Although we have known about quantum mechanics  for nearly 100 years, nobody seems able to explain it in a way that anybody else can understand .

Not exactly a quantum leap

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Roland White finds himself still in the dark after a new attempt to make sense of physics

Scientists used to queue up to complain that there was no decent science on the radio. They accused the long-haired, woolly-headed arts graduates who ran the media of bunging up the schedules with arts programmes. (I might have made up the bit about the long hair and the woolly heads, but you get the drift.) Science lovers have a much better deal these days, and they owe this partly to Melvyn Bragg. By bringing more scientists on to Start the Week, he showed that it was possible for science to appeal to a mainstream audience. Science's problem is that it's much more difficult than the arts. Try reading Hamlet and A Brief History of Time and see which one is easier to finish. That's why there is more art than science on the radio. At least, that's what I've always thought. And what future generations will come to know as the White Hypothesis was perfectly demonstrated by Quantum (Wednesdays Radio 4), the beginning of a four-part attempt to explain quantum mechanics. The producer of Quantum faced an immediate problem: although we have known about quantum mechanics for nearly 100 years, nobody seems able to explain it in a way that anybody else can understand. So much so that one of the great advances in the field was the Copenhagen Interpretation, in which Niels Bohr said there there is no point in trying to understand how quantum mechanics works, it just does. Despite this, scientists have still been trying to explain it in a simple way that the rest of us will understand. Even in Quantum, experts tried to explain it in terms of a computer print-out in a filing cabinet, a crime wave in the city, and a cat in a box which might be alive or dead. None was particularly successful. Even the experts are baffled. "I can safely say," said Richard Feynman, one of the great figures of quantum mechanics, "that nobody understands quantum mechanics. Nobody understands how it can be like that." The central mystery is the nature of light and other radiation. Until 1900, light was thought to be a wave. Then it seemed to behave like a series of particles. Eventually, it became clear that it behaved both as a wave and a particle, which confused everybody. Quantum is presented by John Gribbin, who has written an excellent book on this subject called In Search of Schrodinger's Cat (that's the one in the box). To be honest, I found that his book was much easier to follow than his radio programme. With the book, we non-physicists can keep flicking back the pages to reread the parts we obviously didn't quite understand first time around. And when dealing with a concept that nobody seems to understand, it's important to explain the easy bits. Quantum mechanics was discovered, so Gribbin explained, after work on the problem of black body radiation. In his book, so far as I remember, he goes into this in some detail. On the radio, there was no clue as to the nature of black body radiation at all except for a mention later of the mysterious black body curve. That said,Quantum tackles a difficult subject in an accessible way. I'll be making sure I don't miss the rest of the series. The more science programmes there are, the more listeners will get to grips with the subject. Perhaps then we might understand the greatest mystery of all: Melvyn Bragg's hairdo wave or particle?

Upon this subject - it might be suggested that people actually learn MATHS and then maybe they'd be able to understand Quantum Physics in the language in which it is written -rather than having to suffer analogies which only serve to confuse.





Chaos Quantum Logic Cosmos Conscious Belief Elect. Art Chem. Maths

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