There’s a difference between understanding a verbal explanation of a scientific or mathematic concept and understanding the mathematical formulas involved.

Quantum Mechanics is almost purely mathematical without verbal explanations. It’s difficult to convey the conceptual idea. This, of course, allows charalatans to abuse the concept to spread mystical nonsense like Deepak Chopra’s Ayurvedic Medicine.

Full confession. I’m pretty ignorant. For instance, take General and Special Relativity.

I think I understand some of the mathematical prerequisites of Relativity Theory. I know non-euclidean geometry, classical physics, and the like. I even heard verbal explanations of Relativity Theory (i.e. gravity wells). And yet, I don’t understand all the mathematics. I look at the formulas and I do not immediately grasp why they are not just symbols on a page. At least not within the timeframe I’m willing to spend on something far outside my specialty.

Quantum Mechanics? If you pretend to follow physics as I do (heh), you may have heard of all the terms. Uncertainty Principle, Planck’s Constant, wave-particle duality, quantum tunneling. Wait, what do these words mean? Don’t use words. Use what the physicists use – math. The math just sits there on a page for all I know. I don’t even know what the mathematical prerequisites are to know what those formulas are about. There are few verbal or conceptual explanations (dead cats aside) to explain QM.

Here’s one thing I learned. The wave-particle duality doesn’t matter like everyone thinks. Waves are oscillations; particles are objects with mass and size. In classical physics, you handle them through two different mathematical formulas. In Quantum Mechanics, both are described in one formula. Why? There’s no real verbal explanation so far as I know, so I don’t understand why. Unless I’m wrong about that verbal explanation. Who knows? The math works. So for 99% of the population that cannot understand the formal mathematics, QM is just a bunch of words without meaning.

Paul Quincey tries to explain Richard Feynman’s “least-action” approach to understanding the basics of QM. This takes our knowledge of classical mechanics and extra step to at least get a gist of what QM involves.

Take a rolling ball. A force acts on the ball making it roll in a straight line unless other forces act on it. Feynman’s least action principle says the ball will roll along the path of least action. On the macroscopic level, this usually won’t change much in Newtonian physics, but it does have a bigger effect in QM.

This is combined with observational problems of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which is not just a measurement or mere instrument problem. It’s more complicated than that (see? I don’t understand the math).

So what do you get in QM? There are multiple paths of least action so there are a set of probabilities at the same time which you cannot exactly observe. Thus Schrödinger’s cat – it is simultaneously alive and dead.

We already have a very good nontechnical word for a mixture of possibilities coexisting at the same time-we call it the future. Unless we believe that all events are predetermined, which would be a very dismal view of the world, this is what the future must be like. Of course, we never experience it until it becomes the present, when only one of the possibilities takes place, but the actual future-as opposed to our prediction of one version of it-must be something much like what quantum mechanics describes.

As far as explanations go, this is ok I guess.

The problem with verbal explanations is that the words may as well mean “magic” to most people. Quantum Tunneling? Magic.

So they take the “magic” of quantum mechanics and extend ito the macroscopic level. Physicists know that QM really describes how atoms work at the most basic level. To extend QM principles to things like the human conciousness, as in mystical alternative medicine, reduces QM to a belief in magic.

It’s better to admit you don’t understand the math.

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