New Quantum Narrative

Armchair Anything is not a designation to be proud of.

It’s a form of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, pontificating on top of Mount Stupid. It suggests oversimplification, facile explanations and theories.

Still, I sense coming out as an Armchair Quantum Physicist is increasingly acceptable, even popular. I think Armchair Quantum Physics is A Thing.

I am one of them and I have been for a long time.

I’ve never taken a formal course in Physics. But I’m a Learning junkie and I’ve read and watched and listened and followed my own path through thousands of hours of physical science material.

I didn’t notice John Bell’s Theorem when it was first introduced in 1964. Not many people did. But I was ready to try making sense of it by the mid-1980s when decades of precision research and experimentation resulted in the confirmation of Bell’s radical conclusions.

They were radical because they were incompatible with classical physics.

That is catnip for me.

I don’t think I’m alone in this — the idea of being in at the ground floor of a paradigm shift. Seeing how things really are, while others tenaciously cling to old mental models.

I started reading and I soon learned that the articles were written for physicists, not Armchair Physicists. To me, that’s good and bad. Good, in that it forced me to learn how physicists talk; but Bad, in my opinion, because it assumes the best way to communicate new stuff is to recap the whole history of how the science got to this point.

Not surprisingly, I disagree.

How modern humans finally grasped the probabilistic nature of everything is irrelevant; interesting maybe, but irrelevant. In fact, recapitulating the history of our believe that things are fixed and stable adds unnecessary baggage. Why bother?

In a stunning display of ignorant bombast, I will even assert that Quantum Physics isn’t all that difficult to grasp. The universe is based on probability, not certainty.

OK, so what does that mean?

Here’s where things tend to go off on the wrong track.

Almost every introductory article on Quantum Physics ever written, supposedly addressing the natural question, ‘what does that mean,’ begins with the story of The Double-Slit Experiment. It is canonical. The writer must force all readers to focus on the different variations of this famous experiment and try to interpret the different patterns on the wall.

Why? Because the Double Slit proved to Real Physicists that something weird and non-Classical was going on. The initial experiment and the layers added to it is how the Pros learned what they know now.

Cool, I’m satisfied just knowing that.

You could simply tell me: All the fundamental particles, like photons and electrons, aren’t just particles. They are also waves, when they are in motion, which is always. They show their particle-ness only when we get information about their properties, like taking a snap shot.

Getting buried in the intricacies of the Double Slit, while a great mental exercise, does not begin to answer the question about Meaning I raised two paragraphs ago. I think the Double Slit is a terrible way to introduce Quantum Physics.

Now that I’ve alienated all the science writers, let me back up and say my real objective is to Explain Quantum Physics to my Grandchildren. I want them to have an up-to-date cosmic model from an early age.

They understand waves. They’ve been to the ocean and they’ve heard noise. They also understand particles. If I tell them that at the lowest layer of all the Legos that make us up, things can be both a wave and a particle, they wouldn’t ask me to prove it with an experiment.

They’d ask me, ‘what does that mean.’

I would answer by describing Quantum Effects, not Quantum Proofs. The approach is something like what Marketing people mean when they say, ‘ Sell the Benefits, not the Features;’ which in this context means, focus on what it does for my grandkids.

I would probably start with Quantum Entanglement — and to focus on what it does for my grandkids I would tell a story.

There would be two Best Friends, let’s say you and your friend Becky, who invent a Quantum Magic Power Word together and hide it way deep inside your bodies. That secret Inside Word gives you Super Powers to solve any problem, but only when you Really need it — plus it takes both of you.

As soon as you make that Inside Word together, a little ripple starts in the space between you like throwing a pebble into a gentle stream.

Here’s how it goes: Right when one of you Really Needs help, the other one, no matter where they are or what they’re doing — has to speak their Inside Word — and it has to be just right to lock in with their Friend’s Inside Word.

Which it will be, because they are still part of that same ripple, still flowing, always flowing.

Like, once your friend Becky was lost. She had been taking a walk in the woods and she was day dreaming, not paying attention and she couldn’t find her way back. It was getting dark.

Instead of getting scared, she got smart, and thought her Inside Word with all the thought power she had. You felt it in that same second and thought your Inside Word and all of a sudden Becky had the power to see in every direction, over the trees and over any hills, until she could see the way home all at the same second.

Her Inner Word and your Inner Word are always connected, because they are both part of that first ripple you sent out together.

That’s how I would answer my grandkids’ question about what Quantum Entanglement means. It means that everything we do sends out ripples and when we start something together those ripples last forever.

I would say, that story isn’t made up. Tiny things inside us do make tiny little waves out into everything and they stay connected for as long as the initial wave keeps going.

I would say, the connection or the entanglement of the Inner Words is the same Quantum Effect that scientists and engineers use today in cryptography, computing, and communications.

I might even say, the Entangled Inner Words are one propagating wave front, so of course they are still locked into the right relationship. It is all one wave. But it is also two particles, that become fixed entities when we need them.

Entangled particles are just the particle expression of one propagating wave front.

I’m an Armchair Quantum Physicist and this is how I would explain the world we live in to my grandkids.

I am not the first to point out that Pro Quantum Physicists (ie, not the Armchair variety) have been dishing up mere ‘Interpretations’ of their measurements of wave/particle interactions for decades.

Some of the ‘Interpretations’ are much wilder than the story I made up. The ‘Many Worlds’ Interpretation associated with Hugh Everett, for example, might be a stretch for an eight year old. But maybe not. We’ll see when we get there.

The clear role for full-time professional Quantum Physics Scientists is to continue their ingenious research, in both theoretical and applied directions. Armchair types like me need to pour over these findings and attempt to understand them deeply.

Then, just like it wasn’t a fish that discovered water, some of us might be able to tell useful and important stories about what those hardcore research results mean. Not dumbed-down expository prose, but expressions of how quantum effects fit into the world we know.

Magical connections are a normal part of most kid’s world. To me, the key idea is grounding the connection in a ripple, a wave that never stops and only becomes two points through our intention. It’s grown-ups. like Einstein, who have particles on the brain, so it looks like ‘spooky action at a distance.’

It isn’t.

The end.

Coming Soon: A Quantum Tunneling Story




Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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Tom Nickel

Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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