Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is quantum physics associated with common sense or is it flapdoodle?

I would like to thank those who prompted me on the apparent contradiction between "Common Sense" and "Quantum Physics", calling it an oxymoron.

A few month ago, in a discussion on sci.physics:
"Common Sense" Quantum Physics?
Now THERE is an oxymoron if ever there was one!

And recently, I was prompted by a tweet:
Common sense quantum physics sounds like an oxymoron to me!

Of course, I chose my blogtitle to be suggestive, even a bit provocative. But I wanted it also to be earnest. How is it possible that the most fundamental theoretical framework of nature is not considered as common sense? To me this is sufficient evidence that there is something wrong in our understanding and teaching of Quantum Physics.

My opinion is that our specialized physics education is responsible for that oxymoron. I've got children, one of them who's just got to high school. When they ask me about what I'm doing with my video-clips and I explain to them how quantum systems behave, they grasp it intuitively.

For instance, I'll explain that interference patterns with single particles are obtained because the single particle rides on a wave and that wave directs it at special places on a screen, that's how ordinary particles behave. But I'll never ever explain it through unnecessary hocus pocus quantum flapdoodle.  

All the same, they understand very well that we don't know whether Schrödinger's cat is dead or alive before we've opened the box. I'll never ever tell them that the cat is both dead and alive at the same time. I'll just say that because we don't know whether it is dead or alive, quantum physics has some rules that give odds for each possible result of the observation. That conforms to their perception of reality.

With respect to quantum mechanics, I find classical mechanics concepts like gravity harder to explain. The fact that the sun attracts the earth or that the earth attracts a falling apple is less intuitive than the fundamental quantum principles.

That's what I mean by "ordinary common sense quantum physics" with respect to "educated common sense classical physics".

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