Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Mystery Of A Cat In The Box In An Uncertain Universe

Newton fathered physics as we know it now. He formulated precise laws that govern our world, which stood the test of time for centuries. But as our knowledge about the universe incrementally advanced and as we began to deal with scales (both incredibly minute and infinitely large) that were unthinkable at his times, we started redefining the laws. Albert Einstein postulated Special and General theory of relativity that helped us in dealing with the vastness of our ever expanding universe. Quantum physics did the same for the micro universe constituting of sub atomic particles. 

Though I had studied some quantum physics during school, the first time I thought seriously about its implications was during a long train ride when I read a book by Deepak Chopra. The book (I cannot recall it's name, fortunately) was the usual motivational self-help trash, that everyone ends up reading at a certain phase of their life. It married quantum theory with some spiritual mumbo-jumbo and produced a concoction of pseudoscientific rubble. The one and only positive outcome it produced in me was an interest to read more about quantum physics. (I am now curious to know what happened to the me in an alternate universe who tried to realise his true potential through quantum spirituality after believing Deepak Chopra). 

John Gribbin

In his book In Search Of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics And Reality, John Gribbin tries to make sense of the bizzare world of probabilities, uncertainties, ghost electrons, multiverses and time travel- concepts that are difficult for humans to even visualise. He starts from basics by introducing the concept of light as particles and waves, atomic structure and the weird inconsistencies that necessitated a new method of looking beyond our perceived reality. The book chronicles the evolution of quantum theory through the inputs from several ingenious minds that braved to think in radically different ways. 

The best thing about the writing of Gribbin is his explanation of complex and out of the world concepts in a manner that anyone with an interest can easily comprehend. Though the subject is very difficult to visualise and is heavily dependant on complex mathematical equations to make its points, Gribbin very patiently lead us on our way to understand the working of a world that thrives on uncertain resolutions. I loved the way he connects tough quantum concepts with easily understandable local situations and explains them. 

It is disheartening to know that quantum physics makes the universe unpredictable and dependant on chances and probability. The rigid frame work of Newtonian thought and the causal hierarchy of Einstein's findings turned out to be limited. Working of the building blocks of our universe doesn't work predictably. It is difficult to unlearn a lifetime's knowledge and accept a contrarian worldview. But the quantum cookbook has been an integral part of human development- super computers, nuclear reactors, microchips and lasers are all some of its most common practical applications. On the top, it is equally mind blowing to realise that quantum physics may open the door to more exciting prospects like multiverse and time travel. A basic knowledge of the quantum reality is essential for all and this book is a very good entry point for that. 

"The atoms in my body are made of particles that once jostled in close proximity in the cosmic fireball with particles that are now part of a distant star, and particles that form the body of some living creature on some distant, undiscovered planet. Indeed, the particles that make up my body once jostled in close proximity and interacted with the particles that now make up your body."

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