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.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Quantum Theory Isn't Just Weird It's Like Religion