I have to admit I don’t know much about theoretical physics. Who does? People in the field have had a well-deserved reputation for chattering about things that make no sense to anyone else.
Naturally, I was not familiar with Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen Interpretation of the behavior–or misbehavior–of tiny little bits of things. I just thought the notion that “nothing exists until somebody observes it” sounded loony.
But now that I have had a chance to study the subject a little, and perused the theories of Niels Bohr, and Max Planck, and some of the other heavy hitters in the wave-versus-particle smackdown, I’m slightly better informed. Of course, it still sounds loony, but I’m warming up to it.
Max and the others are an impressive bunch, but Niels is way more fun.
According to my sources, the debate about whether elementary particles of matter really are particles or are in fact waves seems to have driven poor Niels to distraction; so, in order to stifle the debate–and probably to stifle some of the voices in his head–he came up with a couple of clever dictums.
Niels’ Greatest Hits #1: “When it looks like a particle, it is a particle. When it looks like a wave, it is a wave.”
That’s a nifty way to dispose of the argument, even though it smacks of–to say the least–an uncharacteristic abandonment of scientific rigor on the part of good old Niels. Rather than press on trying to solve the wave-versus-particle conundrum, he finally upends the apple cart and says: “It’s neither! It’s both! Whatever!” Not that I blame him.
Niels’ Greatest Hits #2: “It is meaningless to ascribe any properties or even existence to anything that has not been measured.”
This one is breathtaking; no wonder Niels got the big money. It combines a deft handling of the aforementioned with some kick-down-the-fences audacity. “Measure this, pal,” says Niels, knowing that it can’t be done. Brilliant! Furthermore, saying that nothing is real unless it’s observed is just a baby step from: “Nothing exists unless I say so.”
Frankly, I like it. It nourishes my pretensions to godlike power. Behold! I bring things into existence by the merest glance. Before me, nothing! Without me, nothing!
After me… well, I don’t know. If I bring things into being by looking at them, do I therefore render them nonexistent by looking the other way? Can I ignore things into oblivion? Once I bring a thing into being by observing it, do I need to appoint someone else keep an eye on it, lest it suffer from neglect and disappear?
Still left hanging is the question regarding how, if a thing didn’t exist before I cast my sacred visage its way, I managed to observe it. How did I know to look there? Damn, I’m good. Man-gods like Niels and me are amazing! I am in awe of my own divine powers.
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A Crash Course In Particle Physics (2 of 2)