Monday, December 18, 2023


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

In his annual Thanksgiving Day post, theoretician Sean Carroll, who has given thanks for a variety of physical phenomena for a number of Thanksgivings, e.g., the standard model, conservation of momentum, the moons of Jupiter, certain mathematics, space, electromagnetism, etc.. gave "thanks for a feature of nature that is frequently misunderstood: quanta". All of the previous thanksgiving day posts are linked, if you are interested.

The essay could easily have been aimed at me but I'm not a very important target. My long-standing impression is that ''reality is somehow pixelized --- made up of the smallest possible units --- rather than being ultimately smooth and continuous." Those "discrete chunks of something-or-other are the "quanta''. Carroll throws me a lifeline when he notes that "the lumpiness of "quanta" is just apparent, although it's a very important appearance."

Carroll takes on the task of explaining this - the essay is short - and like all things quantum mechanical it requires, at least it did for me, some effort. There is no attempt at translation of mathematics into everyday language or should there be (my view).
I send this partly because I have always liked this form of thanks at Thanksgiving. Now you have access to all of them.

I readily admit to not understanding everything but I'm glad I gave it a go. This sentence about the study of nature is a reminder that we are pattern seekers. This has consequences for science (as well as almost every other aspect of our lives). "It’s always tempting to take what we see to be the underlying truth of nature, but quantum mechanics warns us not to give in."

You may remember the saying WYSISYG -What You See Is What You Get. In this case, a wrong (based on current understanding, evidence, theory, models, etc.), confused view of the workings of the world which slows and/or deflects progress. Flip Wilson as Geraldine Jones introduced it to popular vernacula, but it has its roots in computing.

Carroll also includes a link to a recent paper published in The Physics ArXiv in which he proposes a "judicious compromise." This is written in the linqua franca of cosmology. One of the purposes of these prepublications in physics is for authors to get feedback. I'm also betting that some heads in the physics world are wagging a "no" to these ideas.
By the way, he refers readers to two of his books written for a general audience, one of which is published and the other of which is in press. The latter is about quanta and fields.


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