Ep. 138: Quantum Mechanics

Physics | 12 comments

Einstein, one of the founders of quantum mechanics

Einstein, one of the founders of quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is the study of the very tiny; the nature of reality at the smallest scale. It’s a science that defies common sense, and delivers no helpful analogies. And yet it delivers the goods, making scientific predictions with incredible accuracy. Let’s look into the history of quantum theory, and then struggle to comprehend its connection to the Universe.


  1. Stephen Anderson

    thanks, Pam and Fraser! I was starting to get the itches…

  2. Stephen Anderson

    ummm…. is this episode mislabeled, or is it just me?

  3. Terrance Safforld

    What are the thoughts of Dark Matter/Energy as proof of M-Theory? If we look deeper into M-Theory, Dark Matter’s presence would be inferred from SUPER gravitational effects on visible matter. This we can already see and calculate. However, through all of our newest and most revolutionary advances, we have no direct evidence of Dark Matter/Energy. M-Theory opens up the possibility that these particles do not exist entirely in “our” universe. Yet, we see Dark Matter’s affect on matter in our universe via “super gravity”. Isn’t it possible that an 11 dimensional space time continuum model or thought experiment could explain Dark Matter? This could be done by looking at M-Theory as an 11-D equation that describes our universe. This 11 part equation would correlate to frequencies, as you described in this cast with the electron beams, but at the string level. M-Theory would explain gravity (and your black hole example), AND would assign gravity at the STRING level, which would be part of that 11 variable equation. Furthermore, time and other properties could be and a factor of string vibration in 11 D.
    M-Theory would suggest that our continuum and all the matter and energy in it actually “vibrates” (at the string level) and shares the same spatial temporal phase. Imagine a symphony orchestra where the strings of matter are the instruments. And these instruments are tuned to the same temperament. Therefore, our entire universe can be imagined as music being played in the same key and with the same rhythm (supergravity) by these finely tuned instruments.
    But, some of these instruments are not entirely in tune with our universe but their music is recognizable to us. And some of these instruments, although still playing with the same rhythm (supergravity), do not appear to us in this universe because they are being played in an entirely different key. But we can feel and see the effects of their rhythm (supergravity). As with music of a symphony, if you change the key, you change the essence of the movement. This may be what we know as Dark Matter (or what happens in the extreme instances of black holes or other extremely energetic observations).
    But! There may be places where the music overlaps to form new and completely different movements all together. The music may be almost entirely unrecognizable and strange to us even though it has an effect on what we see and strain to understand (such as a 2 dimensional being trying to interpret what it sees with a 3 dimensional object). This may be the case with the pockets of rapidly expanding space between the galaxies.
    In any case, we must learn to look at the total picture that M-Theory gives us.
    Our universe has a standard “set of frequencies” that define our reality. Change one of those frequencies, and you change the definition of “our” reality.
    Thank you. Great podcast (Do some live!!!)
    I await your feedback.
    F. Terrance “LID” Safforld

  4. Fongky

    Great discussion. I am looking forward to the next episode.
    Fongky from Malaysia

  5. Sanborne

    Pamela, your brain is so sexy

  6. Doug Keenan

    The ep mentions a double-slit experiment with lenses and wires.
    Any good links?

  7. Stephen

    When i was a little boy, the bit about electrons orbiting the nucleus was explained as standing waves. Keplarian orbits went out in 1905. So electrons don’t really move, and they don’t have to give off infinite energy. [I was twice as old as Pamela in the Slacker years (though she’s catching up) – and i’ve no idea how old Fraser is. [And maybe i was in high school – so by “little”, i’m referring to waste-line, not height.]]
    And though each photon has it’s quanta of energy, that energy level can be anything. What’s limited are the orbits of electrons around the atom. There are only so many ways an electron can be in a standing wave. You’ve got resonance issues. So each atom has characteristic electron energy levels. And when an electron goes from a higher energy state to a lower energy state, a photon is given off that carries the difference in energy.
    My favorite quote from that era: “the dark adapted eye can detect a single photon”. So these particles are so small that they are outside your experience. Only, they’re not quite outside your possible experience.
    And if you get two photons of just the right energy to come together in just the right way, they can create some other particle (or particle pair) as long as mass/energy charge and so on are conserved. And this is important in the hearts of some stars. Especially big stars going supernova.
    The latest off the wall phenomenon is the Holographic Principal. I read Leonard Susskind’s book, “The Black Hole Wars”, and gave a 40 minute talk on it. Twice. I entitled it “Alien Universe”, from the idea that the Universe is an alien place, compared to where we live. Leonard gave a 90 minute talk on it. But i think it can be done in 30 minutes, without talking faster than light.
    From his book, there’s a nice intuitive graphic idea that seems to match how photons (and everything else) works. Imagine a propeller. It spins. At then ends of each of the two blades is a smaller propeller that spins faster. At the ends of each of these is a smaller propeller that spins even faster. Now at the normal rates your eye takes in information, you can see the big propeller. Say that’s 10 frames per second. With a camera and a faster shutter speed, say 1/100th of a second, you can see the 2nd level of propellers. And at 1/1000th of a second, you can see the third level. So at these shorter units of time (higher energy) you get to see a bigger propeller. And more or less, that’s how the single photon (or electron or virus particle) “sees” that there are two slits, and knows to do the interference dance, and obeys the Uncertainty Principal, and so on. In some sense, photons really that big. It’s not spooky action at a distance. These tiny quantum objects are bigger than you. It’s an analogy, and all analogies eventually break down (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be analogies – but instead the thing that you’re trying to talk about).
    The other bit is the Holographic Principal itself. Which says that the photon isn’t where you think it is, but rather, it’s encoded on the surface of an arbitrary volume of space – perhaps on the surfaces of every arbitrary volume of space that contains it. And this idea is so much more alien that the silly double slit dual nature idea, or the very straightforward Uncertainty Principal.
    Now, you guys are limited to the speed of sound. But a bunch of my astronomy buddies have started putting together free half hour astronomy videos. We’ve released the first, and it has gone on out local cable (on two local cable carriers). We’ve shot the second and edited it. But since it’s video, we’re only limited to the speed of light. So we might have some advantage. Yet, our web site seems to be going up at the speed of molasses in winter.
    So, i’d love to give an interview on the Holographic Principal. But i only sound like i know what i’m talking about. Really, i read a book. For laypeople. And even Dr. Susskind doesn’t claim to be the expert [on black holes – i’m convinced we wouldn’t have the new Principal without him]. So i have no credentials whatsoever. I totally loved the Q&A on Susskind’s podcast. Where does he get an audience like that? Holy cow! But when i gave the talks, i got great questions too. And i was prepared. I had to stop answering questions when we ran out of time.

  8. Alex

    The embedded player plays the previous question show, but the direct link to the MP3 has the correct audio for this episode.

  9. David Sidwell

    Hey Fraser. You mentioned a book you’d read and said it was “Entaglement” was this written by Amir Aczel? Thanks.

  10. Rhiannon McNish

    Sory to be the pain that can’t cope with the internet, But can anyone tell me how i get to these transcripts. I loved this episode so much i need to show my friends but unfortunatly they do not have the patience for podcasts that make then think too much, so the transcripts would be greatly appreciated… if there is indeed such a thing

  11. Teagan

    I will now have to make an analogy about my mom being sometimes like a particle and sometimes like a wave.
    Simply because you said it can’t work.
    And this is to say I enjoy the podcast and find it very amusing.


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