Monday, May 17, 2010

One of These Days I Would Like to Wake Up and Not Find Half a Swannee Whistle and a Pair of Maracas in my Wellies

For a couple of years now, during the less rainy, or 'tourist', season we have put up couch-surfers from all over the world and met some really interesting people. Over the weekend we hosted Yara who hails from Venezuela & Graeme from Scotland who, it turned out to my great delight, are both physicists.

Great! Someone who may be able to help me with my intermittent part time struggles with understanding the basics of Quantum Mechanics!

After dinner I gave Graeme a piece of paper and a pencil and got him to explain Schrödinger's cat, the double slit experiment, and wave–particle duality to me. Sometime later, after both he an Yara had tried their damnest not to confuse me, I was almost at the point of understanding that my not understanding the basics of Quantum Mechanics was due more to the fact that no-one understands Quantum mechanics and less to do with me being thick (which is what I had suspected) when I had to go read the kids bedtime stories. So we never did get onto superposition, tunnelling and all the other fun stuff that leaves me feeling about as brainy as a haddock when I read about it.

The point of all this is that, during this tabletop tour of my bafflement, Graeme mentioned that he had given a lunchtime talk at Cambridge about something obscure he was working on around the edges of Black Holes*. He didn't expect many people to attend, but, as there was free food, the entire faculty turned up** - including Steven Hawkin! So I've had quantum mechanics explained to me by a man who lectured Steven Hawkin!

I still don't get it but take great solace from this quote from Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

Applying the inverse square rule of comedy I think that makes me an expert.

* I guess it's safer at the edges.

** These people aren't stupid.

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