A-to-Z Challenge Day Seventeen: Quarks, and Quasars, and other Quantum Nonsense
I think it was Deepak Chopra who first discovered that you could make any kind of outrageous claim you wanted to as long as you put the word “quantum” in front of the words “mechanics” or “science.” For instance, “According to quantum mechanics, the quantum superposition of the wave function is such that all things exist in every possible way that they can exist simultaneously until you observe it, then the wave function collapses.”
See? A pile of nonsense. I think.
So what’s the deal with quantum mechanics, anyway? It’s a complex field of study that seems like it’s mostly math and focuses on things that are infinitesimally small. And, shocker, it also happens to be probably the most rigorously evidence field of science we’ve got right now. Even more so than the other great scientific theory, evolution (tons and tons of evidence if you know where to look–why not start out and get Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection from Project Gutenberg?).
I think that reason that quantum mechanics finds itself so easily manipulated to support pseudo-scientific woo like quantum energy fields that do…um…something? I don’t know, there’s some stuff out there about spiritual energy fields thanks to quantum this or that. I lose interest and zone out when I figure out it’s bunk. Oh, anyway, the reason I think that it’s so easily manipulated is because there are people who want to prey on the naivete and scientific illiteracy of others to make millions of dollars selling junk that doesn’t work with a pretty label.
Well, this isn’t working. I keep getting sidetracked by the some incredulity that’s seeping to the surface. Let’s talk for a bit about Erwin Schrodinger.
Well, there’s also a ton of other scientists who really led to the breakthroughs that spawned QM, like Neils Bohr, Albert Einstein, and Werner Heisenberg.
Anyway, Schrodinger came up with a famous thought experiment called Schrodinger’s cat (this was before the days of the animal rights movement). It presents a paradox in the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics in which a cat is placed in a box with a bottle of poison and a radioactive element. If a sensor detects the decay of an atom, the bottle of poison is broken and the cat dies (poor cat!). Well, the idea is that after a while because of quantum superposition the cat exists simultaneously as both alive and dead. This occurs until the box is opened and the cat observed, at which time the superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or another, i.e., the cat is either dead, alive, or somehow napping on your laptop keyboard.
And what’s with cats, anyway? I mean, they think they’re so great and in charge. Well, quantum mechanics makes fools of us all, I guess.
I keep digressing. The purpose of talking about Schrodinger’s cat is to illustrate just how much quantum mechanics goes against our intuitions and how little “common sense” can help us understand it.
After all, how can a cat be both alive and dead? Well, that’s where the charlatans step in. It’s because of quantum energy fields and flux and all kinds of other spiritual things that connect all life and stuff. Think positively and buy my product and the quarks and quips and other kinds of subatomic particles and imaginary things that begin with the letter “q” will heal anything! Feeling tired? Buy this quantum field harmonizer kit that jiggles the quarks in the free air around you, stimulating a reaction at the cellular level, down to the quantum level, in your brain, revitalizing you and giving you an extra pep in your step with a minimum exposure to rads.
Quit quaking and quickly quaff the quantum quencher! A miracle drink that synergizes your mind with your body, helping you to produce better healing effects.
Gah. I can’t keep up this bloody joke any longer because it starts to cross the line from satire to a mirror-image of some actual quantum nonsense.
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, but none of this stuff means a damn thing. Anything that has the word “quantum” in the title or description besides extremely complex theories with equations like this one:
probably isn’t real science. It’s probably just pseudo-science masquerading as science.
So, in essence, what this post is really about is learning how to check your sources, and really it’s an advertisement for skepticism. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are a number of great resources to get real, knowledgeable opinions on a lot of information floating around on the web, like one of my favorites, Science-Based Medicine.
Oh, and the quasar bit was really just because I love astronomy. Thanks, NASA.