Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quantum Physics & the Spawn of a New Word 'Macroscoponomy'

I love to read lots of physics articles, and I notice plenty of people who post comments on them not understanding some of the most basic of ideas that make physics and more specifically quantum physics work. I'm starting a new word, and with it a new thought process. This style of thinking isn't new or anything but I felt like documenting my thoughts on it. Perhaps someone will gain some new insight.

Macroscoponomy the study of the idea of macroscopically labeling things, and overcomming your personal predilection to see things as one or the other, as a binary system.

In your average everyday life, it is easy to call one object a car, a brick, or a person. These macroscopic terms are wondrously useful for our interactions in the world. But sometimes we need to see things that are outside of our normal interactions.

This isn't really any particular definition as to the word I'm defining. Its more along the lines of "this is how realized it". Maybe you can gain from this realization.

As I was learning physics, I noticed that when I read anything it was assumed that once they defined a something you just knew what that something was. You had to take that definition as a biblical truth and that definition ends up having no weight or meaning to anyone. It's just a memorized fact. This is common amongst many disciplines, you are supposed to learn 'X is this' you are then supposed to understand that you should not permanently sear this idea into your brain, you will learn the real truth later. The idea being, you proably wouldn't really understand the more advanced process involved in this, and you can understand the lesser version of it to solve this 'problem X'. Problem being many of us rely on our foundations and can't break them very easily.

Years ago I was pondering quantum physics and some articles on string theory and a few others on decaying radioactive wastes and their by-products. I was trying to visualize what they were talking about, and it was getting harder and harder - until one day it finally hit me. That my original ideas for what an electron is was wrong.

Everything has softer edges than the model I had somewhat tempered. Based on all the junk I was taught for years and years, I somehow had a mental model of an electron as something akin to a "magnetic marble" - it had a defined shape size and boundaries, and a field to interact with other particles. The truth is picturing it as a 'field' minus the marble isn't probably to far off.

Any of those things they define in quantum physics is more like a large thunderous storm. A storm of fields or forces that interact. From miles away you can see the thunderhead and you know that it imparts water below it. Much like you know that an electron is affected by a mutual atractive force between it and the nucleus of the atom. Both also appear to have an edge or measureable volume, so as a macroscopic being you actually assign a boundary to both. You shouldn't

Once you think of an atom as a storm - you should then immagine the whole atom looking something similar (not to similar now!) to jupiter and its storms. The whole planet is likely a storm, with smaller more concentrated storms in certain areas - an atom with electrons surrounding it is like a large storm with smaller storms all surrounding it, none of these have a defined edge.

If you back away from this a little more you can understand the quantum ideology of an electron doesn't really "orbit" the nucleus, but it sorta does. Its just a storm of "forces" that are mutually atracted and repulsed by the other storm of forces we label the nucleus. This constant tug of war pushes the fields that correspond to an electron all over the place, but in a relatively fixed distance from the center. This visualization also corresponds to the "electron cloud" and quite similarly defined by Feynman as a solution to Schrödinger's equation - but that gets advanced and out of the scope of this article.

All of these names then are just labels of convenience for us, since we like to think integrally and macroscopically. It took me a long time to overcome my predilection for thinking with these integral divisions of nature, when was the last time you were able to actually divide nature into even integral divisions?

Anyway, there are other things we do that we like to define this way. Your computer screen as a matter of fact, doesn't actually make circles! You see circles, but there aren't any. You only see a close approximation of circles made of squares called pixels. Its odd, because many of you are thinking, I knew this, but never thought about it. Sorta like Legos, when I build a truck do you see a pile of legos randomly joined to form a incidental shape recognizable as a truck or do you see a truck? We all see a truck but we know that it is made of other items.

I suppose this ends up being a case of "you can't see the trees cause of the forest", and yet here I go again, a where does a field stop and a forest begin?

1 comment:

Karen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post; it gave me something to ponder a bit as I avoided work today. Thanks.