If you ask a scientist to talk about quantum mechanics, it’s predictable that the first thing he or she is likely to say is that this is the most successful theory in the history of science. At the minutest level of Nature, the overall behavior of subatomic particles such as electrons, photons, and quarks is amazingly predictable thanks to quantum theory. But strangely enough, this triumph has had almost no effect on our ordinary lives. And that’s not just because the quantum domain is so tiny, billions of times smaller than anything we can see with the naked eye.
The real reason is that the everyday world is isolated from the quantum world. An apple falling from a tree gives the non-scientist a handle for understanding gravity’s universal action. No such clear image comes to mind when we think of quantum processes. The strange behavior of subatomic particles doesn’t translate into how objects behave all around us. For decades quantum theory has tried to build a bridge between daily existence (described by classical physics) and the shadowy, seemingly alien world that nevertheless gives rise to everything in existence (described by quantum physics).
It’s no easy task, and even physicists who realize that all matter boils down to invisible clouds of probability still go to work driving a car, which behaves like a normal tangible object, not a cloud. How are we to understand quantum reality as our reality, too? A single word may hold the key: interaction. In the classical world (i.e., everyday reality) everything is built from small units interacting to form something larger. Society is built from the interactions of individuals; thoughts are built from the interaction of neurons in the brain; even a sand dune cannot form unless grains of sand interact with each other. As a fact of Nature, nothing is more obvious. The Mona Lisa is a work of genius, but it wouldn’t exist if molecules of paint didn’t interact with the canvas, causing the two to adhere. When Da Vinci tinkered with this process, his masterwork, The Last Supper, started to flake and crumble only a few years after its completion.
Read the full piece on beliefnet.
Read other posts in Featured, Philosophy | Posted on July 29, 2015.