Brian Keaney

Tag: Quantum

Better than I used to be

For most of high school I didn’t really care for science class.  Introduction to Physical Science was OK my freshman year, but I didn’t like biology in my sophomore year, and I really despised chemistry as a junior.  Come senior year, however, I actually really enjoyed physics.  The teacher was great, and I found the subject matter intuitive and engaging.

I’ve written here before that I’ve been questioning the structure of the atom since suffering through Mr. Creedon’s lectures in the 11th grade.  The past few books I’ve read have been on quantum physics, and once again I was teased into believing that I might finally be told how a quantum jump (when an electron moves from one orbit to another, without being any place in between) works.  Alas, once again I was disappointed.

The last of my trifecta of books on this subject was Kenneth Ford’s 101 Quantum Questions, and early on in the book – question 26, to be exact – the question “What is a quantum jump?” is proposed.  I was excited, as I thought I might finally have an answer.  I wish that the question was instead “How does a quantum jump work?” because while it was described, it was still not explained.  The author did mention that Einstein didn’t like them either, so at least I am in good company.

In a somewhat related question (72), Ford says that

Perhaps the most astonishing feature of that graph is that at five points… the probability is exactly zero.  This means that if the particle is in that particular state of motion, it will never be found at one of those positions.  If it is never going to be found at points B, C, or D, you  might ask, how could it get from A to E?  How could it cover the distance from one wall to the other without some probability of being found at every point in between?

I have been asking that question for more than a decade now.  The best answer Ford can come up with is that “Well, there are some things in quantum physics that we just have to accept whether we find them reasonable or not.”  Needless to say, this answer is less than satisfying.

Einstein reportedly called quantum physics “spooky.”  I think mind blowing is a more apt term.  A particle is both a wave when it suits it to be a wave, and a particle when it suits it to be a particle.  Not only that, but a particle by itself can travel backwards and forwards in time, jump through walls, and do any number of other things that completely defy common sense.

I am both intrigued and frustrated by the subject, but am painfully aware of how much else is out there of which I am even more ignorant, and have moved on in my reading pursuits.  I’m currently on a philosophy bent with Sandel and Kierkegaard both in the queue, and am on the lookout for a new topic to explore when I am done with them.  With this being the summer, and substantial time being spent on the beach in addition to a hefty diet of MBTA hours, I’m looking to branch out into something completely different.

 

Along those lines, I am taking my first math class in over 10 years.  While in grad school I would usually skip over the portions of journal articles that described how the studies were conducted and only skim the statistical analysis.  At one point, as more of a personal challenge than anything else, I decided to check out Statistics for Dummies out of the library and teach it to myself.

I did alright, although I don’t think I finished the book.  Several of the jobs I’ve been applying to want someone with an understanding of the subject, however, so I decided to pay someone who knows what they are talking about to teach it to me.  I’ve done very well so far, and am considering finding a calculus class in the fall so that I can take a college level physics class in the spring.

In Tim McGraw’s new song he talks about trying to become a better person.  I don’t think he means academically, and heaven knows there are plenty of areas where I could use some improvement, so lately I’ve been listening to it even more than We’re Not Young.  Still, I’d like to think that when he sings “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be,” that it applies to me as well.

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Some thoughts on media

A couple thoughts that have been kicking around in my head, in no particular oder, on the media today.

Online:  One of my guilty online pleasures is Texts from Last Night.  Reading them always has me entertained, and often has me disgusted, disappointed (that I didn’t think of doing that sooner), fearing for the future of our country, or laughing out loud.  Naturally, I check it at least once or twice a day.  That’s not the medium I want to talk about, however.  On the site, American Apparel, which I must confess to have never heard about before, is running ads.  It’s an interesting ad campaign.

The first ad I remember seeing from them was a blond wearing a little black dress in a rather awkward pose.  She was positioned such that you could see that she had a pair of matching black panties on.  Someone is going to get fired, I thought to myself, for letting that one slip by.  Not so.  It was my mistake, not their’s.

The following weeks brought more scantily clad models, so it was clear the woman was deliberately photographed such that we could see up her dress.  I’m still confused by the ad campaign though.  Their models are as unattractive as their clothes.  It’s as if the theme is ugly people wearing ugly clothes.

Books:  I really enjoy the writing of Andrew Ross Sorkin most of the time.  I often read his work in the New York Times, and if he didn’t write 100 posts a week I would read his blog, too.  I can’t keep up with him, so I’ve given up trying.

Being a fan of his work I thought I would check out his book on the near collapse of our financial system and the actual collapse of our economy, Too Big to Fail.  I got about a third of the way through it but eventually gave up, something I rarely and don’t like to do.

It was focused too much on the personalities involved, and almost seemed like a way for Sorkin to advertise how good his sources are.  What the chairman of Goldman Sachs had for breakfast as he talked to the president of the New York Fed isn’t of any interest to me, but much ink was spilled telling us.

I’m much more interested in knowing about the economics behind the collapse.  I don’t know any of the people he is writing about, so reading about their interpersonal relationships and the internal politics that allowed to to rise to their current positions holds no appeal for me.

I’m instead now reading Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality.  Early on author Manjit Kumar has given some biographical details about the principal players, but its just enough to set the scene.  He certainly is not dedicating whole chapters to their upbringing and career paths as Sorkin did.  It’s still early going, but I like it so far.

Television:  I’m not a big TV fan, but every now and then I’ll turn it on if something reaches such huge level of discussion in popular culture that I feel I should at least see what everyone is talking about.  Truth be told that’s how I became a fan of The Office, the only program on television I think is worth recording.

Glee has now reached such a level of pop culture prominence that I thought I should check it out.  My expectations were pretty low going in, but I have to admit on some levels I did enjoy it.  The song selections were excellent, and the actors (or their voiceovers) could sing.  I wasn’t expecting to hear Aerosmith or Journey, but I did and they actually did a great job covering them.

On the other hand, the shows were over the top.  I haven’t been to Mass on a regular basis in a while, but after watching a couple episodes I feel like I’m good until at least Christmas.  The shows were much preachier than anything I’ve ever heard escape a priest’s lips.

I don’t necessarily object to the messages they are promoting, but I don’t want to be hit over the head with it either.  What ever happened to those “very special” episodes of Saved by the Bell where Jessie has a problem with caffeine pills?  Get the message across in 22 minutes, and by tomorrow we are all worrying again about whether Mr. Belding will catch Zack in whatever his latest scheme is.  It might not be true to life, but there’s a reason sitting in front of the tube (or the flat screen, as the case may be) is called vegging out.  People use it to escape reality, not focus on it.