Comment »Posted on Friday 26 December 2008 at 1:08 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Physics

As part of the Guardian’s Cif charades series, “Cif regulars write about a counterintuitive topic suggested by our readers”, Michele Hanson has shared with us her thoughts on quantum physics. Hint: I’m not very impressed.

Hanson believes that physicists aren’t “choosing their projects wisely”, and are “aiming a little too high” with their research into the quantum world. After all, what use is quantum physics? It’s not like it helps us understand semiconductors, vital in the construction of many electronics, or build MRI scanners, which help millions of people around the world. No, wait – yes it does. Just because Niels Bohr worked on the Manhattan Project, it doesn’t mean we should throw all of his research out of the window.

She aks “How can you not know how something worked if you’ve just worked out how it worked, and made it work?” I had to re-read the sentence a couple of times just to understand the question. Here’s the problem: quantum physics is weird. Like much of science, the results are counter-intuitive, difficult to understand, and an incomplete model of how the world truly is. Guess what though? Science works, bitches.

Still, because Hanson can’t get her “fluffy little head around” it, quantum physics isn’t important. Speaking to a friend, she discovers they share a basic knowledge of physics, up to a point:

..I asked another friend out with her dog. Her knowledge of plain, never mind quantum, physics was fairly basic. “Apples fall on your head,” she said. “Heat rises except in my oven, and E = mc².”

I can manage that, except for the last equation. Let’s not go there.

Oh no, an equation! We musn’t let anyone see the dreaded equals sign, lest they be overcome by it’s damning parallel lines. Begone, foul beast! At least I can take comfort in most of the Cif commenters disagreeing with Hanson as well. After all, this is a woman who believes that girls shouldn’t be encouraged in the sciences because “girls in general just aren’t that keen on science.” Bleurgh.


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