Thursday, January 5, 2017
The book "Quantum" by Manjit Kumar weaves together both the discoveries and theories of Quantum Mechanics along with the personal and spiritual lives of the physicists involved.
QM began with Max Planck's discovery in 1900 that the relationship between heat and the frequency of light generated by a heated body is not a smooth line on a graph. Rather, when Planck examined the most minute increases of heat, he found the light freqency would hold steady and then suddenly jump.
The personal story behind this is fascinating. Planck was the last person you'd expect to make this discovery. He was told when he wanted to major in physics that almost everything had been discovered in this field. The job of a physicist was simply to extend the decimal places on all the known constants. But this kind of science suited the conservative and methodical Planck. Little did anyone know that he would blow the roof off classical mechanics.
In classical mechanics we understand the physical world through cause and effect. Strike a baseball with a bat, and we can predict where it will go and how far, etc. Yet in the atomic and subatomic world we have discovered effects that just don't make sense. Light shining on a photo cell produces an electrical current giving us the impression that light is a particle. Light shining through two slits creates wave patterns showing that it is a wave. Fire a single electron at two slits and things get really weird. It seems as though the electron passes through both slits and apparently is capable of ending up in several different places that only God knows and why.
That last statement is what this book is really about. Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg took these discoveries and emphasized the randomness and unpredictability of the physical world. Albert Einstein and Erwin Schroedinger felt that this was not a complete understanding of the weird effects of QM. The author mentions a number of times Einstein's famous dictum: "God does not play dice." When Bohr died, the last drawing on his blackboard was that of Einstein's Light Box mind experiment which challenged the idea that the physical world is ultimately random.
QM just boggles the mind, which is why I appreciate Richard Feynman, who said no one understands it.
However I think QM is important because it points to the realty of things that the Bible teaches such as creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) or that things are not always what they appear to be!
The author doesn't really go into the spiritual beliefs of Max Planck, but I hope to learn more about that. Here is a quote by Planck about science and religion:
While both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, to the latter the goal of every thought process….No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science.
(Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949, p. 184; pp. 185-186.)