light but that’s only because of worm hole. Little tears in the universe that connect far places across the geodesic space. Forget it.) In a massive star if it condenses to a certain point it’s gravity become so great that even light can’t go around it. It is literally a black home in space. If a massless particle going at the speed of light ain't escaping, then nothing will.

Just for fun, time also stops inside a back hole. I threw that in there because it’s just too cool not to mention. A thing like this can only be called one thing: A Singularity. A singularity. Great name. Scientists are cool. They name stuff cool. A singularity is a point in space where physics breaks down to infinities. Infinite smallness, infinite gravity, no time, a dead end. A one-way street to infinity. Infinity Way. Infinite Inn. Like the Roach Motel, Physics goes in but it don’t come out. That’s because you can’t calculate in infinities. It’s like the universe errors out at the Singularity.

Oh wait, there’s that little Conservation Law we spoke about. Does a black hole violate the law of conservation of matter and energy? I looked it up the answer is no because as the black hole absorbs matter it grows in size. It feeds.

So although gravity is weak when talking about a tremendous mass, it’s strong. It literally shapes our universe. G-d played a little dice then, didn’t he?

Steven Hawking is a great mind trapped inside a body racked with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. I’m reminded of the Disney movie, Aladdin, where the great genie describes the curse of his existence by saying he has great cosmic power all trapped in an itty-bitty living space, meaning the lamp. Stephen Hawking’s great mind proves that a man can continue to do great things even though his body fights against him. He holds the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge, the same post that both Sir Isaac Newton and Paul Dirac held among other great minds. His mind conceived of Hawking Radiation. This means that Quantum Physics shows that while nothing can escape a Black Hole’s gravity, it can radiate and shrink in size, albeit very slowly.

So ultimately, the Law of Conservation is preserved.

So it makes a little sense. Quantum physics has some weird results mathematically and in practice but it works out. It’s the basis for a lot of solid science. Sometimes you have to take a theory all the way and then add a little faith. Of course you have to know what you’re talking about to get to that point at least a little. You have to understand the science a little to make presumptions. You have to have studies the experiments to know what they mean. We can’t make bold judgments like the universe began from a Singularity without knowing a little something.



The Phoenix said...

So much for the short posts.

Good luck trying to get people reading.

I would say I cut 50% of my posts down, on average, to really keep the length down.

At first I was a bit sore about doing so, but now I see blog posts as sort of newspaper columns. There is definitely a word minimum when it comes to length.

Skinmeister said...

arr dude i reeded da hole fing. u made my bra1n hurtz!!!!!!111111oneoneone

ObilonKenobi said...

Yes. I can’t stop myself from writing until I bring it to a conclusion. I must try to shorten posts. I must try to shorten posts…

The Phoenix said...

Must...shorten....posts....must....I cannot do it!

You should see my posts before I whack them. Maybe we should both be writing books!

Since you love scary stories and stuff, I'm soliciting them from bloggers now. I'll be posting some great stories leading up to Halloween.

I hope to get some good ones.


Deborah said...

I have to agree with the others about the long posts to a degree. If the content is interesting, then I don't care how long it is.

I do have a question, though. Why do you omit the "o" in God? Is this to satisfy the PC bigots?

ObilonKenobi said...

For the record I use the hyphen in G-d because when I went to Hebrew school I was taught that writing the name of G-d on anything that can be erased was not allowed. I got so used to it that I used it all the time and I have a nostalgic sense that I should continue the tradition. Although I attend Temple and consider myself a Jew, I am also skeptical on both sides. I tend to be a nostalgic traditionalist on the one hand, an artistic romantic on the other and a very scientific minded skeptic on the third hand. I am basically a three handed, tri-personality, schizophrenic and I'm a little afraid of the dark sometimes.

The Phoenix said...

Wow, that's interesting. I've never heard about not writing it as it can be erased.

Amazing...I think I'll go sit down now and rest my brain some more.

ObilonKenobi said...

It's actualy something that when I learned it in Hebrew school as a boy I thought was cool so it stuck and I still do it. I have this great love of ancient history and desert places. That's why when Indiana Jones came out it was my second favorite movie ever. It had a desert, a cool guy who was really Han Solo and it was based on ideas that I was learning in Hebrew School. I felt connected to a larger world. It's amazing the concepts that came out of the cradle of civilization, like the number zero! (Or non number, I feel a post coming on...) Anyway, I am almost as enamored with Greek religion and philosophy as Jewish but I just happened to be born Jewish not an ancient Greek or this blog would have a different slant!

Eric Mutta said...

Hi Lon,

Dropping in from the WBA. The first thing I saw when I came here was "quantum physics". It made me smile, as I enjoy the subject.

The next thing I did was scroll down to see how long the post was. At the bottom I found myself thinking: this stuff looks interesting, but I doubt I could read all the way to the end in one seating (because I have two million other blogs calling to me).

Try breaking it up into 2 or 3 parts and get readers into the habbit of coming back for the next part.

Now I'm going to see if can read through the whole thing and comment on it ;-)

Deborah said...

That's very profound, Obilon. I loved the last Indiana Jones, where the focus was on the Holy Grail. Harrison Ford is a looker. ;)

Although I'm not religious, I enjoy reading about different religions and how they formed the societies we live in. Greek mythology and Egyptian history are more of my faves.

The Phoenix said...

One last thing, I love the metaphor you used for a Singularity...a Roach Motel. Brilliant!

ObilonKenobi said...

Thanks Phoenix. I also like to think of a black hole as a garbage disposal. I mentioned this to Brian Greene in an email I sent to him after reading his book and he didn't really seem to think it was too funny. I like humor with my quantum physics. It makes it go down better.

Kyle Stemen said...

Great work describing quantum mechanics without math, but I still agree with your other readers that you should shorten your posts.

I don't like that Einstein quote of "G-d doesn’t play dice." If God is involved in quantum mechanics, it's not because he's playing dice. Quantum mechanics is a good way to break determinism so the Universe could be tweaked without breaking scientific laws.

I'm surprised that you care so much about putting a - in God, but yet you accidently made the g lower case once.

I never quite got that whole relativistic thing where everything looks shorter when you approach the speed of light, but yet you look shorter to outside observers. Time slows down for everything you pass, but yet time looks like it's moving slower for you as outside observers see you pass. Maybe you could do a post about that.

Neutron said...

Pity you weren't born an Ancient Greek...I would love to have a chat with one.

Great post...FAR too short though.

ObilonKenobi said...

kyle, I will use the relativistic effects on a person travelling at or near the speed of light. As for the lower case g. I ususally use lower case when speaking about a god as opposed to speaking or writing about G-d when I mean the G-d of Moses. Of course it could be a typo, I'll check on it.

Also I can use shorter posts, I know. I will consider serializing them next.

As for the "G-d does not play dice." I agree 100% with you and always have. I considered putting that point into my post but it goes too far into theology and I only wanted to touch on theology in my post on quantum physics not comment on it. But since I'm on the subject, Quantum uncertainty is a great way to indroduce an Ace card if you will into the determinism of our physical universe. (If I was G-d, I mean.) It's my out to making things happen that cannot be explained and changing the rules without having it be noticed. It's a brilliant concept if designed into the system and even more amazing if coincidence. As you said it allows "tweaking." That's an entire post in itself and may be one.

Neutron, if I were an ancient Greek I'd be writing this on a much slower computer. I will try to make my posts longer for you. How do I make them longer and shorter? I know, Quantum theory can take care of that!!!

Kyle Stemen said...

"How do I make them longer and shorter? I know, Quantum theory can take care of that!!!"

Lol, if you figure out how to get superpositional posts into blogger, let me know.

ObilonKenobi said...


dorna! said...

This is the first time I've tripped over your blog. Bloody good read and I'm not even remotely physics savvy.

I don't think it was too long. If it really bothers you, you could do use expandable post summaries. There's an easy Blogger hack.

Philip Del Ricci said...

Wow - interesting post. I appreciate people that have an ability to express complex concepts in laymen's terms.

I also like your remarks about God speaking to Bush versus God speaking to Einstein.

I believe that content dictates length. I read the entire post - and for my ADHD addled mind that saying someth.... Look! Shiny.


P. Del Ricci - Dark Glass

ObilonKenobi said...


Here's a great page that explains relativity. I will be trying (trying) to write a post that goes into it as well.