Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Uncertainty

It’s the Physics Department Christmas “party”. Dr Smith can’t stand such things so he has a couple of sips of the ghastly warm white wine and makes his apologies  and leaves. 

Driving home He sees the blue lights in the mirror and pulls over. It’s a routine Yuletide stop.  Smith hasn’t been speeding and is clearly totally sober  so the frustrated coppers, for something to do, decide to search the car. One pops the boot open and says, “Sir, did you know you have a dead cat in here?”. Smith, somewhat annoyed, shouts back over the traffic, “Well, I do now!”

Today, or yesterday (it’s a delayed choice joke, OK) is/was Erwin Schrödinger’s birthday. There was even a Google Doodle.

I’ve really not known what to say of late about much of anything.

An irreducibly stochastically birthday Erwin!

Wherever you may/may not be.

11 Comments

  1. fnord says:

    Later that night the same cops pulled Werner Heisenberg over for speeding. “Sir, do you know just how fast you were going?”

    “Yes I do.”

    And he promptly disappeared.

  2. NickM says:

    That’s better than mine!

    Bugger.

  3. RAB says:

    Good to see you back Nick. A little toe in the water. Now we’d like you to stamp on someone’s head like the old days. But take your time, choose your targets, it’s not as if there’s a dirth of subjects out there is there? ;-)

  4. Fred Thrung says:

    May I echo RAB? You’ve been missed Nick.

  5. John Galt says:

    To add my uncertainty joke (which is a variation on fnords)

    So the professor is driving home at speed and gets pulled over by a copper. The copper says “Do you know you were doing 97.4 miles per hour?”

    “Great”, says the professor “Now I’m lost!”

    This joke may/may not be funnier in the original German.

    Alles Gute zum Geburtstag Ordentlicher Professor Schrödinger!

  6. Paul Marks says:

    E.S. was part of the last generation of scientists to be believe that modern physics is not incompatible with the ordinary way the human mind works – his talk of the cat was not an effort to glory in modern physics (it was actually an ATTACK on the way it was developing).

    Modern physics has decided that he was wrong and that that the people he was attacking were correct.

    Fair enough (I do not dispute that) – but it does mean a very old dream has died.

    The dream that goes back to the Ancient Greeks – i.e. that the rules of reason that apply to the human mind can be applied to the universe.

  7. NickM says:

    Why thanks folks!

    Paul,
    Yes, I know ES used his example in a bid to dismiss the ide that QM “goes all the way up i.e. what is OK for atoms isn’t for macroscopic things like cats…

    Well, that ain’t true. Quantum effects have been empirically demonstrated at macroscopic sizes by things like the Josephson Junction.which demonstrates QM effects at macro levels albeit about 1mm scale.

    The reason we don’t notice this sort of stuff all the time is the huge, enormous number of atoms or whatever in anything cat-sized. The weirdness kinda cancels out.which is not to say in principle strange things like me Quantum tunneling into the next room can’t happen. They are just very, very unlikely to. I mean way, way beyond the age of the universe.

    Consider a gas. It’s a bit like that. Gases don’t exist. There are only atoms and void so to speak. The idea of a gas is an abstraction used to describe a situation where you have enough atoms or molecules that you have to treat the thing as a whole. A lot of these ideas are quite old. In many ways QM is not quite as radical as it is portrayed by shysters like Michio Kaku. There are many mysterious aspects to Classical Mechanics as well.

    I could write a book on this so I’d best stop. Suffice to say QM is logical as hell. It isn’t that it violates logic as much as violating common sense and we all know how variable that is across time and culture and also how it often leads us astray.

  8. John Galt says:

    Even from a classical perspective, the contents of an atom are something like 99.99999999% empty space with only a tiny amount of matter in the protons, neutrons and electrons.

    So comparing a lump of coal with a balloon of coal gas is like saying “on my left I have some ‘practically-bloody-empty-space’ and on my right I have some ‘even-more-practically-bloody-empty-space’ “.

    There are distinctions obviously, but as you get down to finer and finer levels of granularity they become increasingly arbitrary.

    This is why I dislike the comparison of the solar system to the atom, because it is not the microscopic reflecting the macroscopic, but the other way round. The macroscopic reflects the very basis of creation as the stuff the universe is made of.

    It makes my head spin to think that the tiny titanium drill-tip that I bought at B&Q was formed in the heart of a star.

    P.S. Nice to have you back Nick.

  9. Simon Jester says:

    Yet another variant on the theme:

    The professor is driving home and sees the inevitable blue lights in his rear-view. He pulls over, winds the window down and waits for the constable:

    “Good evening, sir. Do you know how fast you were going?”

    “No, officer, but I can tell you exactly where I was at the time!”

  10. Paul Marks says:

    Nick – you must have missed the bit where I wrote that I “do not deny” modern physics.

    I do not deny it – the universe is a mess (modern physics shows this) so let us accept that and hold the ancient dream (from the ancient Greeks to the late 19th century) that the universe was governed by rational laws (that it made sense – in a human definition of sense) was FALSE dream.

    A couple of examples (that do not involve cats) show that modern physics had shown the universe to be absurd even BEFORE QM.

    For example, two space ships each going towards each other at 0.75 of the speed of light – so the collusion speed is 1.5 of the speed of light?

    NO says the physics of Einstein (forget human reason, common sense, it does NOT apply to the universe – only to human affairs).

    Even before Einstein we get things such as the following…..

    A beam of light is fired – one man does not chase after it (he just stands there) another man chases after the beam of light as fast as he can go – say 30 miles an hour.

    So the beam of light goes away from the second man 30 miles an hour slower than it does from the first man (as human reason, common sense, would indicate) – NO it does not according to modern physics (even taking Maxwell’s equations).

    According to modern physics – the beam of light goes away from both men (the man chasing after it and the man who is not) AT THE SAME RATE (the speed of light).

    Fair enough.

    Human reason (common sense) has nothing to do with the universe (which, in human terms, is insane) – let us leave it at that. The dream (from the Ancient Greeks to the 19th century) was a FALSE dream. Modern physics disproves it – the laws of the human mind (human reason) do NOT apply to the universe.

    Which is why I gave up the study of physics at the age of 16.

  11. Paul Marks says:

    By the way – E.S. (as I understand) was not just denying that QM goes “all the way up” – he was pointing out that it was insane even at the level of the very small.

    Particles being in two different places at the same time, particles existing and not existing (again at the same time) or being in a state of “neither existing or not existing – before being perceived” and the rest of the raving insanity.

    Well it turns out that the universe is indeed insane – a drooling mess, (rather like the fantasy stories of H.P.L.), the laws of human reason (common sense) simply do not apply to the universe – and why should they?

    The dream (the dream from the Greeks to the 19th century) is dead.

    It does not mean that the West has to die.

    But we must accept that the dream (the hope) that the physical universe would reflect the laws of our own minds, was a false hope.

    This support has been taken from us – but that does not mean that the human mind (the “I”) does not exist, or that the laws of human reason (common sense) do not apply in human affairs. Although they do not apply to the universe.

    “But we are part of the universe” – clearly (in this respect) we are NOT, modern physics has shown this. This need NOT imply any supernatural thing – it may simply mean that the mind (humanity – agency) is different.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: