November 30, 2010
We live in a time when our most beautiful theory of the physical world, quantum mechanics is about a century old. Well it was mostly developed in the 1920s and 30s and some of its most brilliant development and expositions were in the 1960s and 70s. As we learn it from Stephen Hawking, the other extraordinarily brilliant theoretical physicist of the last century who conveys to us the most central and comprehensive understanding of our journey so far, in physics and possibly in everything we can be proud of, in his characteristic humor and clarity, the study of the Universe and nature continues today, to the yet unsuccessful yet comprehensive, sporadic, M theory, Brane theory, string theory etc quantum mechanics or at least its unification promises are still in the agenda of the most competitive and fund raising efforts of theoretical physics.
Experimental physics on the other hand despite of its tremendous carving into the working of the some of the most straining problems of particle physics and the related has failed to give an account as marvelous as that of Hawking. Hawking is a marvel precisely because of this suave expositions of his in the forms of masterpieces, 6 of which are lying by my table right now. I purchased them from a local bookstore. A shock that I had in this process is I hardly found any books by Feynman in the shelves of this store except the tips on physics. The store tender seemed to know Feynman best sellers and it’s likely that the books are all out of sale.
Or who knows, given the disparaged attitude of the local readers Diaspora and the fact that they purchase their books from various localities of the globe it may even, have happened so, that the Hawking best sellers have somehow won over the other best sellers. Einstein had a similar fate as that of Feynman. And look at the fact that this region has so called physicists (or the politically correct, career physicists) all spread out across the globe and they can buy their books from wherever they want to, may be from an Amazon, Barnes Nobles outlet. This region neither has any of those nor scholars or career physicists who are truly inspired about all the present day affairs of Physics. Partly because Internet is cheap and has an access to everything on the likes of wikipedia, they give it into their often-chanted “Dho”.
For the uninitiated to the jargon of this region that roughly translates into English, as, I don’t give a bang. We are a country people and we have made it to liberalization. That’s our triumph in this century. This Manmohan guy is just too sensed up about everything.
So we do live in a times when quantum mechanics is actually not making it much into our psyche given it’s a well carved out niche on the slopes of which we are doing all our chores yet not realize so, and given that we have taken into grant some of its most ill quoted saying, such as quantum mechanics pertains to the small and it only adds up a ferociously small error. The truth is some of its often quoted remarks such as, Feynman’s, safe to say nobody understands quantum mechanics and so on are a mere metaphor in circumstances where further insights of quantum mechanics are tangible and NOT inconsistent with the rules of quantum mechanics.
This is quite inconsideratively absent from the way we teach our notions of the modern world and from the way we often discuss the true concepts of quantum mechanics. One of the rule is, anything said about anything is anyhow true. Watch out before applying that seemingly innocuous rule of quantum mechanics. The constraint is it must not be inconsistent with another rule, which may be subtle. The rule for the physicists is, shut up and compute. They usually do that.
When it comes to some of the most famous rules of quantum mechanics, such as Feynman Diagrams that’s amply reflected, you take care of all the diagrams that are possible. And discard the ones that you can see right away as meaningless. Quantum mechanics is as simple as that when stated, when you compute you know it’s a pain in the neck and possibly everywhere. I have a tremendous backache from a couple days, can I assign that to some of the principles of quantum mechanics. Well, possibly, I was trying to compute when I was sleeping, that’s when I shut up the most. The small computations of small Feynman diagrams possibly meant I was trying all possible topological positions my body can take while trying to see what possible histories the electron takes. Everyone must pay a tribute to Feynman while sleeping, because he slept a lot less for some of the inventions he made or made possible for all of us. Every competitive physicist realizes this.
Nature is an immensely complex, gigantic and subtle rulebook. There are plenty of rules everywhere and quantum mechanics exposits that we understand and apply a few of them in everything we observe and we see the brilliant way nature works into itself. I was thinking of a simple problem of a gunshot. Lets see how many angles there are to this phenomenon.
The bullet that’s shot may have a little imprecise tip say a few mms and this could cause it to spin and wobble a lot before it reaches a quarter of a furlong. The iron may be impure and unspecifiedly mixed and may have a different specific gravity and moment of inertia than specified. The weather may be turbulent. The way we thought it propagates through air may be a little jumbled up. Very little and who knows where the bullet actually ends up. Well quantum mechanics as such does not play any role here but this is called complexity. (Physicists often try to describe complexity through an understanding called chaos)
Now the way we shoot the bullet may be mechanized through a digital camera or a focusing lens. This is where quantum mechanics may play some of its weird prongs here. Quantum mechanics needs to be understood in its entirety as much as it can be and be applied to situations for a complete stalk of any situation as far as Physics goes, may be a monte carlo be developed here may be a few pot shots be taken real time and the data and image studied carefully.
This is the way Physics needs to be performed if we were to see the complete implications of our understanding of the vast world. Without that it’s just farcical and topsy-turvy.