The world of the very small is bizarre. When you start investigating how do really tiny things like photons and electrons behave, you find that they exhibit properties that defy imagination. The field of study that captures all that is called quantum mechanics. This is not a new area; scientists have been studying it for over hundred years.
In my quest to keep my left-brain alive during my retirement, I study topics like quantum mechanics, theory of relativity and origin of life. I must admit, sometimes I find it hard to fully digest even relatively elementary books on these subjects, but still I find them fascinating. I also try to draw analogies between these theories and our human experience. So, here is my attempt at doing that for quantum mechanics.
A basic property of a very small particle, photon for example, is that it takes all possible paths from origin to destination. That sounds creepy, doesn’t it? However, even more interesting is that if we make a measurement, it will make up its mind and be found in one and only one specific path.
I have found many people exhibit similar property. They would not make up their mind on a controversial topic until youtake one. Then they decide. This could be agreement or disagreement with you. One person I know is so willing to agree with you, that her waffling on a subject comes to an end only when you decide. Then she agrees. Some others I know are confrontational and will always take a position opposite of what you have stated. Quantum mechanics at work, I bet.
The world is composed of two types of particles, Bosons and Fermions. Bosons are the particle incarnation of energy (photon for light), while Fermions are what matter is composed of. Quantum mechanics says that Bosons are gregarious; they like to hang out with one another, while Fermions (e.g., electron) are antisocial; they resist encroachment by other Fermions. It is this property that allows us to have lasers, which are composed of photons marching together in a very disciplined manner. On the other hand an atom, which is mostly empty space, does not allow another atom to occupy the same space. That’s why you can’t walk through a wall.
I can imagine people in some cultures, say Asian ones, are like Bosons, thriving in their collective living, while those in Scandinavian countries are like Fermions. They like their space around them. Of course this is a gross generalization. In such groups of Bosons, there would be isolated Fermions and vice versa.
One of the most amazing aspects of quantum mechanics is entanglement, in which two particles, world apart, behave in a lock-step manner. The state of one particle immediately defines the state of the other. Further, if two particles are in an entangled state together, then neither of them can be entangled with any other particles in the universe. This is monogamy of quantum entanglement…passion at a distance.
I feel I have seen this movie before, yes and it is a Bollywood movie. A hero and heroine in a strictly monogamous relationship can be found singing different verses of the same song even though they may be world apart. What better example of quantum entanglement?
One final example of quantum mechanics that has found its way in regular living is called zero-point energy. That refers to the fact that even completely empty space has some energy. It can never be zero. If you want to be technical, this vacuum energy is suspected to have caused cosmic inflation after the Big Bang, which created our universe.
I find this property resident in my brain. No matter how hard I try, I can never empty out my brain of thoughts. Now, this is where Indian gurus shine. They have developed an ability to achieve a thoughtless mind. I suspect, however, that there is some isolated thought lurking around even in their well-developed brains. One cannot fool around with zero-point energy.
So there you have it. If quantum mechanics is bizarre, we are equally so.