I flipped through Quantum Physics for Dummies — impenetrable. I se lected pages at random from Quan- tum Mechanics Demystified — nothing but equations and hieroglyphics.
But Chad Orzel explains things like wave-particle duality and the many-worlds hypothesis in terms that dogs can understand. And you and I, dear reader? We’re the dogs.
I never took a physics class, and I don’t really understand about “allowed states” and about how polarized-light wavelengths can vary horizontally and vertically.
But I can think like a dog — so I know just what Orzel means when he talks about bunnies hopping up and down in the grass while squirrels zigzag across it.
And because Orzel prefaces every chapter with a canine conversation — his Emmy is a German Shepherd — there are a lot of bunnies, cats and squirrels in this discussion of quantum basics.
One chapter explains that particles (and even large chunks of matter) can be in multiple positions at once, but that we can perceive only a sliver of multifaceted reality — which leads both to the multiple- worlds hypothesis and to that Star Trek episode with the evil Spock wearing a goatee.
Despite the joking around, Orzel isn’t always simple or clear; quantum mechanics is pretty dense stuff. He lost me, for example, somewhere around the Bell theorem for resolving the famous Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen paradox. (Well, famous among physicists, I guess.)
But the implications for proving that Einstein’s idea was “brilliantly wrong” are profound: ”Our universe,” Orzel says, “cannot be described by any theorem in which particles have definite properties at all times, and in which measurements made in one place are not affected by measurements in other places.”
Yet if that sounds scary — everything’s random and everything’s
connected — it also raises the prospect of phenomena like quantum
computing, cryptography and teleportation (which Orzel describes, using
one of his down-to-earth analogies, in terms of a fax machine).
With the Large Hadron Collider over in Geneva about to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson and supersymmetry, exciting discoveries are on the way.
So you’d better brush up on your quantum mechanics. You can talk to Emmy all about it.