Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Quantum Mechanics.

Why is it so hard to understand quantum weirdness?

A potato has limited intelligence so understands less than we do. It has sensitivity to gravity and light and can process the information to organize the directions of growth of roots and shoots. But that’s about as far as it goes. A potato is unaware of its place in the cosmos and can’t even make a cup of tea. The important point is that potatoes have not evolved complex sensory systems or the brains to process and act on more sensory inputs than they possess.

Human senses are more complex; we have eyes, ears, noses and skin that send information to a brain that has evolved the capability to interpret the signals and to construct a model of the Universe. Our brains are even capable of dealing with the enhanced sensory signals delivered by some of the instruments we invent, such as telescopes and microscopes. We can understand the aspects of reality that these instruments reveal and add them to our Universe model.

There are, however, limitations to our understanding of reality. Our model of the Universe is constructed from what we are able to sense and understand. There may be phenomena that exist but are undetected, not understood and therefore not included in the model, a model that may represent only part of the Universe. Remember that the potato ‘thinks’ that gravity and light are all there is. The potato’s model of the Universe is pretty limited. Perhaps ours is also pretty limited, but, like the potato, we don’t realise it, not missing what we don’t know about.

Perhaps the Universe is vastly more complex, literally unimaginably more complex, than we realise. Like the potato, we live in ignorance, limited by how far our senses and our brain have evolved. But there may be a fuzzy zone, a liminal region, between what we can observe and make sense of and what is utterly unknowable.

We can hold a piece of glass over a candle flame to deposit a layer of soot from the smoke, cut two very thin, closely space slits with a pair of razor blades, shine a light through them and observe the strange pattern projected on a white sheet behind. It’s quantum weirdness in action. We have constructed mathematical tools can deal with quantum mechanics to help in practical tasks, such as designing electronics, but they have not got us far in helping us actually understand the quantum world.

Our brains evolved to deal with the large scale phenomena described by classical physics, and there was little evolutionary advantage in understanding the quantum world. So we can no more understand it than a potato can understand what Newton demonstrated. Our grasp of reality may be just limited to an infinitesimal part of the whole Universe.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep trying, shouldn’t keep pushing at the fuzzy boundaries in the liminal zone beyond comprehension. We may not have quite reached the limits of our brains’ capacities and there may be fascinating, even useful, insights to be gained that fall far short of understanding quantum phenomena.

Quantum weirdness will just have to stay weird.


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